Over the past 20 years, approximately 90 per cent of the monarch butterflies that migrate between Mexico and Canada have disappeared. In the 1990s, about one billion individual butterflies made the epic, multi-generational trek from Canada to Mexico. By 2013 the population had plummeted to 35 million. After a couple of years of modest improvement, the monarch population dropped by 22 million again last year.
In the U.S., the response from government and the conservation community has been strong. In 2015, $20 million was allocated for research conservation projects. Regional and national targets were set — including an ambitious goal of restoring 200,000 hectares of monarch habitat, stretching from Mexico to Minnesota.
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While the Trump administration has been rumoured to have considered banning bad mariposas and probably doesn't love bees and butterflies the way former president Barack Obama and his family did, it appears the White House's pollinator garden has been spared. Encouraging news.
What has been happening in Canada? There has been plenty of buzz about monarch decline, and action at the grassroots level. Citizens and community groups throughout the monarch's Canadian migratory range have sprung into action, including the David Suzuki Foundation, with its Got Milkweed and L'effet Papillon campaigns. In Ontario, milkweed has gone from being listed as a "noxious" weed to becoming one of the most sought-after native plants at garden centres.
However, despite the attention and local action, the federal government has been missing in action. No big announcements at all, unless you count the heartfelt note from federal Minister of Environment and Climate Change Catherine McKenna, calling on Canadians to act before monarchs go the way of passenger pigeons and buffalo. The minister became a passionate advocate for monarch recovery recently, following a visit with her children to the alpine Mexican forests where monarchs overwinter.
What is most curious is that the minister has failed to parlay her newfound commitment to saving monarchs into protecting them. In December 2016, scientists from Canada's Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) recommended that monarchs be protected as an endangered species under the federal Species at Risk Act. To make this happen, the minister needs simply to bring the COSEWIC recommendation to cabinet, which then would legally protect monarchs under federal law.
Similar to efforts in the U.S., Canada also needs to get serious about restoring habitat for monarchs and the rest of our native bees and butterflies. Money also needs to be allocated for research efforts, to assess and identify habitat and determine whether intensive use of pesticides like glyphosate is impacting monarchs, as it has been suggested in the U.S.
How can you help? Take two minutes to send a note to Minister McKenna and your member of Parliament here. Ask them to give monarchs the attention and support they need — before it's too late.