'Quite the journey': Monarch butterfly license plates finally available

After seven years in the making, the state has unveiled the monarch butterfly decal license plate.

Proceeds from the decals will benefit the Illinois Department of Natural Resources' Monarch Habitat Fund, which fosters habitats that support the beloved orange butterflies' migratory journey south to Mexico each fall. The organization has a goal of adding 150 million new milkweed stems and other nectar resources to the Illinois landscape in the next 15 years.

Residents can request the specialty plate by filling out and mailing a form, which is available on the Illinois Secretary of State website. The cost includes a one-time replacement fee of $29 and a yearly monarch butterfly license plate renewal fee of $25. That means your yearly registration fee would be $176 each year instead of $151.

State lawmakers first passed legislation to put the decal project into motion in 2016. To limit the number of specialty Illinois license plates - the differing designs of which have caused issues for law enforcement - the legislation created a universal template for the unique plates.

Any new specialty plate would have a standardized design. Any proposed decal would also require at least 2,000 Illinoisans to put down a monetary deposit that would go toward the specified cause before the plate would go into production.

The plate reached 2,000 supporters in 2018, and it spent the next five years in design and administrative limbo before finally being revealed Nov. 16 by Secretary of State Alexi Giannoulias.

"Just like the monarchs' migration from Illinois to Mexico, the process of getting to this day has been quite the journey," Giannoulias said at the unveiling. "Sure, it's just a license plate, but there are a lot of elements to this story that make it an important one that people should care about."

Giannoulias said the story behind the decals is important ecologically and culturally, adding that it's also about "simple government accountability and making sure that the residents we serve get what they pay for."

"Together, we're making good on a promise that will foster a culture of conservation that benefits the monarch, the environment and our residents," he added.

Illinois' state insect since 1975, the North American monarch butterfly was classified as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature last summer, though in September the organization downlisted the species to "vulnerable to extinction."

The union cited population decline due to extreme weather events fueled by climate change as well as widespread habitat loss. The latter is especially true in Illinois, where less than 0.1% of the state's native prairie habitat still exists despite being known as the Prairie State.

Alongside the state legislature, the decal project was supported by the Illinois Environmental Council and other environmental groups such as Sierra Club Illinois' Monarch Team.

"When we think about it, the monarch being a butterfly and an insect, it's a charismatic symbol for pollinators that are so important to the state of Illinois. Pollinators are important to our ecological habitat and they are important to our agricultural systems," Illinois Environmental Council Executive Director Jen Walling said at the unveiling. "Every bite of food we eat, we need to think about pollinators. We need to be sure we're protecting their habitat to protect ourselves and the monarchs."

• Jenny Whidden is a climate change and environment writer working with the Daily Herald through a partnership with Report For America supported by The Nature Conservancy. To help support her work with a tax-deductible donation, see

Courtesy of the Illinois Environmental CouncilSecretary of State Alexi Giannoulias and Illinois Environmental Council Executive Director Jen Walling hold up a large version of the state's new specialty monarch butterfly license plate at an unveiling event Nov. 16.
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