THE BLOG

Where Have All the Monarchs Gone?

02/20/2014 02:50 EST | Updated 04/22/2014 05:59 EDT

When I was a young girl, seeing monarchs flit around was as common as hearing the songs of the meadowlarks and the chipping of ground squirrels. I was fortunate to grow up on the edge of suburban Winnipeg. A quick pedal on my bike and I was in "wilderness." At least in my mind it was. But in reality it was semi-rural market gardens and patchy mixed wetlands and prairie. Apparently this was the perfect mix of habitat to support the monarchs and hundreds of other native prairie species.

As I grew older and into my teenage years, I noticed even then the changes to my "wilderness" and the diminished occurrences of meadowlark songs and flitting butterflies. My bike ride to serenity was soon taking longer, as new communities popped in the areas around us. That five-minute bike ride was soon up to 15, then 30 minutes to reach the wilds.

As a young adult with many career paths to choose from, I was drawn back to what was important to me when I was young: being a part of, and in support of, the natural world.

Twenty-five years later, I am fortunate to work in environmental education and conservation. In particular, I have spent the last 10 years with Canada's largest land conservation organization: the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC). My focus and drive have always been the advocacy for the conservation of natural lands and prairie species in Manitoba and in particular the monarchs that rely on these lands.

In the last 20 years, NCC's Manitoba Region has secured and is now managing 23,744 acres (9,609 hectares) of native tall grass prairie in southeast Manitoba. The tall grass prairie supports approximately 1,000 species that require this unique landscape for survival. Many of these prairie species, including the monarchs, are seeing a drastic decline in their populations.

In recent years, scientists across North America have become increasingly concerned about the status of the monarch, which is listed as a species of special concern by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Species in Canada. And this winter, scientists in Mexico reported that the species is now occupying the smallest area since records began almost a decade ago.

The news is sobering. If these trends continue, the monarch's historic migration may be no more.

Despite this, I take solace in the fact that there are things we can do, here in Canada, to help this vulnerable species. For the last several years, NCC staff have participated in the Monarch Habitat Restoration Project -- restoring native prairie habitat to help ensure the monarchs have a safe place to land, feed and breed when they migrate north each summer.

NCC is also part of the international Monarch Teacher Network, which provides hands-on learning opportunities for educators and garden enthusiasts to help the butterfly. NCC's Manitoba Region will be hosting several one-day workshops in Winnipeg, Sioux Narrows, Ontario and in Saskatchewan this summer.

Heightened public awareness of the issues surrounding the decline of this butterfly has initiated many conservation and education projects in support of this species across North America. I am thrilled to be working for NCC during this time where every action we do on the landscape will benefit this incredible symbol of conservation.

I hope that the many generations to come will also find enjoyment in having the monarchs flit around and solace in hearing the songs of the meadowlarks and the chipping of ground squirrels.

Written by Cathy Shaluk, communications and outreach coordinator in Manitoba for the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC). This post originally appeared on Land Lines, the NCC blog.