Advocates call on federal government to protect monarch butterflies

The David Suzuki Foundation is calling on the federal government to do more to protect monarch butterflies by increasing funding to research and protection efforts for the migratory insects in Canada.

David Suzuki Foundation wants increased funding for research and protection of migratory insects

Monarch butterfly experts in Essex County say local numbers have been strong, but support the call for additional protections. (Matthew Beck/The Citris County Chronicle/Associated Press)

An environmental group is calling on the federal government to do more to protect monarch butterflies in Canada.

The David Suzuki Foundation launched their campaign calling for better research and protection of the migratory insects in part due to statistics released earlier this year, showing the number of monarch butterflies wintering in Mexico dropped by 27 per cent in 2016.

At the time, experts said the decline could be due to late winter storms that blew down more than 40 hectares of forests where migrating monarch butterflies spend the winter in central Mexico.

"There's over $20 million (in funding) in the States," said Jode Roberts, a strategist with the David Suzuki Foundation. "In Canada, the response has been very slow. We haven't had government ... announcing money for conservation or research."

Essex County sees good monarch numbers

In Southwestern Ontario, experts say that, anecdotally, local numbers of monarch butterflies actually went up last year. However, they still support the call for increased funding and protection from the federal government.

"I think they need to take some steps in that direction to help them," said Vic Bernyk, owner of Amherstburg, Ont. nursery Native Trees and Plants. "There was an improvement here last year ... big time moving against the national trend."

Leamington's Darlene Burgess raises monarch butterflies in Essex County. (Joana Draghici/CBC)

"Things in our area were better for me," agreed Darlene Burgess, who raises monarch butterflies in the Leamington, Ont. area. "Some people east of here ... London, Kitchener, Stratford, did not have a good year. Last year it seemed really spotty."

Burgess pointed out that there are steps the average person can take to protect insects, on top of federal government actions. "

Stop using pesticides. Plant milkweed. Plant nectaring flowers. Doing all of those helps all pollinators, not just monarchs," she explained.

Too early to tell

Monarchs don't typically begin to appear in Southwestern Ontario until later in the summer, added Burgess, who pointed out May is too early to determine if there's cause for concern about monarch migration.

Millions of monarchs make the 5,500-kilometre migration from the United States and Canada each year, and they cluster tightly in the pine and fir forests west of Mexico City. They are counted not by individuals, but by the area they cover.

with files from The Associated Press