Tag Archives: Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve

LOSS OF HABITAT, THE USE OF PESTICIDES AND HERBICIDES, AND CLIMATE CHANGE ARE HAVING A PROFOUNDLY NEGATIVE IMPACT ON THE BUTTERFLIES

IT’S NOT JUST MEXICO’S FORESTS THAT NEED PROTECTING FOR BUTTERFLY MIGRATION

THEIR ROUTE FROM CANADA IS THREATENED BY OVERUSE OF HERBICIDES AND CLIMATE CHANGE, AMONG OTHER FACTORS

Monarch and Marsh Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata)

Mexico, the United States and Canada must share responsibility for the conservation of the monarch butterfly, according to a biologist who warns that the insect’s North American migratory path is at risk of becoming a thing of the past.

Víctor Sánchez-Cordero, a researcher at the National Autonomous University’s Institute of Biology and Mexico’s lead representative on a tri-national scientific committee that studies the monarch, said that the butterflies’ route from southeastern Canada to the fir tree forests of Michoacán and México state is under threat.

He blames the excessive use of herbicides, changes in the way land is used, climate change and a reduction in the availability of nectar and pollen.

“The commitment to conserve this migratory phenomenon not only focuses on Mexico; it’s a shared responsibility between our country, Canada and the United States,” Sánchez-Cordero said.

The researcher, who along with his team developed a system to monitor the migration of the monarch, said that there is a misconception that the most important – almost exclusive – factor in ensuring the continuation of the phenomenon is the conservation of forests in the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve (RBMM), located about 100 kilometers northwest of Mexico City.

That idea “has placed great international pressure on Mexico,” Sánchez-Cordero said before adding that he and his team published an article in the journal Frontiers in Environmental Science that shows that the decline in the number of monarch butterflies migrating to Mexico is not due to deforestation in the RBMM.

Deforestation has been drastically reduced in the past 10 years but butterfly numbers have continued to decline, he said.

“The dramatic reduction in the density of monarch butterflies that arrive at overwintering sites in Mexico doesn’t correlate with the loss of forest coverage, which shows that this factor is not responsible for the population reduction. … Other hypotheses to explain the decrease must be sought,” Sánchez-Cordero said.

One possible cause for the decline, he explained, is that the excessive use of herbicides is killing milkweed, a plant that is a main food source for monarch butterflies and on which females lay their eggs. Less nectar and pollen in the United States and Canada as a result of deforestation is another possible cause, Sánchez-Cordero said.

He added that large numbers of migrating butterflies have perished in Texas and the northeast of Mexico due to drought linked to climate change.

To conserve the migratory phenomenon of the monarch – butterflies fly some 4,500 kilometers to reach Mexican forests from Canada over the course of three to four generations – a network of conservation areas along their migration routes needs to be developed, Sánchez-Cordero said. He also said that the routes followed by the butterflies should be declared protected areas.

“A new conservation paradigm is needed. … It’s something that we [Mexico, the United States and Canada] should build together,” the researcher said.

Monarch Butterfly Seaside Habitat

SAFE GUARDING THE BUTTERFLIES: FILM INTERVIEW WITH JOEL MORENO ROJAS AND ELLEN SHARP FOUNDERS OF THE BUTTERFLIES AND THEIR PEOPLE PROJECT

In March I had the tremendous joy of interviewing Ellen Sharp and Joel Moreno Rojas, founders of the nonprofit organization “The Butterflies and Their People Project.” We filmed the interview from the rooftop of their hotel, JM Butterfly B&B, which is located at the base of Cerro Pelon Monarch Butterfly Reserve in Macheros, Mexico. Cerro Pelon is the old volcanic mountain where the Monarchs wintering home was first located by Mexican citizen scientist Catalina Aguado Trail, on January 2, 1975.  Trail was at the time time working under the direction of zoologist Doctor Fred Urquhart of the University of Toronto.

Joel and Ellen are simply an amazing dynamic duo. They have built a beautiful and welcoming bed and breakfast at Cerro Pelon, the most pristine and least trafficked of Monarch sanctuaries. Largely through the conservation efforts of The Butterflies and Their People Project they have helped provide economic opportunities that have in turn dramatically reduced illegal logging and deforestation of the core protected areas of the forest.

