Monarch butterfly conservation efforts target unused green spaces

TORONTO — The shoulders of highways, rail lines and hydro corridors allow for thousands of kilometres of usable but unused green space that could save the monarch butterfly from extinction.

The monarch population has declined 1 billion in the 1990s to approximately 35 million.

The problem is the decline in milkweed — a plant is vital to the survival of the monarch.

“[Milkweed] is the only plant the monarch butterfly will lay eggs on,” said Tyler Flockhart, Liber Ero Fellow and researcher at the University of Guelph. “It’s the only plant that the caterpillar will feed on before it turns into a butterfly.”

Chemicals used in agriculture and lawn maintenance are wiping out milkweed, leaving nowhere for monarchs to lay eggs or feed.

The David Suzuki Foundation has paired with researchers at the University of Guelph to help restore the monarch population, proposing that green spaces along highways, rail lines and hydro corridors be used to plant milkweed, turning the unused spaces into butterfly habitats.

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READ MORE: Mexico, US, Canada leaders agree to form working group on conservation of Monarch butterflies

“There are literally thousands of kilometres of these linear corridors,” said Jode Roberts, project lead Homegrown National Park Project with the David Suzuki Foundation. “If we just slightly alter the way that they’re managed, changing the times that we mow or using less chemicals… we can profoundly impact the population of monarch butterflies.”

The City of Markham, Ontario, MetroLinks and Hydro One have agreed to allow milkweed to be planted and study on their unused green properties along these linear corridors.

Flockhart is studying how best to grow milkweed, so a cost effective and optimal growing plan can be presented to municipalities.

Every year monarch butterflies migrated from Southern Canada to the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve in Northern Mexico. With increasingly less milkweed along the migration route, the monarchs are dying before reaching their wintering locations.

READ MORE: Groups ask UN to list Mexico Monarch butterfly reserve as ‘in danger’ is also encouraging Canadians to be “citizen scientists” and plant milkweed in their own yards, schools, churches and synagogues and to report monarch sightings.

“We need to put 1.5 billion more [milkweed] stems back in the landscape and that’s going to occupy 20-million acres or more, ” said Chip Taylor, of Monarch Watch.
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“We have one of the most magnificent biological phenomena on the planet in this monarch migration and as two of the richest and technologically capable countries [Canada and the U.S] in the world, we should be able to save this migration.”

The David Suzuki Foundation is continuing its “Got Milkweed” campaign to help Canadians who want to help bolster the monarch population get access to milkweed.

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