The number of monarch butterflies wintering in the mountains of central Mexico fell 22% from the previous year, and the number of trees lost from their preferred wintering sites has tripled.
Humberto Peña, director of a Mexican nature reserve, said frost and “temperature extremes” in the United States may have played a role in the recent winter’s decline in butterflies.
East of the Rocky Mountains of the United States and Canada, monarch butterflies winter in the fir forests of western Michoacán, west of Mexico City. The total area they occupied this winter decreased to 5.4 acres (2.21 ha) from 7 acres (2.84 ha) the previous year.
The annual butterfly count does not calculate the individual number of butterflies, but rather the number of acres they cover when gathered on a tree branch.
Gloria Tavera, Director of Conservation at Mexico’s National Commission for Protected Areas, said forest cover suitable for lost butterflies has increased to 145 acres (58.7 ha) from 46.2 acres (18.8 ha) last year.
Illegal logging is a major threat to pine and fir forests where butterflies flock to keep warm. But experts say more than half of tree loss this year was due to the removal of dead or diseased trees affected by fire, storms, or pests. Tabera said the lack of rain had left the trees under water stress, making them more susceptible to disease, pests and fire.
Jorge Rickards, Mexican representative for the WWF Conservation Group, condemns climate change,
“The monarch butterfly is an indicator of these changes,” Rickards said.
Critics say the removal of diseased trees has been used in the past as an excuse to cut down healthy trees for timber.
Tabera said there was no evidence that it happened this year, adding, “I don’t think anyone is lying.”
Monarch butterflies return to the United States and Canada each year, but are threatened by loss of the milkweed they feed on north of the border and by deforestation in Mexico’s butterfly sanctuaries.
Due to a myriad of factors, monarch butterfly numbers have declined in recent years. Experts say drought, bad weather, habitat loss, especially milkweed, which monarchs lay their eggs in, the use of pesticides and herbicides, and climate change all pose threats to the migration of species. I’m here.
Illegal logging also continues to plague the reserve, and Peña said there are plans to deploy the National Guard on the reserve to prevent that.
However, overt illegal logging actually fell by 3.4% this year. This is mainly due to efforts by residents to protect forests, and a change in the attitudes of many people.
For example, on January 23, the community farm community of Crescencio Morales, in what was once the worst area of illegal logging, deployed its first class of trained and officially approved forest rangers.
Crescencio Morales’ 58-strong forest ranger “Community Guard” began years ago as a hodgepodge band of peasants armed with a motley collection of weapons before the state government provided training and equipment.
Community struggles began in the early 2000s. At that time, residents fought to drive out drug traffickers and illegal loggers and redeem themselves in the process.
“In 1998, the residents of Crescencio Morales decided to set fire to a colony of monarch butterflies in order to clear the land,” recalls Erasmo Alvarez Castillo, leader of the village community or Ejido farmers. increase.
Residents quickly realized two things. Illegal logging has led to the incursion of drug cartels, and surrounding communities earn money from tourism.
Therefore, starting around the year 2000, farmers began replanting the mountain slopes. But they still had to expel the drug cartels. It was a long and difficult battle that ultimately forced the farmers to take up arms after calling the police for help to protect the community but getting no response.
Things came to a head when the town declared itself an autonomous and self-governing municipality.
Faced with armed and rebellious farmers, the government decided to professionalize community forces and train them to protect 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 a good tourist destination,” Alvarez Castillo said. “The plan is to create trails and set up cabins. It will be a tourist destination without destroying the environment.” ___
Solís reported from Crescencio Morales, Mexico.