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Resident upset over 'unnecessary' removal of butterfly habitat

Weeks after being named 'Bee City', city garden stripped of vital plant for monarch butterflies; 'Ridiculous' move was 'so unnecessary,' says resident

Tom Griffiths was used to seeing butterflies, and butterflies-to-be, in the garden bordering the tennis courts at the West Orillia Sports Complex.

When he showed up to play recently, it was a different sight. All of the milkweed plants had been removed.

“There were hundreds of milkweed plants alongside the fence beside the courts,” Griffiths said. “Tennis players were noting numerous monarch butterfly pupae on the milkweed, which mature to become adult butterflies. Unfortunately for the butterflies, city staff removed all the milkweed plants.”

He said it was a “ridiculous” move, especially since the monarch butterfly is listed as a species of special concern in Ontario.

“I’ve been following the demise of the monarch butterfly and we’ve seen a comeback,” he said. “This is so unnecessary, and it involved my tax dollars to do it.”

Marcia Russell, the city’s manager of parks and facilities, said staff didn’t remove the milkweed with the intent of wiping out butterfly habitat.

“We wouldn’t have identified (milkweed) for them. We would have just told them to weed the garden,” she said.

As its name indicates, milkweed is a weed. It’s not something the city would typically allow in its manicured gardens, like the ones at the sports complex, but rather in “more naturalized areas,” Russell said.

There are butterfly gardens at various locations in the city, including Tudhope Park, Scout Valley and the Leacock Museum, she explained, and there will likely be more to come.

Having been designated a Bee City in June, the city has been looking at areas where it can create more butterfly gardens, which also tend to attract bees and other insects.

While the manicured gardens are more about esthetics, Coun. Jay Fallis would like to see some of the milkweed maintained in the garden at the sports complex.

“It’s unfortunate it got taken out,” he said. “While we do our best, there are always places where we can do better. It’s something we’ll have to look closely at for next year.”