Taking Action to Save Monarch Butterflies – In our Own Backyards


Taking Action to Save Monarch Butterflies – In our Own Backyards

At the June 14th Council Meeting, I moved a member motion to take action in Richmond Hill to help save monarch butterflies (the motion is copied below). These creatures are in danger of extinction as their habitat and only food source, milkweed, is being threatened by a number of factors throughout their migratory range. Research has shown that a coordinated increase in the habitat for monarchs in municipalities across North America, would significantly raise their chances of survival, and this is what my member motion is committing Richmond Hill to do. Perhaps just as important, the motion encourages other municipalities to do the same. It is through this cumulative effort that we will make a difference. I am proud to say that Richmond Hill, through its various in place Environmental Policies, already takes many of the actions listed in this motion. I believe it is important, not only to leverage our great work on the environment, but to act as a leader on environmental issues – and we are well equipped to do so in Richmond Hill. In the case of the monarch butterfly our leadership can make a difference.

When I think of the wonder that the natural world holds, I can think of no better example of an “everyday miracle” than that of the monarch butterfly. If I didn’t know better, and someone told me that this tiny insect, weighing only a few ounces, had the capability to migrate from Canada to the same specific several hectare spot in a mountainous area of Mexico, hibernate over the winter, fly back to the Southern United States, reproduce, and then their offspring would carry on their parents’ journey north to the northern United States and Canada, reproduce two new generations, with the final generation of the cycle migrating back to Mexico where their great grandparents overwintered the previous winter – I would not believe it!  Further, if you told me that this cycle had been going on uninterrupted for thousands of years, and it was, in fact, unknown to scientists until the 1970’s, I would say that this is completely impossible and the stuff of a Disney movie. However this is what happens in the everyday miracle that is the monarch butterfly.

Indeed, in 1975, a Canadian scientist, Dr. Fred Urquhart, discovered that this miracle was actually a reality when he and his research colleagues discovered the monarch overwintering grounds in the remote mountains of El Rosario, Mexico. This has been the migration destination for millions of Monarch butterflies over many thousands of years. Since Dr. Urquhart’s discovery, we have also come to understand that the population of monarch butterflies has dropped significantly in past years. We now know why.

There are pressures from development and clear-cut logging in the area that monarchs spend their winters in Mexico, and there has also been a significant drop in the availability of Milkweed along the migration route, and in their breeding grounds. This area collectively spans the better part of North America. The reduction in the monarch caterpillar’s sole food source, milkweed, is due to a number of factors taking place across North America relating to urbanization and herbicide use in agriculture. The miracle, that is the monarch butterfly’s existence, has proven fragile and easy to upset, and it seems that it is indeed being upset. Since 1975 scientists have clearly demonstrated that there has been a significant and measured decline in the numbers of monarchs overwintering in Mexico and thus fewer to make the northward journey to reproduce and continue the cycle each year.

While the plight of this tiny creature is unique in some ways, it has a lot in common with similar threats that exist for other species that are also caused by human activity. Like many endangered and, at risk species, the activities that humans undertake have impacts on other species that share this planet. The onus should be on us as a society to be aware of these impacts and address and reverse the impacts whenever possible. In fact, in the case on Monarchs, it has been demonstrated through research, that solutions to the problems that these butterflies face are possible, with a coordinated effort from municipalities across the continent.

There is something that every municipality and citizen can do. Organizations like Monarch Watch in the USA, and the David Suzuki Foundation (Got Milkweed Program) and the National Wildlife Federation (Mayor’s Monarch Pledge), are leading the way to ensure positive changes happen. Programs in municipalities in many provinces, and states are underway to plant milkweed plants and recreate habitat for Monarch butterflies. The motion that I have brought to council represents a step in this direction. Municipalities like Richmond Hill can be a significant part of the solution to help restore the monarch population to a level that will ensure their continued existence into the future. The actions outlined in this motion are simple, inexpensive, and represent actions that all of our residents can also undertake on their own if they choose.

I would also add that creating and nurturing natural habitat for monarchs also has benefits for other species as well. The same habitat favourable for monarchs is also generally favourable for other insects, bees and pollinators. So, while this motion targets the monarch butterfly, there would be many other positive consequences for the health of our natural environment as a whole.

When I was a child my father, brother and I raised and released thousands of monarch butterflies each summer. It was a magical and miraculous thing to watch these tiny caterpillars change to a chrysalis, and then two weeks later emerge as a butterfly. When my son was younger we continued the tradition, but this time we were able to tag our butterflies to help scientists understand their life cycles better. Even though I have witnessed the transformation from caterpillar to butterfly hundreds of times it never ceases to amaze me. I have noticed that over the years it has become harder and harder to find monarch butterfly caterpillars. I want future generations of kids to have the opportunity to be amazed by this everyday miracle as I continue to be, so we need to act now to save the monarch.  I am proud that, in Richmond Hill, we act as responsible stewards of our environment and this motion is one more demonstration of Richmond Hill’s commitment in this regard.or a good article related to this issue please visit https://www.yorkregion.com/news-story/6730660-richmond-hill-signs-mayors-monarch-pledge-to-help-save-species/ I should add that the Kitchener Post also ran this story.

A link to another blog post I created last year on this subject – https://davidwest-richmondhill.ca/monarchs-and-milkweed/

A link to the Monarch Watch website  – https://www.monarchwatch.org

A link to the National Wildlife Federation’s website’s Monarch section – https://www.nwf.org/Garden-For-Wildlife/Create/Communities/Mayors-Monarch-Pledge.aspx

A link to the David Suzuki Foundation’s website  – https://www.davidsuzuki.org/what-you-can-do/monarch-butterflies-need-your-help/

Mayor’s Monarch Pledge Member Motion

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;

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 following the National Wildlife Federation Mayor’s Monarch Pledge by committing to completing the following actions:

1.  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.

2. 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.

3. Communicating with garden groups at Richmond Hill Blooms Gala event, providing information in support of monarch habitat including native milkweeds and nectar-producing plants.

4. Facilitating and supporting a milkweed seed collection and propagation effort through Richmond Hill’s Seed Library.

5. As per Richmond Hill’s Official Plan Policy, continue increasing the percentage of native plants, shrubs and trees used in city landscaping and encourage the use of milkweed where appropriate.

6. Plant native milkweed and nectar plants in Town parks and open spaces through the Town of Richmond Hill’s Community Stewardship Program.

7. 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.

8. By creating a monarch neighbourhood challenge to engage neighbourhoods within Richmond Hill to create habitat for monarch butterfly.

9. Proclaiming June 20th to June 26th Pollinator Week .