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Saving the Monarch Butterfly

‘Man did not weave the web of life, he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself.’

Chief Seattle

It is hard to believe but in North America the Monarch butterfly was estimated to be in the billions. Considering more than 90% are now gone, due to various factors, I believe it is well past the point of, ‘let’s see what happens.’ Leaving it to chance will mean the disappearance of this wondrous butterfly.

So many government agencies and authorities have taken this laid back approach assuming that a species at risk will rebound once negative pressures have been removed. The reality is that the species can never go back to the way it was since we have disrupted and imbalanced so many environments.

Active intervention is not always such a bad choice. We have met with success for many species, right here, in Ontario. A great example, is the trumpeter swan – eastern population. As soon as settlers started to arrive in Ontario the trumpeter swan was hunted for its sizable carcass. The hunting pressure was intense, and by as early as 1900, it was very difficult to find trumpeter swans.

A group of dedicated volunteers got permission from the Canadian government to retrieve 50 eggs from the western population trumpeter swan in Alaska. These eggs were given to breeders who, over the course of time, reared more and more cygnets. Today, the eastern population trumpeter swan of Ontario are not listed on the endangered list but are still heavily supervised.

Monarchs and Milkweed
Monarch Caterpillar


If we actively intervene now and maintain our efforts we can achieve an increase in the numbers of Monarchs. We must increase their population by millions as soon as possible since natural disasters take their toll on these butterflies. For example, a million butterflies usually perish just making the migration. Add wintering ground fatalities and the fatality numbers are staggering.

What do we do, right here, right now?

  1. Remember one of the most crucial breeding grounds in Canada for the Monarch butterfly is Southern Ontario and Southern Quebec. So basically, whatever we do will have immediate impact on them. The reality check is that in order to increase the population of butterflies by millions we must replace all the millions of acres of milkweed lost. I still challenge you to plant 30+ milkweed in your gardens and properties. But our reach must extend beyond our cultivated landscapes.
  2. Encourage your local city, county and townships to actively plant milkweed back into the ditches. Organize volunteer groups to get the ditches planted and make sure the plantings are watered and maintained in their first year of establishment. Make sure to voice your objections to spraying or cutting these wildlife corridors.
  3. Only 1% of land is public and managed by local conservation authorities. Again, organize groups to plant milkweed in the public land safe havens.
  4. Get active at your workplace – so much wasted space in cities. It seems every business has their perfectly manicured garden with spirea and cedar. Landscapers could just as easily plant some milkweed but there has to be a force to make this happen. YOU could be that force in the workplace asking for a chance from the same old landscape choices.
  5. Again, such wasted space in city green spaces. Do we honestly need a gazillion petunias and begonias in our public parks or can we start incorporating milkweed into these public spaces? Can you imagine the amount of money saved just by switching from annual to perennial plantings?

There is a vast army of people, volunteers, that do care and would help but they need leaders to step up and organize these planting events. They are waiting for leaders to talk to city park planners, workplace landscapers and managers of conservation authorities to initiate the planting of milkweed and to cease the spraying.

Are you going to be a leader? We are all waiting for the next person to initiate the conversation, to use their valuable free time to organize plantings. I can tell you this for sure. If we all just wait hoping the next person will do the work we will see this butterfly disappear within a few short years.

So I ask you, ‘Will you help make the world a better place, for our children and grandchildren, one butterfly at a time?’ The choice is all yours!

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