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Monarch Butterfly Moves from Special Concern to Endangered under Federal Species at Risk Act

Monarch Butterfly. (Photo: Brian Stone)

On December 8, 2023, amendments to the Species at Risk Act (SARA) were announced by the federal government. As part of the changes, the status of the Monarch Butterfly was changed under Schedule 1 of SARA, the legislation that officially declares species at risk in Canada. Though the Monarch was previously known federally to be a species of Special Concern (2003), it has been reclassified as Endangered.

SARA not only lists which species are at risk of extinction, but also outlines the responsibility of government to ensure adequate protections for SAR, which resources are available to be deployed, what individuals and community groups are able to do, and more.

There are four categories recognized under Schedule 1 of SARA. They are:

  • Extirpated: Extinct in Canada, but still exists in other jurisdictions
  • Endangered: Facing imminent extirpation or even extinction
  • Threatened: Likely to become endangered if protection measures are not implemented or accelerated
  • Special Concern: May become Threatened or Endangered due to adverse biological and/or environmental conditions that have been identified and are predicted to worsen

What does this mean for the Monarch?

Monarch Butterfly / Papillon monarque - Janet Kempster
Monarch Butterfly on Swamp Milkweed. (Photo: Janet Kempster)

The decline in population of the Monarch Butterfly has been on the radar of government organizations, environmental non-governmental organizations (ENGOs), citizen groups, and individuals alike in recent decades. The Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) is the independent body that makes recommendations to the federal government with regards to SARA, and they first identified that the Monarch was of Special Concern in Canada in 1997, and re-assessed them as Endangered in 2016.

With Monarchs moving from Special Concern to Endangered, there are a few more protection measures that can be implemented to protect Monarch butterflies and their habitat in Canada. These protection measures require federal and provincial/territorial collaboration, with support from ENGOs and other partners.

The process to implement an effective conservation plan for an Endangered species is long and involved. Thankfully, much is already known about the Monarch Butterfly and what it needs to survive along its long migration route, and though this route spans international borders, we can take advantage of the protections that SARA grants this species in New Brunswick and across Canada.

Specifically, SARA can:

  • Prohibit the killing of species and the destruction of their habitats, punishable through fines and/or judicial action (check with local authorities to see where this applies near you)
  • Providing authority to the appropriate departments to prohibit the destruction of critical habitats, including in emergency situations threatening species or their habitats
  • Make available additional funding and incentives for participation in conservation and stewardship efforts
  • Allow compensation to be paid out when necessary

What can individuals do to help?

At this time, there are many things that individuals can do to contribute to the protection of the Monarch Butterfly. These include:

  • Planting Swamp and Common Milkweed on your property, along with other native plants that bloom in late summer and early fall (such as Asters and Goldenrod) to provide breeding and nectaring habitat.
  • Refrain from the use of pesticides and herbicides in your garden.
    • If you are a farmer, you can consider Integrated Pest Management to reduce the amount of pesticides needed on the farm.
  • Get involved with local conservation efforts and groups as a volunteer.
  • Refrain from handling the Monarch Butterfly outside of permitted monitoring activities.
  • Report the destruction of Monarch Butterfly habitat (i.e. large patches of Milkweed) to the appropriate authorities, such as the Department of Environment and Local Government in NB:

As new protection measures are implemented at the federal and provincial levels, Nature NB will be sure to keep our members and supporters updated.

For now, you can order Swamp Milkweed seeds or make a donation to help us contribute to the protection of this species and its habitat in New Brunswick.


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