The number of monarch butterflies wintering in Mexico has decreased by 22%
MEXICO CITY — The number of monarch butterflies wintering in the mountains of central Mexico has decreased by 22% compared to the previous year, and the number of trees lost from their favorite wintering grounds has tripled.
Frost and “extreme temperatures” in the United States may have played a role in the drop in butterfly numbers last winter, said Humberto Peña, director of Mexico’s conservation areas.
In the United States and Canada, monarchs east of the Rockies overwinter in the pine forests of Michoacan state, west of Mexico City. Their total area occupied last winter dropped to 5.4 hectares (2.21 acres) from 7 hectares (2.84 acres) a year earlier.
The annual butterfly count does not calculate the individual number of butterflies, but how many hectares they cover when they stick together on tree branches.
Gloria Tavera, director of conservation at Mexico’s National Commission of Protected Areas, said the forested area suitable for butterflies has increased to 145 hectares (58.7 acres) from 46.2 hectares (18.8 acres) last year.
Illegal logging poses a serious threat to pine and pine forests, where the butterflies gather in clumps to keep warm. But experts said more than half of the tree loss this year was due to the removal of dead or diseased trees affected by fire, storms or pests. Tavera said the lack of rain put the trees under hydraulic stress, making them more vulnerable to disease, pests and fires.
Jorge Rickards, Mexico director of the WWF conservation group, blamed climate change,
“The monarch butterfly is an indicator of these changes,” Rickards said.
Critics say that in the past, the removal of diseased trees has been used as an excuse to cut down healthy trees for timber.
Tavera said he had no evidence that it happened this year, adding: “I don’t think anyone would lie.”
Each year, monarchs return to the United States and Canada on their annual migration, which is threatened by the loss of feeding milkweed north of the border and deforestation in Mexican butterfly sanctuaries.
As a result of countless factors, the number of monarchs has decreased in recent years. Experts say drought, severe weather and habitat loss — particularly that of silkworms, where monarchs nest — as well as the use of pesticides and herbicides and climate change are all threats to the species’ migration.
Illegal logging continues to plague the reserves, and Peña said there are plans to deploy National Guard troops to the reserve to prevent it.
However, the number of open, illegal tree fellings decreased by 3.4% this year, largely due to the efforts of the population to protect their forests and a change in attitude of many.
For example, on January 23rd, the communal farming community of Crescencio Morales – once the worst area for illegal logging – deployed first class trained and officially licensed rangers.
Forest ranger Crescencio Morales’ 58-member “Community Guard” began life a few years ago as a ragtag band of farmers armed with a motley collection of weapons before the state government offered to train and equip them.
The community’s struggle began in the early 2000s, when residents fought to push out drug traffickers and illegal loggers, redeeming themselves in the process.
“Back in 1998, the residents of Crescencio Morales decided to set fire to the dominant butterfly colonies to carve up the land,” recalls Erasmo Álvarez Castillo, head of the village’s communal, or ejido, farmers.
The residents quickly saw two things: Illegal logging brought with it the encroachment of drug cartels, and the surrounding communities made money from tourism.
Thus, around 2000, farmers began to reforest the hillsides. But they still had to shut out the drug gangs. It was a long and arduous struggle that eventually forced the farmers to take up arms after calls to the police to protect the community went unanswered.
Things got going when the city declared itself an autonomous self-governing municipality.
Faced with armed, rebellious farmers, the government decided to try to professionalize the community force and train it to protect the forests.
Now that the butterflies are back, the village can dream of attracting tourists.
“Our land on the top of the mountain is very beautiful. It would be good for a tourist site,” said Álvarez Castillo. “The plan is to make trails, build cabins — a tourist site without destroying the environment.” ___
Solís reported from Crescencio Morales, Mexico.