The mission of The Butterflies and Their People Project is to “preserve the butterfly sanctuary by creating jobs for local people in forest and monarch butterfly conservation. The Butterflies & Their People Project is an Asociación Civil (non-profit organization) registered and located in the village of Macheros in the State of Mexico.”

I hope you’ll watch and will be equally as enamored of Joel and Ellen as were we. You’ll learn more about how The Butterflies and Their People Project came to be, the importance of protecting the existing Monarch Butterfly forest sanctuaries, and how jobs and economic growth go hand and hand with protecting the vitally important temperate forests of the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve.  And a bit about how this extraordinary couple met and began their journey in Monarch conservation.

To learn more about The Butterflies and Their People Project visit their website.

To donate to The Butterflies and Their People Go Fund Me fundraiser click here.

To learn more about and make a reservation at  JM Butterfly B and B click here.

MONARCH BUTTERFLY PROTECTORS MURDERED

Many friends have written with questions about the death of Homero Gómez González, and now a second Monarch Butterfly conservationist, Raúl Hernández Romero, has also been found murdered. The deaths have been widely reported by the BBC, NYTimes, Washington Post, and many other news media. These are tragic events taking place in the desperately poor state of Michoacán, where the people who commit these crimes have nothing much to lose. The problems in these districts are many-layered and complex.

Homero Gómez González

I can only speak to our own experience traveling to the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserves in Michoacán and the State of Mexico. On our trip last March, Tom and I stayed at the beautiful inn, JM Monarch Butterfly Bed and Breakfast, located in sleepy Macheros. JM Butterfly is owned and operated by husband and wife team Joel Rojas Moreno and Ellen Sharp. Macheros is a rural hamlet, called a ‘ranchita,’ with a population of more horses to people. Macheros is sited at the base of an old volcanic mountain, Cerro Pelon, which is located in the State of Mexico.

Cerro Pelon is the mountain where the butterflies were first located by outsiders. The villagers knew of the Monarchs annual return, but it was a mystery to the rest of the world where the Monarchs wintered over.

We felt safe every moment of our time at Cerro Pelon and JM Butterfly B and B. So safe that I went for long walks through the town filming and taking photos, on my own, and often left my handbag unattended  when socializing with fellow guests at dinner and in the common areas of the Inn .

Later this month I am posting a video interview with Ellen and Joel where we discuss safety issues, but it is well worth noting the following at this point in time when so much attention has been drawn to the region. Some states, cities, and towns in Mexico are more  prone to violence than other areas, just as we find in different regions of the US. Basing a decision to travel to Cerro Pelon on what happens in Michoacán is like saying I am not going to travel to Beverly Hills because of the gang violence that takes place in Emeryville.

I absolutely love Cerro Pelon and JM Butterfly B and B and hope to return very soon. We also can’t wait until our granddaughter is just a wee bit older so we can take a family trip there. I write older only for the reason that she will remember how memorable an experience.

Conversely, the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve at El Rosario is located in the state of Michoacán, where gang violence poses a greater threat. Homero Gómez González was a manager at El Rosario,  a former logger himself, and champion of the Monarchs and Reserve. Raúl Hernández Romero was also an environmentalist and tour guide. It is tragic that the defense of the exquisite and productive forest habitats of the Monarch Biosphere Reserves turns activists into victims of threats and persecution and that Monarch protectors González and Romero have paid the ultimate price for their bravery.

I traveled to El Rosario, in 2014, and again in March of 2019. This last trip we were with a small group sponsored by JM Butterfly and both trips, the one taken in 2014 and the one in 2019, we were perfectly safe and well looked after by our guides. The majority of the visitors to El Rosario are international tourists and Mexican families, respectively, making first time visits and annual pilgrimages. You will see the very youngest babies being strolled along the paths to the very oldest grannies hobbling along with walking sticks, and everyone in between.

El Rosario Monarch Butterfly Biosphere

Rural communities throughout Mexico are developing, some more rapidly than others.  We can do a great deal to help the local economy by continuing to visit these beautiful but impoverished areas and the wonderful people you will meet there, to treasure the unspoiled habitats and wildlife you will find there, and to spend our tourist dollars generously.  We live in a time with growing environmental awareness, but also a time with increasing anti-environment animus, largely generated by the current US federal government’s devastating anti-environment policies.

González was missing for two weeks before his body was recovered at the bottom of a holding pond in an agricultural area. Prosecutors in Michoacán say an autopsy found that the cause of death was “mechanical asphyxiation by drowning of a person with head trauma.”

