By: Vanessa Marciano
Each autumn, millions of monarch butterflies make their way through a 4,500 km journey from Canada and the U.S. to the cool, high mountains in Mexico.
The sad reality is that the population making the journey is at an all time low.
According to data collected by the World Wildlife Federation, and Mexico’s National Commission for Protected Areas, monarchs inhabited just 1.65 acres of forest during Dec. 2013, a 44 per cent drop from the previous year.
One of the causes of monarch butterflies being at the lowest population point in more than 20 years is the lack of milkweed plants, a primary source of food. Habitat loss, pesticides, and climate change are also a rising factor.
Elizabeth Howard, director of Journey North, tracks monarch migration in the spring by having people report the first monarch they see and when their milkweed emerges.
“As monarchs are coming up from Mexico, they have to find milkweed to lay their eggs on,” Howard told Humber News. “Right now as the monarchs are entering Texas, the milkweeds are just barely ready for them, so that puts on a lot of pressure for the population.”
The David Suzuki Foundation is launching a #GotMilkweed campaign on April 1, where the public will be able help, in one of the most important ways possible. The foundation is selling milkweed plants for five dollars, which buyers can place in their yards or even on their balcony for residents in the city.
Toronto residents will have the chance to watch the 3-D screening of the multi-award winning documentary, Flight of the Butterflies. The film follows the year long migration cycle of butterflies from Canada, the U.S. and Mexico. All proceeds of the screening will be donated to David Suzuki’s Homegrown National Park, in the city’s downtown west end.
Wendy Caldwell, community program specialist at Monarch Joint Venture says planting milkweed and nectar plants to support monarchs and other pollinators is crucial.
Nectar is important as monarchs begin their migration to Mexico, but it is also a key for breeding monarchs throughout the spring and summer.
“Other actions that people might take include avoiding pesticides and advocating for limited use of pesticides, monitoring monarchs by getting involved in citizen science activities, and supporting monarch conservation organizations,” Caldwell said.
During the North American Leaders Summit in Toluca, Mexico on Feb. 19, 2014, Prime Minister Stephen Harper, U.S. President Barack Obama, and Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto announced they would set a plan for saving the continent’s endangered migration of monarch butterflies.
“We have agreed to conserve the monarch butterfly as an emblematic species of North America which unites our three countries,” said Peña Nito.
Caldwell agreed this is an important step for monarch conservation and is excited to see where this decision leads.
Tommy Thompson Park, located on Toronto’s waterfront, also hosts an annual Butterfly Festival in August where the public can participate in butterfly hikes and bike rides, photography sessions and tours.