This has been a rough year. We lost pop culture icons Leonard Cohen, David Bowie, Prince and Muhammad Ali. And, according to the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada, monarch butterflies may not be far behind.
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COSEWIC is the scientific body that determines whether species should be legally protected under Canada's Species at Risk Act. Yesterday, COSEWIC released its assessment of 40 species, including a recommendation that the migratory monarch butterfly be formally recognized as an endangered species in Canada.
Monarch populations hit a historic low in winter 2013, when only 35 million butterflies spent the winter in their Mexican overwintering grounds — a drop of more than 95 per cent from the 1990s. The population made a slight comeback over the past couple of years, but was hit by the worst storm in 30 years this March. It wiped out millions of monarchs days before their return trip. It was a brutally hot summer throughout most of the migratory route between Canada and Mexico. Experts estimate that the population returning to Mexico this summer will once again be close to historic lows.
So, the COSEWIC announcement seems timely, right? Unfortunately, in Canada science routinely gets trumped by politics. As we noted back in 2015, more than 100 imperiled species remain unprotected, despite being similarly recommended for protection by Canada's top scientists.
Three things are clear:
1) The monarchs are in crisis. The endangered assessment means scientists have determined that the monarchs are in grave danger of extinction. The miraculous journey they make between Canada and Mexico each year is at risk of becoming a thing of the past;
2) The process of protecting species in Canada needs to be fixed, as species at risk can't afford to wait; and
3) Monarchs are a species for which we can each do our part.
As scientist Jennifer Heron, co-chair of the COSEWIC Arthropods Subcommittee, observed, "We need to continue to support the conservation of milkweed caterpillar habitat both here in Canada and along the Monarch's migratory journey, and we need to support continued conservation of critical overwintering areas. Otherwise, Monarch migration may disappear, and Canada may lose this iconic species."
Visit here to find out what you can do for monarchs and other essential pollinators in your community.