U.S. invests millions in monarch conservation; Canadian action eagerly anticipated
TORONTO — The David Suzuki Foundation is calling on governments and rail, road and hydro agencies across Canada to join the growing ranks of milkweed lovers who are rallying to support monarch butterfly conservation. Over the past month, U.S. federal and state agencies have made encouraging announcements, including a commitment of US$3.2 million for programs to grow milkweed — the plant monarchs depend on — in schoolyards and gardens and on highway roadsides from Mexico to Minnesota.
"We've lost almost a billion monarch butterflies in the past two decades, and the migration to Canada is in serious jeopardy," said David Suzuki Foundation director Faisal Moola. "We simply cannot afford to wait; it's time for Canada to step up conservation efforts."
Monarch butterfly populations hit a historic low last winter, plummeting from almost a billion in the late 1990s to about 30 million. While the population overwintering in Mexico increased to 56 million this winter, that still represents an alarming 95 per cent drop in two decades, which has led scientists to speculate that the monarch migration — one of the most awe-inspiring insect journeys on the planet — might come to an end.
The dramatic decline prompted the leaders of Mexico, Canada and the United States at the 2014 "Three Amigos Summit" to jointly commit to urgent action to safeguard the species. Trilateral working groups were subsequently created to formulate conservation plans. While U.S. and Mexican governments and agencies have been active this winter, monarch advocates eagerly await a made-in-Canada plan.
Two of the principal threats the monarch population currently are severe weather from climate change and the virtual eradication of milkweed from more than 165 million acres — an area larger than the province of Alberta — across its migratory route due to the widespread use of glyphosate-based pesticides.
The good news is that scientists like the University of Guelph's Tyler Flockhart have identified a massive opportunity throughout the monarch's migratory range: planting milkweed and pollinator-friendly native plants along road, rail and hydro corridors. This past month, Flockhart was awarded a prestigious Libre Ero Fellowship that will allow him to continue his internationally recognized research into population dynamics of monarch butterflies, including conducting research into the effectiveness and cost benefits of transforming infrastructure corridors into healthy corridors for pollinators like monarch butterflies.
"We are excited to be partnering with Dr. Flockhart on this important research," said David Suzuki Foundation species-at-risk expert Rachel Plotkin. "We hope this work will encourage hydro and transportation agencies throughout Canada to begin enhancing the corridors they manage by adding milkweed and pollinator-friendly plants to nurture our bees and butterflies."
In Canada, many groups have been actively promoting monarch and pollinator-friendly activities for decades, including milkweed planting and monarch rearing and tracking programs. In Toronto, the David Suzuki Foundation spurred the planting of more than 4,000 milkweed plants through its Got Milkweed campaign last spring — a popular effort that will occur again this April. However, the scale of response needed to ensure the continuation of the monarch migration is greater than these local efforts.
"It was encouraging that thousands of Torontonians 'Got Milkweed' last spring, and we hope butterfly and pollinator-friendly plants become a more common sight throughout our communities," Plotkin said. "While we're seeing great things at the local level, what monarchs need is political leadership and progressive agencies across the country willing to capitalize on the landscape of opportunity that our countless road, rail and hydro corridors present as potential butterflyways."
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