Raúl Hernández Romero, who had worked as a tour guide in the preserve went missing last Monday. His body was found bruised, his head showing trauma from a sharp object.

Mourners lower the coffin of community activist Homero Gómez González into a grave at a hillside cemetery in Ocampo, Mexico, on Friday. PHOTO: Rebecca Blackwell/AP

HIGHER NUMBERS GIVE HOPE FOR MONARCHS

By Kim Smith

January 31, 2019

The World Wildlife Fund Mexico and Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve (MBBR) announced on January 30th that this year the Monarch Butterfly population has increased significantly.

Each year the orange and black winged beauties return to the oyamel fir and pine tree forests, which are located in the heart of Mexico’s trans volcanic mountain belt. In December and January, Lepidoptera population specialists and citizen scientists measure the area the Monarch colonies cover at their over wintering sites. This year (2018-2019) the butterflies are blanketing 6.05 hectares (approximately 15 acres), up from an all-time low of only 0.67 hectares (1.65 acres) during the winter of 2013-2014.

Not since 2006-2007 has this great an area been covered by the butterflies, although the numbers are still quite low when compared to the numbers recorded in the late 1970s when the butterfly’s winter roosts were first discovered by Dr. Fred Urquhart.

I have been following the butterfly counts around the US as they were reported. The Monarch population has been decimated in California. This year only about 30,000 butterflies were counted, down from several million just two decades ago. There is the very real possibility that the Monarch butterfly will become extirpated (extinct from an area) on the West coast. The winter count is down drastically in Florida as well.

It was clear though that east of the Rockies–the Midwest and Northeast regions of the US, as well as southern provinces of Canada–there were many more Monarchs in gardens and on the wing than in recent previous summers.

Leading Monarch scientists are reluctant to become excited about the increase, and justifiably so. Last spring the weather was slightly cooler in Texas, which allowed more Monarch eggs to hatch, which in turn allowed more caterpillars to mature. A greater number of butterflies emerged and set the stage for a strong breeding season throughout the summer. That scenario, along with the overall good weather during the summer of 2018, also helped create ideal conditions. It was a true “goldilocks” summer, not too hot, not too cold, but just right.

In autumn of 2018, the Monarchs arrived to Mexico about a week later than usual, but once they began to arrive, a kaleidoscope of butterflies poured into their winter roosting grounds.

The 2018-2019 Eastern population count is a reprieve from the past ten years of heartbreaking news, but one good year does not change what the butterflies need most, which is protection for the Monarchs under the Endangered Species Act.

Monarch and Mexican Sunflower (Tithonia)

There is disagreement among scientists whether planting milkweed has any bearing on the health of the Monarch butterfly population. Does creating corridors of Monarch habitat help mitigate the death and destruction caused by climate change, modern agricultural practices, the devastating use of pesticides and herbicides, and the planting of GMO crops (corn, sorghum, and soybeans, for example) that were engineered to withstand the deadly poisons, but which wildflowers and caterpillars cannot?

Monarch Butterflies and New England Aster, Gloucester, 2018

The answer to that question is a resounding yes! Monarchs are a bellwether species. The love for this one butterfly has helped shape a consciousness towards all species at risk. An uncomplicated stand of milkweed and asters can make every public walkway, park, community center, church, school, and backyard a haven for Monarchs and together we can bring about a conservation victory for the pollinators.

New Film: Monarch Migration Interview with Tom Emmel

Horses neigh, bugs crawl across the lens, and Monarchs flutter in the background —interview on the mountaintop and it was all beautiful! Video includes footage from my forthcoming film, Beauty on the Wing ~ Life Story of the Monarch Butterfly.

Monarch Migration Interview with Tom Emmel, filmed at the summit of the Sierra Chincua Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve, Angangueo, Mexico.

This was Tom’s 40th trip to Angangueo to study the Monarchs. In this interview, he provides some historical perspective from those very first trips to the remote Oyamel fir forests atop the Trans-Mexican Volcanic Mountains. We learn how scientists count millions of Monarchs. Tom discusses the state of the Monarch migration today and why it is in crisis.

Tom Emmel is the Director of the McGuire Center for Lepidoptera and Biodiversity at the Museum of Natural History of the University of Florida, Gainesville. Additional footage shot at El Rosario Monarch Butterfly Reserve and at the base of Sierra Chincua.