A Call to Action
Welcome to the March/april issue of Canadian Wildlife. It was just a couple months ago, back on a dark wintry evening in January, that I heard a fascinating interview on CBC Radio. I was driving home in my car when I heard a scientist at the University of Guelph describing his research on monarch butterfly habitat, not usually the first thing one’s thoughts turn to in the dead of winter.
But monarchs had been front-of-mind for many this winter. Like many Canadians, I was alarmed to hear in December that the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada, an advisory panel of experts, had made a sobering declaration: the Canadian government should act immediately to move monarch butterflies to the endangered species list. Over the previous two decades their population had dropped precipitously, with numbers declining by 90 per cent. Without concerted and urgent action, the panel explained, monarch butterflies would be wiped out. (As of press time, the federal government has still not acted on the recommendation.) It was against this depressing backdrop that I listened to Tyler Flockhart on my car radio.
Much of the blame for the decline of monarchs has been placed on shrinking habitat and the loss of milkweed plants. To determine how to best concentrate conservation efforts, Flockhart and his team did a chemical analysis of butterfly wings collected as far back as the mid-1970s to understand where they originated. What he discovered surprised him: the consensus assumption had long been that breeding locations for most monarchs were predominately in the U.S. Midwest. Instead, Flockhart found that the majority of monarchs were born in other areas, including a very high number in Canada. The implications were immediately obvious: we in Canada have to do more to save these extraordinary creatures. And we must do it soon.
I immediately contacted the editor of this magazine and asked him what the magazine could do with the story. The result starts on page 26: writer Brian Banks, a frequent contributor, explains the crisis and summarizes Flockhart’s important work. He also provides a practical sidebar describing what each of us can do to address the problem. It turns out there is plenty, from pressuring your municipal government and local corporations and utilities to plant milkweed, to creating your own butterfly-supportive environment. It is not always obvious on these large environmental issues what individuals can do to make a difference, so I am glad we can offer concrete action for everyone to take. I encourage you to join the effort to save the monarch.
To see how important active volunteers can be, check out Nick Hawkins’ article and photo essay on whale entanglement (page 18). Hawkins, also a regular contributor, went to the Bay of Fundy to find out about the important and dangerous work of saving entangled whales from slow and painful deaths. What he found was a group of dedicated volunteers (all of whom make their living from the sea) who risk limb and livelihood to do the right thing. It is both a harrowing and an inspiring story.
All of us at CWF know it is up to everyone to make a difference, and we are grateful for the support we receive from so many Canadians each year. It is my hope that our magazine will inspire even more Canadians to act in defence of our wildlife.