Melita halts monarch butterfly rearing kits

·4 min read

As a result of a potential re-classification of the status of monarch butterflies, the Monarch Homestead in Melita will no longer be stocking monarch-rearing butterfly kits in its store.

The homestead is a for-profit organization run by Natasha and Danial Forster in Melita, 131 kilometres southwest of Brandon. The Forsters launched the organization in April 2017, and have since released hundreds of monarch butterflies raised from rescued caterpillars found alongside fields about to be sprayed with pesticide.

Danial Forster told the Sun the decision to no longer provide the monarch-rearing kits was made out of an abundance of caution after the International Union for the Conservation of Nature decided last month to enter the species into its “Red List of Threatened Species” as endangered, threatened by habitat destruction and climate change.

On a statement on the international union’s website, director general Bruno Oberle said the decision was made to protect the fragility of nature’s wonder.

According to the union, the native population of migratory monarch butterflies has shrunk by 22-72 per cent over the last decade. Their website cites logging and deforestation to make space for agriculture and urban development as factors in destroying substantial areas of the butterflies’ winter shelter in Mexico and California. The group also said the use of pesticides and herbicides used in intensive agriculture is killing off butterflies and milkweed, the host plant that the larvae of the monarch butterfly feed on.

“It is difficult to watch monarch butterflies and their extraordinary migration teeter on the edge of collapse, but there are signs of hope,” stated Anna Walker, a member of the union’s butterfly and moth specialist group, on the website.

“So many people and organizations have come together to try and protect this butterfly and its habitats. From planting native milkweed and reducing pesticide use to supporting the protection of overwintering sites and contributing to community science, we all have a role to play in making sure this iconic insect makes a full recovery.”

Forster said he believes the Switzerland-based International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s decision will have far-reaching impacts.

“With the international organization listing monarchs as endangered, we feel the federal government is more likely to address it this upcoming parliamentary season and most likely to list them as the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada advised them to do in 2016.”

It’s a goal that Monarch Homestead takes seriously, he said. Though the organization will no longer provide monarch kits, it has a number of programs aimed at helping the butterfly population. Those include the Monarch Lodge program, where the homestead provides tools, training and support to community centres to allow them to successfully raise and release monarch butterflies. Currently, a monarch lodge is in place at Rotary Villas Retirement Community in Brandon. It began in 2019 as a pilot partnership between Monarch Homestead and the retirement community.

“Our Monarch Lodge program has proven to be a successful and fulfilling project for any destination where there are community residents,” the homestead’s website says. The free program has a low space requirement and low daily time commitment.

Forster said that although the homestead won’t be selling monarch rearing kits to the public, the lodge program will stay in place unless the status of monarch butterflies officially changes.

“Until the federal government fully classifies them as endangered, then no one will be able to rear monarchs indoors unless they have a special permit.”

Monarch Homestead is also promoting the importance of milkweed through a free milkweed seed giveaway program. Milkweed is the sole food source of monarch butterflies while they are caterpillars; without it the monarchs could vanish. The homestead is encouraging people to create more milkweed habitat by sending pre-stamped and addressed envelopes to their site. They then send back a package of swamp or oval-leaved milkweed seeds and growing instructions.

The homestead is also urging the province to take common milkweed off of its noxious weeds list.

“We feel it is important to remove all milkweed from noxious weeds lists in Manitoba, as it has a future potential as an economic crop,” Forster said. “Increasing the habitat for monarchs is the number one way to help them.”

Milkweed was listed as noxious when people didn’t have successful ways of dealing with it, Forster said, but that has changed.

“[We’ve] since developed methods and herbicides to remove it from areas where it can harm farmers’ crops or livestock as well.”

Miranda Leybourne, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Brandon Sun