CEC Conference, San Antonio, Texas – March 4-9th, 2017
I have been intrigued by Monarch Butterflies since I was a small child. I continue to be amazed by the many “miracles” that make up this creature’s existence. In my estimation, it is a miracle that a Monarch Butterfly, weighing about as much as a paper clip, can migrate to the same specific location in Mexico year after year. It also seems like a miracle that these creatures can accomplish this feat when none of them have ever been there before. It takes 3 or 4 generations each season to complete the round trip from summer to over wintering ranges, so no single butterfly ever makes the round trip. As a child, and to this day, I think it is miraculous each time I get to witness a caterpillar transforming to a vibrant green chrysalis. It is equally miraculous a couple of weeks later, when the chrysalis transforms again to become a beautiful orange and black Monarch Butterfly.
In April last year, I moved a motion at Richmond Hill Council that committed our municipality to the National Wildlife Federation’s Mayor’s Monarch Pledge (see motion below). As a result, I was recently invited to attend the Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC) Mayor’s Monarch Pledge Workshop. The CEC is an organization set up after the North American Free Trade Agreement was signed. Their mandate is to explore solutions to tri-national environmental issues (for more info visit www.cec.org). The Monarch is quickly becoming a threatened species and since the Monarch butterfly migrates between Mexico, the United States, and Canada, this issue is within the CEC mandate.
Delegates from Mexico, the United States and Canada all attended this workshop, shared their experiences and learned from each other about their challenges and successes in creating an environment in their cities and towns that is more Monarch friendly. Throughout the four day workshop we were able to contribute to creating strategies that will establish a more effective action plan to save the Monarch Butterfly from becoming an extinct species.
The Mayors’ Monarch Pledge commits municipalities to undertake a list of specific actions to help the Monarch Butterfly. The actions outlined in the pledges will help the Monarch but will also directly help a number of other species, including a range of pollinator insects. Pollinators, like bees, are experiencing similar challenges as the Monarch, such as habitat loss and habitat degradation. Actions that help Monarchs and pollinators are often quite similar.
When Richmond Hill had the opportunity to become one of first and, still one of the only 5 Canadian Municipalities to commit to the Mayor’s Monarch Pledge, I was excited to help our council make this commitment. I believe we are responsible stewards of our local environment in Richmond Hill and the Mayor’s Monarch Pledge allows us to translate this commitment into 9 specific actions that will help the Monarch. (see our pledge commitments included in my CEC presentation below).
The Monarch Butterfly makes its 3 to 4 generation journey each year from points as far north as Northern Ontario to a specific overwintering destination in central Mexico called El Rosario, and then back again. The destination in the mountains of Mexico is an area that is about the size of Richmond Hill’s Mill Pond Park. In the past decade the Monarch butterfly species has declined in number between 80% and 90%. In order to improve this situation, it will be necessary for all three countries to take a role in addressing the various issues that have caused this problem.
The host city for this conference was San Antonio, Texas. San Antonio is one of only two cities in North America that pledged all 24 actions in their Mayor’s Monarch Pledge (the other city was McAllen, Texas). San Antonio and McAllen are particularly important cities for Monarchs because as their northward migration occurs in April of each year, the Monarchs that have overwintered in El Rosario, Mexico migrate north and arrive in the San Antonio/ McAllen area of Texas to lay eggs on milkweed and then die. It is some of these butterfly’s offspring that will, by late June, arrive in Richmond Hill and other parts of Ontario. (Some of these offspring will also populate all of the Eastern United States including points from Texas all the way to Minnesota). I would like to think that Ontario’s Monarchs are the “overachievers” of the Monarch world because they travel the furthest – but we are Canadian so we don’t like to brag!
During the workshop delegates were shown examples of San Antonio’s efforts related to the Mayors’ Monarch Pledge. One of their actions was the San Antonio Zoo’s Monarch Festival. This is an educational festival aimed at families and children that highlights the challenges that Monarchs face and some of the solutions that individuals and municipalities can implement simply and quickly to help the Monarchs. One of the actions stressed during the Monarch Festival was encouraging people to plant Milkweed in their own home gardens.
