Earlier this week I published a post City Of London Shows Disregard For Species At Risk regarding the recent pesticide use and mowing of Milkweed in Greenway Park. Through the power of social media, my concerns reached over 15,000 people and were shared with various Monarch Butterfly Groups, including the David Suzuki Foundation. Several concerned citizens, myself included, contacted their City Councillors asking why these actions took place. I have heard back from my Ward 11 Councillor Stephen Turner and learned the mowing occurred as a result of lost soccer balls. Whereas, the pesticides were applied to control Poison Ivy.
Here is Councillor Turner’s response:
Thanks to Paul Roedding for noticing the issue regarding the activities in Greenway Park recently. He brought to my attention that a significant area of naturalized meadow adjacent to the soccer fields had been mowed and that this area was well populated with milkweed, which is an important food source and habitat for migrating Monarch butterflies. He also remarked about the use of pesticides in the area as well. I wrote to the City’s Parks and Recreation department to inquire about what had happened and why so I’d like to share the response with you. There is an area around the soccer fields that had grown tall and dense in recent years and regular complaints about this had been filed with City Hall. Soccer players were often losing balls in the meadow and were concerned about any concealed dangers they might encounter while searching for balls. In response, city staff cut the area back to provide a larger buffer to the soccer pitch, in particular, behind the goals. Unfortunately, staff were unaware of the significance of the milkweed or monarch population in the mowed area. Spot application of pesticides was performed along the fenceline of the Greenway pollution control plant to treat poison ivy that had grown in the area. While I have campaigned against the use of cosmetic pesticides, the pesticide application in this circumstance seems reasonable given the public safety risk. Staff have assured me that the area and practice will be reviewed and the appropriate area will be allowed to re-naturalize. I have asked that the sensitive areas be visibly marked out and that city staff be trained to recognize these habitats in order to avoid similar incidents in Greenway or other parts of the city as well. Having been a 9 year member of the Environmental and Ecological Planning Advisory Committee and an inaugural member of the board of ReForest London, I very much share Paul’s concern about our sensitive environmental lands and I will continue to pursue strong environmental policies and practices for our city.
Greenway Park is a beautiful multi-use area along the Thames River, consisting of several soccer fields, an off-leash dog park, a playground, paved multi-use paths, and several natural areas that are home to many of London’s Species at Risk, including the Monarch Butterfly.
The area in question is located in the west end of Greenway Park, and surrounds one of the city’s soccer fields. At one end of the soccer pitch once stood the largest section of mature Milkweed plants in the park. I have photographed many Monarch Butterflies here over the years, and have observed this Species at Risk in the same location again this year. Despite there already being a large mowed area around the field and behind the goal, serving as a spectator area, the City of London Parks and Recreation Department mowed an even larger section surrounding the field, disrupting the naturalized area including this large patch of Milkweed. According to Ward 11 Councillor Stephen Turner, the city received complaints over lost soccer balls in the adjacent natural areas containing the Milkweed. Unfortunately city staff were unaware of the significance of Milkweed for Monarch Butterflies and mowed these mature plants.
I searched the few remaining Milkweed plants and found one Monarch Caterpillar, proof that this species was reproducing in the area. I can only imagine the number of other caterpillars or pupa destroyed by this mowing.
Mature Milkweed plants, such as the ones mowed, produce a large taproot and will grow back next season if mowing ceases. It is unfortunate that this situation happened, but is an excellent opportunity to educate everyone about the state of the Monarch Butterfly and the importance of Milkweed. I am happy with Councillor Turner’s response and agree that city staff need to be trained to recognized these sensitive habitats. I would like to see a permanent sign go up in this area to educate all park users about the significance of Milkweed and why this area needs to be protected. It would also serve as a reminder to city staff not to mow the area in the future, as well as be aware of similar habitats in Greenway and other city parks. After all, soccer balls can be replaced at a local sporting good store, Monarchs however cannot.
I am glad to hear Councillor Turner, like me, is opposed to the use of cosmetic pesticides. I would like to see the city perhaps take a closer look at areas where they are considering their use to determine if they are really necessary. We are often told that the safest method of application was used, but let’s not confuse safest with safe. When it comes to harmful chemicals that require a sign telling humans to stay off, they are not safe. I find that many of the city parks and ESAs I visit are using spot control methods of pesticide use for Poison Ivy, but not all of these spots require treatment to keep the public safe. The long term cumulative impacts of pesticide use add up. Many of these pesticides are being used in areas where human access is either limited or prohibited. In the case of Greenway Park, pesticides were used along the hedgerow adjacent to the Greenway Pollution Control Centre. This area is seldom used by foot traffic as the multi-use path is across the road. Anyone walking here would run a far greater risk of being struck by a car than coming in contact with the Poison Ivy. Perhaps signage stating that Poison Ivy is present in an area and to remain on marked trails would be a safer alternative. Signage could also save the city money in the long run as fewer areas would require pesticide use.
Despite the unfortunate circumstances and the timing of this mowing, I am pleased with the response from Councillor Turner and the City of London, and would like to thank him for addressing this matter promptly. Acknowledging that a mistake was made, and hopefully using it as a learning experience to prevent it from happening again, provides a slightly positive twist on an otherwise negative situation.
I would like to thank all those who took the time to share my original post or contacted your City Councillor to express your concerns as well. When it comes to environmental issues like these, education is key. In today’s online world we have the ability to reach thousands of people; taking the time to start a conversation and present information in a positive way can often result in change. By coming together as a community, we can all become environmental stewards and make London, Ontario a better place.