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Environmental, Campaign & Website News > Logging threatens Monarch butterflies in Mexico

Logging threatens Monarch butterflies in Mexico

Date : 15th Feb 2002, Source : Newsgroup

By Pav Jordan (submitted to endangered-forests newsgroup)

MEXICO CITY, Feb 15 (Reuters) - Mexico could do little to prevent a cold snap that killed about 250 million Monarch butterflies last month, but naturalists say the government can do something about an even greater threat to their survival: illegal logging.

The red and black butterflies, which winter in Mexico each year after a migration from Canada, died on Jan. 12 and 13 after they were soaked by bitter rain and assailed by freezing cold.

"We can't do anything about these (natural) catastrophes," said Dr. Ernesto Enkerlin, president of Mexico's National Commission for Protected Natural Areas, a government body.

"But we can do something to ensure a better habitat so that butterfly populations are better able to resist when these things occur."

The Monarchs need full, healthy and old forests to shield them from moisture and cold nights. The trees hide them from the rain and help keep in the warmth left by the sun during the day.

Since 1968, about 44 percent of the Monarch sanctuary woods region in hilly Michoacan state has been depleted, mostly by rampant illegal logging, the study said.

And the study by scientists at Mexico City's National Autonomous University shows that the rate of depletion between 1986-99 was faster than in the 1968-86 period.

"The situation is getting worse," said Dr. Lincoln Brower, considered one of the world's foremost specialists in the annual Monarch butterfly migrations from Canada to Mexico.

About 500 million of the butterflies arrived this year at the Michoacan reserve, around Mexico's Day of the Dead celebrations in November. For many in the region, the Monarchs represent the souls of their departed loved ones.

The monarch butterfly is not considered an endangered species but if the logging in Michoacan continues unabated, experts fear they may abandon the reserve all together.


Weather claims butterfly victims in most years, although events like the January cold front show the impact of deforestation on the colorful insect species.

Last year, millions of butterflies in younger woods outside the sanctuary perished in a cold snap that did not kill their brethren in sturdier parts of the forest.

Illegal loggers continue to operate in the region, despite the risk of being thrown in jail if caught and receiving economic incentives to leave the trees alone.

The World Wildlife Fund in Mexico and the government have established a $6 million fund to help people who live on the butterfly sanctuaries and buffer zones to look to other industries to make a living.

Using only the interest on the fund, in 2000, the WWF began paying owners of land used by the butterflies to halt logging. In June, the group plans to pay $18 a hectare (2.5 acres) to landowners who agree not to cut down their trees.

But Enkerlin and Brower say that's not enough to pay off would-be loggers in the region.

"Only when the Monarch is worth more to them than the trees will they stop," said Enkerlin.

The government is working to help people in buffer areas - the forest perimeter - move into other industries like eco-tourism and crafts, he added.

In a separate program, the government plans to plant trees over 24,700 acres (10,000 hectares) of buffer area in the coming two years.

Scientists like Brower complement that initiative, even though the consensus is that it will be many years before the forest acquires its former density.

The question for many is whether it may be too late.

"The pressure is on and usually the environment loses when it's up against the logging industry," Brower said.

10:08 02-15-02

Copyright 2002 Reuters Limited.

Document last updated on Wednesday 01 August 2018

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