Images from the San Antonio Monarch Festival hosted by the San Antonio Zoo
Milkweed is the only food source for Monarch caterpillars. Therefore it is crucial to have an abundant supply of milkweed throughout their range and migration route. In many municipalities, especially in the USA, milkweed has become less common because of modern agricultural practices, specifically the large scale spraying of herbicides on crops that have been genetically modified to tolerate the herbicide. These herbicides indiscriminately kill all other plants including milkweed. Milkweed in urban areas, along road and hydro rights of way, and in parks, are also becoming less common because of a tendency for people and municipalities to mow these areas in order to maintain a more “manicured” landscape.
In response to the decline of Monarchs and other pollinator species, municipalities like San Antonio have also encouraged their citizens to plant gardens full of native plants that are rich nectar suppliers. Both individual and municipal gardeners can create gardens that are beneficial to Monarchs, and many other species of butterflies and pollinators. We saw a number of these gardens during the workshop. They look great and they add to the beauty of San Antonio.
Delegates at the conference also had an opportunity to hear about the experiences of other municipalities from across North America that signed the Mayor’s Monarch Pledge. I was proud to present Richmond Hill’s successes since we signed the pledge. My presentation can be found below.
In addition, delegates heard about the challenges that municipalities from Mexico have had. Their challenges are in many cases different than the challenges of the mid-western states and Canada. For example, one municipality in Mexico changed the speed limit on one of their major highways during the Monarch Butterfly migration. This highway bisects the migration route, and during the monarch migration season they found cars were hitting the butterflies when they were allowed to travel at higher speeds. Some municipalities in Mexico are also restricting the timing of insecticide spraying to control mosquitos to periods when Monarchs are not passing through the area.
I was honoured to meet some very passionate Monarch cheerleaders from Mexico including the Mayor of Jaumave, Tamaulipas, Mexico, Mayor José Luis Gallardo. His council created an annual Monarch Festival in their town. One of the purposes of this festival is to educate his community about the importance of the Monarch and their municipality’s unique role in preserving this species. His efforts are particularly important as the town of Jaumave is close to the overwintering destination for Monarchs. As such, this area of Mexico sees a significant concentration of butterflies in the spring and fall migrations. Individual citizens in this area of Mexico have a particularly important role to play in the preservation of this species so it is important to gain their support.
Mayor Jose Luis Gallardo from Jaumave, Tamaulipas, Mexico
During the fall migration period Monarchs tend to funnel toward the San Antonio area before crossing into Mexico. This funnel is created as they migrate from the eastern USA and Canada and attempt to avoid crossing the Gulf of Mexico. Interestingly, delegates learned of a similar funneling effect that happens during the Monarch migration in Ontario in the area of Leamington.
During the Ontario Monarch migration, many butterflies are “funneled” to Leamington in their attempt to avoid crossing the full expanse of the Great Lakes. The delegate from Leamington described their efforts to create Monarch habitat in conjunction with the Point Pelee National Park. They have created a Milkweed corridor along a trail through the center of town. They have found this Milkweed planting has attracted many Monarch caterpillars and has served as a resting point for the Monarchs before they cross the Detroit River and the western end of Lake Erie on their way to Mexico.
While the challenges are different in all three countries the point was made again and again that urban areas play a key role in the Monarch’s migration route. Efforts in municipalities like Richmond Hill, and many others, can make a real difference in the success of the Monarch’s migration. Planting milkweed, and native plants as well as nectar flowers are important to the survival of this species. A significant increase in Monarch habitat is one of the more important outcomes of the Mayor’s Monarch Pledge. Cities can become more Monarch friendly and at the same time become more ecologically diverse for a range of species. The actionable outcomes of the pledge for all cities will also serve to create better bird and wildlife habitat and better pollinator habitat. Studies have consistently shown that a more robust urban natural environment is important for many species.
