Volunteers will soon be planting milkweed on state-owned land, after bills to help monarch butterflies became law Monday.

The Department of Environmental Protection must now set program criteria and match volunteers with particular locations in stormwater basins, state parks and other public lands.

“Right now we are reviewing the bills,” said DEP spokeswoman Caryn Shinske. “We do not have information yet about implementation.”

The new laws encourage planting of the only food monarch caterpillars eat. Wild milkweed has been decimated by habitat loss and changes in agricultural practices, according to New Jersey Audubon, a primary advocate for the laws.

The numbers of monarch butterflies migrating south through Cape May Point last year increased substantially but are still well below 2012 levels, NJ Audubon’s Monarch Monitoring Project reported recently.

The average hourly count of migrating monarch butterflies was about 95 in 2017, up from about 15 the previous year, the project reported in November. It counted the insects three times a day from early September to early November. It’s a project of NJ Audubon’s Cape May Bird Observatory.

“It certainly was encouraging to see numbers higher than the last four lean years,” Project Director Mark Garland said.

While the numbers rebounded strongly from recent years, they were still just about half that of 2012, when an average of 183 were spotted per hour.

So many monarchs were migrating in Week 9 of the count — the last week in October — that the project decided to continue it an extra week into November, for the first time in its 26-year history.

Thousands of monarchs were seen roosting in trees along Cape May Point beach in late October.

Gov. Chris Christie signed the legislation Monday.

Also Monday, a bill to increase the amount of electricity that must come from solar energy in the state, and to change the way the solar industry is subsidized here, passed the Legislature.

Christie has until noon Monday to sign or veto the solar legislation. If he does nothing, it will die, since it passed within the last 10 days of a two-year legislative session.

Senate Bill S2276 would require 5.3 percent of electricity provided by suppliers come from solar by 2022, up from the current requirement of 4.1 percent.

It would also establish a Solar Energy Study Commission and phase out the use of Solar Renewable Energy Certificates, or SRECs, as a means of subsidizing solar in the state.

It does not specify what would replace SRECs.

Christie leaves office when Gov.-elect Phil Murphy is sworn in at noon Tuesday. State law says Christie can sign bills or veto them in full or in part until noon Monday.

If he does nothing, they will become law if they passed the Legislature more than 10 days from its last day Dec. 9, or they will die if they passed in the last 10 days of the two-year legislative session.

Contact: 609-272-7219 mpost@pressofac.com Twitter @MichelleBPost Facebook.com/EnvironmentSouthJersey

Staff Writer

In my first job after college got paid to read the New York Times and summarize articles for an early online data base. First reporting job was with The Daily Record in Parsippany. I have also worked in nonprofits, and have been with The Press since 1990.

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