Thunder Bay

Enthusiasm for naturalized yards, monarch conservation buoys Thunder Bay field naturalist

A member of the Thunder Bay Field Naturalists says he welcomes a new by-law for the city, which allows residents to naturalize their yards.

John Walas is a member of the Thunder Bay Field Naturalists

John Walas stands in his garden. (Jasmine Kabatay/CBC)

A member of the Thunder Bay Field Naturalists says he welcomes a new by-law for the city, which allows residents to naturalize their yards.

The change was made so people could create habitats for a declining population of birds and insects.

"In today's world, we have issues with nature," John Walas said.

"Nature's in trouble. Nature's got its back up against the wall. Anything that we can do to help nature will help us in the long term because we're part of that big circle."

The natural landscapes don't need to have giant patches of ugly weeds, but they can be a mixture of flowers or other plants, Walas said. 

Walas' garden is filled with flowers to attract pollinators. (Jasmine Kabatay/CBC)

"You can mix and match," he said. "You can have flowers that attract pollinators. I have flowers that attract pollinators. And I think that's a great way of doing it as well."

It's important to think about pollinators when working on yards or spaces, he added. 

Walas is also buoyed by local conservation efforts aimed at increasing monarch butterfly populations, he said. 

The butterflies were recently added to the list of endangered species.

The late Dan Fulton, the organizer of the volunteer group Urban Greenscapes, helped ignite enthusiasm for monarch conservation in Thunder Bay, spearheading the creation of the Adelaide Monarch Garden near Boulevard Lake and holding annual sales of milkweed plants – the sole food source of the monarch caterpillar. 

Such was the demand that milkweed shortages were becoming a common occurrence

A monarch chrysalis in Walas' backyard (Jasmine Kabatay/CBC)

Milkweed, has frequently been disposed of as a regular weed, Walas said. 

"Farmers eradicated it from their fields because it made their cows sick. So this is an important thing that this monarch butterfly is now listed as endangered. The most important thing that happens because of that is education."

He said when people learn about it, they do what's possible to grow more plants and grow the monarch population. 

"This is the good that is happening. This will help the monarch butterfly population, but more importantly, it'll help all pollinators, all butterflies, all moths — will help all creatures that rely on a good source of nectar and pollen," said Walas.

It gives them a chance to make the place their home and create more bugs, which will help birds and all those higher up the food chain, he explained.

Walas said people will see fewer caterpillars than normal this year as they got a later start than normal, and he usually times them for when lilacs start to bloom.

"That didn't happen until almost the end of June. So that's about when the monarchs did come up here. ... But the second generation is happening now," said Walas.

"So these are the ones that are going to be flying south for the winter, flying to Mexico. So there's lots of time. It's not the end of the world."