08/01 - Monarch Sustainer of the Year Award

At the U.S. Business Council on Sustainable Development (USBCSD) conference on July 16, 2015, the Marathon Petroleum Company, LP’s Illinois Refining Division (Marathon) was announced to be the very first recipient of the Monarch Sustainer of the Year Award. Over the past year, Blanton & Associates worked closely with Marathon to develop and enhance monarch habitat, including preparation and submittal of the award application.

This recently established award is a new initiative to recognize businesses that support the long-term viability of monarch butterflies and is overseen by the USBCSD and the Pollinator Partnership. The award recognizes one U.S. business each year that has shown exceptional leadership and action in providing habitat and awareness for monarchs along their migratory corridors. To qualify for the award, an organization must make an effort to increase and enhance nectar and milkweed plants within the migratory pathways of monarchs, as well as educate others about the importance of monarchs.

Marathon’s Illinois Refining Division monarch butterfly story begins within and around the Robinson Refinery. For years, Marathon has focused on enhancing wildlife habitat for all animals, but has recently focused their efforts to improving habitat for pollinators (such as bees, butterflies, birds, and beetles). The Palestine Neal Pit is one of four sites where Marathon is currently conducting monarch-enhancing work. Since 2002, Marathon has continually improved the site to benefit native species.

Blanton & Associates and Marathon employees have put extra effort into educating the local community on the importance and benefits of monarch butterflies and how to create and enhance pollinator-friendly environments. By planting an ample amount of native milkweed and nectar plantings, the 80-acre Neal Pit site now offers the perfect habitat for migrating monarchs by providing the necessities for foraging, reproduction, and shelter. Kaci Blaney and Bonnie Doggett, employees of Blanton & Associates, conduct yearly animal and vegetation monitoring of this area to document existing conditions. Several rows of shrubs have also been planted around the largest field, providing windbreaks and shelter. In addition, certain areas are being managed with prescribed burns that aid in controlling invasive and exotic plant species. Bonnie Doggett, a Blanton & Associates Biologist, attended the 2015 Neal Pit North American Butterfly Association butterfly count where numerous monarchs were identified on site.

Blanton & Associates has participated in various Crawford County Nature Days at the Neal Pit site, where learning stations are presented to 2nd grade students by groups of Marathon employee volunteers. In particular, two stations focus on pollinators and educational material regarding native pollinator habitat. At the most recent Nature Day, which was held at the Neal Pit site on Earth Day 2015, the first station gave students a chance to learn about beekeeping, types of bees, protective beekeeping suits, bee blocks, and how honey is made. The second pollinator-focused station involved dissecting a flower, learning about the various plant parts, discussing the importance of the pollination process, and learning about monarchs.

A male monarch (Danaus plexippus) observed during Marathon’s 2015 butterfly count on a common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca).

Bonnie Doggett, a Blanton & Associates Biologist, and volunteers receiving instruction from Ed Spevak, Director of the Center for Native Pollinator Conservation at the St. Louis Zoo, prior to beginning the 2015 butterfly count.