Monarch Butterflies Get A Break From Mexican Perils
August 17, 2012

Monarch Butterfly Population Gets A Reprieve From Illegal Logging

April Flowers for - Your Universe Online

Every fall, millions of Monarch butterflies make the 3,000-mile journey from Canada along the California coastline to central Mexico. Clouds of black, orange and white butterflies descend upon the oyamel fir trees in the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve. The Reserve is 200 square miles in the state of Michoacan, Mexico.

One of the biggest obstacles that has faced the butterflies who winter in Mexico was deforestation by illegal logging, reports the Associated Press. According to a research report released this week; illegal logging has practically been eliminated in the region. Mexican officials hope to use the successful program of anti-logging patrols and payments to rural residents to solve other forestry conflicts in the country.

The Mexican government, in conjunction with private donors and conservation groups, has spent millions of dollars to get residents inside the butterfly reserve to plant trees and start eco-tourism businesses to benefit from the public fascination with the Monarch migration. They hope this same kind of solution can work in areas where illegal logging has caused armed conflicts and killing.

"This has been a successful program," Environment Secretary Juan Elvira Quesada, told Associated Press reporter Mark Stevenson. "We want to keep expanding it."

This mountaintop forest area was declared a nature reserve in 2000, and this is the first time that detectable amounts of logging have not been evident.

"The battle is not yet won," said Omar Vidal of the environmental group WWF Mexico, saying that policing efforts in the pine and fir forests must be continued. He said small-scale logging may still be going on, and that more efforts are needed to offer economic alternatives to the communal farmers who live in the reserve and formerly made money from logging.

As recently as 2005, logging devastated as much as 1,140 acres a year in the reserve, which covers 193,000 acres. This is about the same time that armed police were assigned to patrol the reserve and shut down illegal logging operations. At one point, villages in the area hung out signs saying, "no environment department official allowed."

University of Florida professor emeritus and a Monarch butterfly expert, Lincoln Brower congratulated the Mexican government for greatly improving their stance against illegal logging, but warned that more needed to be done.

Brower said he had seen forest degradation during visits to the reserve in 2010 and 2012, and said "until the government establishes a system of close and continuous year-round, on-the-ground monitoring and official guarding, this ongoing and progressive degradation will continue." Brower continued by warning that individual tree removal by small groups of loggers would be virtually undetectable by aerial and satellite imagery.

Officials are trying the same approach in the Michoacan town of Cheran, where armed conflicts resulting in over a dozen deaths have arisen between the townspeople and the loggers. The town has put up roadblocks and called for the army to help them. Similar programs have also been tried in Chimalapas where Native communities are fighting with the government over land and resources.

The measures could be used in "land conflicts, environmental and law enforcement disputes, where the key to the solution is preserving natural resources," Elvira Quesada said.

Logging is not the only threat facing the Monarch Butterfly. Climate change, bark beetles, drought and a parasitic infestation of mistletoe have caused a combined loss of nearly 52 acres of pine and fir forest.

Drought is a big problem, not only in the Mexican forests where the butterflies winter, but in the American and Canadian environments where they summer as well. The numbers of butterflies making the trip to Mexico has dropped 28 percent just this year, according to a report released in March. (So many butterflies do make the journey that the way researchers count them is to count the number of acres they cover.) The number of colorful insects that make it to Mexico has varied wildly the last few years. Two years ago, their numbers dropped nearly 75%, a record low since scientists started keeping records in 1993.