Monarch numbers expected to hit an all-time low

As is their practice, the first Monarchs arrived near the El Rosario sanctuary on November 1 in 2022, just in time for the Day of the Dead festival that’s held each year to celebrate the end of the rainy season.

This winter, the area of oyamel forests that will be covered with Monarchs is going to be low – “probably one of the all-time low numbers – close to, if not below, 1 hectare (2.47 acres),” predicts ecologist Chip Taylor, founder of Monarch Watch, in a blog published last month.

Current numbers date back to 1993 – with the highest being 18.19 hectares in 1996-97, the lowest 0.67 in 2013-14. The butterflies of the eastern Monarch population are the ones that make their way north more than 4,000 kilometres – over several generations in the spring and early summer, and in one fell southward swoop in the fall.

Taylor delivers his interpretation of the data with many caveats, appearing to conclude that the butterflies run into trouble, not in the wintering grounds or the traverse into Texas, but elsewhere along the journey north. It’s accepted that extreme weather events driven by climate change and habitat loss driven by human expansion play a key role in the tiny travellers’ decline.

Whatever may prove to be the cause for this year's dip, the incontrovertible fact is that the overall trend is down, 85 per cent from 1997 to 2014, and according to research quoted by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC), there’s an 11 to 57 per cent chance of quasi-extinction of the eastern Monarch population over the next 20 years.

We at the northern end of the migration occupy a special place in this story. Our Monarchs, tagged early in the season, have the best chance of making it to their destination in the heights of the Sierra Madre

"It is only from Ontario that a sufficient number of Monarchs get to Mexico to continue the population," Taylor said in a recent email to CBC, adding the most important goal is to "sustain and increase Monarch habitat" in the province.

Six years ago, COSEWIC assessed the Monarch as endangered and recommended that the Canadian government list it under the federal Species at Risk Act. A decision is expected soon. Listing will facilitate increased protection.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) recently listed the Monarch as endangered. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service found two years ago that such a listing is warranted but decided that other species have higher priority.

Chip Taylor blog Jan. 4 2023
Numbers plummet – CBC

Study finds harmful pesticides in retail milkweed

The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation has reported that a study released in Biological Conservation found harmful levels of pesticides in milkweed plants purchased from retail nurseries across the United States. Pesticides were found in all plants tested, raising alarms for Monarch conservation efforts that rely on planting milkweed sourced from commercial nurseries.

“It was surprising to see the great diversity of pesticides found in these plants,” said Matt Forister, a professor at the University of Nevada, Reno, and coauthor of the paper. “In many ways, they are as contaminated or even worse than plants growing on the edges of agricultural fields.” Link

Butterfly Rangers sought

The David Suzuki Foundation is recruiting for its Butterfly Ranger program. Rangers and their projects vary greatly but all are focused on creating a Butterflyway, which is 12 or more habitat gardens close together. Other activities include hosting and participating in events such as seed swaps, plant sales, community plantings and seasonal fairs. In my area, Butterflyways have been established in Barrie and Orillia. Link

Get your mayor to take the pledge

A number of Canadian municipal leaders have taken the National Wildlife Federation's Mayors' Monarch Pledge to save the Monarch butterfly. It requires them to make a commitment to undertake a number of actions from a suggested list and provide end-of-year-reports. Link 
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