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Burlington's bylaws need to be more monarch friendly

In 2004 I had the grass in my very tiny front yard removed and a very low wall erected to contain my new garden. Originally, I planted native, heritage plants, most of them edible and all of them able to survive on rain water alone.

Over the years there’s been plenty of transitions. Some plants thrive for years only to suddenly decline or disappeare and be replaced by a completely different variety. This was survival of the fittest playing out in my garden thanks to the effects of climate change.

During that time milkweed started to grow. Probably a throw back to when this land I live on was farmed. I’ve also purchased milkweed and over the past decade or so and all of it has done quite well. This is a particularly good year.

But, this is also the year that I discovered that Burlington, Ontario considers milkweed, the only plant monarchs lay their eggs on, a weed that must be destroyed or removed.

On Friday, June 29, I returned from work to find a Notice of Violation on my front door. The notice stated that I was in contravention of By-law #12-2011 Part 3 3.1(b) which states, "Every owner of property shall ensure that grass and ground cover is trimmed or cut to a height of 20 centimeters (8 inches) or less and shall ensure weeds are removed or destroyed between May 1 and October 15 each calendar year."

The Notice of Violation stated the required action was, "Remove or destroy milkweeds from front yard abutting the sidewalk and adjacent property" within seven days. So, by Thursday, July 5th.

Again, let me be clear that my milkweeds are growing on my property, not on city land, and definitely are not invading a neighbouring property.

So, I began contacting local environmentalists to see if there were any alternative solutions. I did this because trimming milkweed to the required height of 8 inches or less means that the tops of the plants containing all of the leaves which are home to valuable monarch eggs, caterpillars, and chrysalis, would be removed, and that would have devastating results.

A very wise environmentalist, who wished to remain anonymous, told me about the time her neighbour reported her for growing milkweed in her naturalized garden. It seems the neighbour wanted the city to force this woman to grow grass instead of flowers.

Well, when she showed the by-law officer her receipt from a local nursery for the purchase of the offending plants she was told that everything was okay, because clearly a nursery would not sell weeds to the public. The Notice of Violation was withdrawn.

So, in this time of the Suzuki foundation selling milkweed, documentaries like Metamorphosis showcasing school children planting milkweed to encourage the proliferation of monarch butterflies, and people being encouraged to cut back or stop all together watering lawns and gardens, I am perplexed why the City of Burlington is insisting I destroy this native plant that’s imperative to the lifecycle of monarch butterflies?

Here’s a thought. We’re entering a municipal election this fall. Why not make milkweed an election issue? Monarchs deserve our protection as does the water that’s wasted every summer on keeping grass green and non-native species blooming all summer long.

I would argue you don’t even have to live in Burlington or Halton to voice your opinion because monarchs and water affect everyone across the province and country. I encourage you to make your voice heard. Tell the City of Burlington, Ontario that you value native plants like milkweed which nurture valuable monarch butterflies and survive on local rain water.

Here’s a list of email addresses so you can share your thoughts on this matter:

  1. Mayor Rick Goldring mayor@burlington.ca
  2. Councillor Marianne Mead Ward (who is running for Mayor) marianne.meedward@burlington.ca
  3. Councillor Rick Craven  rick.craven@burlington.ca
  4. Councillor John Taylor   john.taylor@burlington.ca
  5. Councillor Jack Dennison  Jack.Dennison@burlington.ca
  6. Councillor Paul Sharma  paul.sharman@burlington.ca
  7. Councillor Blair Lancaster   blair.lancaster@burlington.ca

After all, isn’t a weed simply a flower growing in what suburban society mistakenly believes is "the wrong place?" Tell that to the monarchs.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

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