The Butterfly Effect

Once a common summer sight from Alberta to Newfoundland, monarch butterflies may soon join the ranks of extinct species. Over the past two decades monarch populations have declined by 90 percent, reaching an all-time low last year. While the challenges that need to be addressed are not limited to Canada`s capabilities, there is more we can do to help these important pollinators. But, Canada is only a part of monarchs range as these tiny insects embark on an improbable journey every year, travelling 4,000 kilometers to Mexico where they spend fall and winter in the high peaks of the Oyamel Fir forest.

According to experts, monarchs face three major obstacles illegal logging threatens their winter habitat which means fewer make it back to Canada, but that may be the least of their worries when compared to the depletion of their main food source, milkweed. Milkweed is crucial to the monarch’s migration. It`s where they lay their eggs and monarch caterpillars feed, but milkweed, like many other plants, has grown scarce from herbicide use.

Glyphosate, an indiscriminate herbicide used in forestry management has wreaked havoc on milkweed and many wildflowers that produce nectar. In humans, glyphosate has been linked to infertility, cancer, and other health risks especially in children. Since glyphosate is considered a Class 9 pesticide (potentially dangerous to human health) we should not expose our environment to it or allow its use in home products like Roundup. Here in Algoma-Manitoulin-Kapuskasing the Traditional Ecological Knowledge Elders group has been leading a strong fight to have glyphosate banned. The plight of monarchs only reinforces their argument.

The Pest Management Regulatory Agency of Health Canada is meant to protect the health of humans and our environment by `minimizing the risks of pesticides.` Despite that they continue to put the interests of the forest management ahead of those of Canadians and our environment. To target one pest, herbicides and pesticides are designed to poison so much more, including humans, monarch butterflies, bees, etc.. The best way to minimize the risk of pesticides is to not use them at all.

Still, the most challenging threat may be climate change. Monarchs have a highly advanced migration pattern which is disrupted by fluctuations in weather. These fluctuations also affect milkweed and the viability of any eggs that are laid.

Though now ranked as a `species of special concern`, monarch butterflies should be listed as an endangered species under the Species at Risk Act. This would help ensure their survival and force the government to designate protected habitats. Just as it is necessary to fight for native bees which face a similar fate, Canadians must fight to protect monarchs. Without pollinators like these, our plant diversity and the species that depend on them will suffer.

Additionally, there are things everyone can do to help protect monarchs. Instead of pesticides, try less threatening, options. Support the growth of milkweed by planting it or plant a butterfly garden of flowering plants in your community. If these beautiful insects are to be part of our common future, they need our help and protection. We will help protect them, ourselves, and our environment in the process.