The Monarch Butterfly is a truly emblematic species. In this globally connected world it will take co-operation from 3 countries that all have different challenges, different languages, different social economic situations, as well as three very different political climates. The good news is – there are simple actions that we can take as the municipality of Richmond Hill, and we are doing this through the Mayor’s Monarch Pledge.
There are further complimentary actions that individual residents can take as well. The David Suzuki Foundation has a complimentary program that individuals can participate in. This program is called The Monarch Manifesto and it outlines some concrete action that individuals can take. More information on this program can be found at https://action2.davidsuzuki.org/monarchmanifesto. I would encourage my fellow Richmond Hill residents to consider taking some of these actions. In most cases they are simple, inexpensive, and fun.
I am proud of the work that we have done in Richmond Hill so far. We do take care to act as responsible stewards of our local environment but there is always more we can aspire to do. I think this quote from the David Suzuki Foundations sums up the plight of the Monarch butterfly on a number of levels – “There are no borders between nature and humans because nature does not recognize borders”.
I am always happy to hear your feedback – please feel free to contact me if you have any questions or comments about this issue.
To learn more about Monarch Butterflies please visit
National Wildlife Federation website – nwf.org
Monarch Watch Website – https://www.monarchwatch.org
Monarch Teacher’s Network – https://monarchteacher.ca
Richmond Hill’s Mayor’s Monarch Pledge Motion
Section 5.4.4(b) of Procedure By-law
Meeting: Committee of the Whole X Council □
Meeting Date: June 14, 2016
Subject/Title: Town of Richmond Hill – Mayor’s Monarch Pledge
Submitted by: Councillor West
Whereas Richmond Hill has shown, and continues to show, demonstrated commitment and leadership regarding the natural environment, as outlined in our approved Environment Strategy, Greening the Hill: Our Community, Our Future;
Whereas Richmond Hill recognizes the decline of the monarch butterfly and the species’ need for habitat, and as such has delivered the Healthy Yards Program for 10 consecutive years, planting 10,000 native trees/shrubs and 14,000 native wildflowers including milkweed;
Whereas Mayors and other local government chief executives are taking action to help save the monarch butterfly, an iconic species whose populations have declined by 90% in the last 20 years;
Whereas in response to the National Wildlife Federation’s Mayors’ Monarch Pledge, cities and municipalities across North America are committing to create habitat and educate citizens about how they can make a difference at home;
Therefore be it resolved that the Town of Richmond Hill hereby is committed to taking the National Wildlife Federation Mayor’s Monarch Pledge by committing to completing the following actions:
- Hosting the 2017 Town of Richmond Hill annual Healthy Yards Program tree and plant sale, as per Richmond Hill’s Environment Strategy, which aims to improve local biodiversity.
- Launching a public communication effort through Richmond Hill’s Healthy Yards Program, encouraging citizens to plant native plant gardens at their homes or in their neighbourhoods. Staff will distribute information about monarch butterfly habitat including the promotion of Richmond Hill’s Native Plant brochures at various public events throughout the summer months to improve public understanding of wildlife interactions and the benefits of living in a biodiverse community. Staff will also promote the Canadian Wildlife Federation’s Backyard Habitat Certification Program.
- Communicating with garden groups at Richmond Hill Blooms Gala event, providing information in support of monarch habitat including native milkweeds and nectar-producing plants.
- Facilitating and supporting a milkweed seed collection and propagation effort through Richmond Hill’s Seed Library.
- As per Richmond Hill’s Official Plan Policy 220.127.116.11.29, continue increasing the percentage of native plants, shrubs and trees used in city landscaping and encourage the use of milkweed where appropriate.
- Plant native milkweed and nectar plants in Town parks and open spaces through the Town of Richmond Hill’s Community Stewardship Program.
- Integrating monarch butterfly conservation into city plans as demonstrated by Richmond Hill’s Environment Strategy which recommends a Naturalization Strategy to prioritize areas of publically owned land for naturalization and locate potential opportunities for private land naturalization.
- Proclaiming June 20th to June 26th Pollinator Week (see attached Proclamation).
Moved by: Councillor West
Seconded by: Councillor Hogg
My Presentation to the CEC Delgates