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Oklahoma's monarchs get a fresh boost

A monarch finds early morning nectar on butterfly weed.
Kelly J. Bostian
Oklahoma Ecology Project
A monarch finds early morning nectar on butterfly weed.

Amidst a concerning decline in the nation’s most iconic butterfly population, Oklahoma’s key monarch conservation program is marking a significant step in solidifying its future and updating the state’s plan to help pollinators.

Changes come with the launch this week of the Oklahoma Monarch Society, a new face for a successful six-year-old Okies for Monarchs movement. The society also plans a working summit this summer to update Oklahoma’s Statewide Monarch Conservation Action Plan.

Essentially, an idea hatched during a pollinator conservation summit in 2016 has grown into its wings and is ready to fly on its own.

Okies for Monarchs launched in 2018 under the Conservation Coalition of Oklahoma Foundation and most recently operated through The Nature Conservancy, now it will stand on its own.

“Our programming has substantially grown over the last six years, so we have come together to form a new independent nonprofit that will help provide the needed infrastructure for us to further fund and grow our programs,” said society director Katie Hawk. “So, Okies for Monarchs will not change, it will not go away, it will continue to thrive and go forth, and it is now one of the programs of the Oklahoma Monarch Society.”

The first summit came as conservationists alerted community leaders to the plight of monarchs and spread the word that Oklahoma occupies a critical section along the annual monarch migration route between Mexico and North America.

A consortium of more than 40 private, non-profit, and government organizations, now known as the Oklahoma Monarch and Pollinator Collaborative, came together behind the original action plan. A private gathering of 150 partners is set for two days this summer to update that plan, Hawk said.

“We started working on it in 2016 and published it in 2018, and that’s been our roadmap since then. It’s time for version 2.0,” she said. “It’s time to update it with new objectives and strategies to help continue this momentum of increasing habitat and protecting it throughout the state.”

Artist Rick Sinnett, the creative mind behind the “Save the Monarchs” license plate–proceeds of which now will go to the Society–is taking flight as the new president of the society’s board of directors. While he has always supported conservation efforts through his art, this is his first foray into board leadership.

Sinnett said the color and shapes of butterflies, cicadas, and other things in nature formed his early artistic vision growing up in Mustang, which used to have much more open ground. Now, with a drought in 2023 knocking the monarch population down to a 10-year low and a new drive for the state’s monarch work, he said the appointment felt like destiny.

He said his experience with the license plate showed him there are many ways to spread the word about monarchs to people who otherwise remain unaware.

“With the way things are, one of the greatest opportunities for us now is to have a real impact on monarch conservation and to reach more people,” he said. “Everybody loves a butterfly, but not everybody is going to pick up a book and study the science of a butterfly, so the opportunity to really grow the awareness is just abundant right now.”

Oklahoma Monarch Society plans a public launch event on June 9, 1-5 p.m. at Anthem Brewing, 908 SW 4th St, Oklahoma City. The gathering will feature fund-raising sales, native plants for sale from Oklahoma nurseries, booths with partners like the Oklahoma City Zoo and Oklahoma Science Museum, and Anthem’s Pollinator Pilsner, from which a portion of all sales supports the Monarch Society.

The Oklahoma Ecology Project is a nonprofit dedicated to in-depth reporting on Oklahoma’s conservation and environmental issues. Learn more at okecology.org

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