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Jim Gilbert

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Monarch Butterfly Update: February 10, 1998

Monarch Butterfly Migration Updates Will be Posted on TUESDAYS:
Feb. 10, 17, 24, Mar. 3, 10, 17, 24, 31, Apr. 7, 14, 21, 28, May 5, 12, 19, 26

We begin this spring with some very discouraging news that just arrived from the monarch over-wintering area in Mexico. Dr. Lincoln Brower, quoting a story from the Roanoke Times, reports that illegal loggers cut 660 Oyamel fir trees in and adjacent to the San Andreas monarch colony, killing two to four million monarch butterflies and destroying their habitat.

Principal Monarch Over-wintering Sites in Mexico
(Click on face of map to enlarge.)

The San Andreas Overwintering Colony is the western-most of the known overwintering colonies. (See map.) It is one of at least five known overwintering areas in Mexico that were not protected in the original 1986 Presidential Decree as part of the Special Biosphere Reserve for the Monarch Butterfly. (There are about a dozen sites in all, 5 of which are in the Biosphere Reserve.) The San Andreas site is currently being reviewed for protection by the Government of Mexico as a result of the NAFTA Tri-national Committee on Enviromental Cooperation (US, Canada, Mexico) conference on the Conservation of the Monarch Butterfly that was held in Morelia, Mexico in November, 1997.

Said Brower, "My scientist colleagues and I have termed the overwintering phenomenon and migration of the Monarch Butterfly in North America an 'Endangered Biological Phenomenon'. I have predicted collapse of the eastern migratory population over the next two decades because of continuing deforestation in Mexico. If the alleged destruction is true, here is compelling evidence of the precariousness of the situation."

"My family is starving. I cut trees in order to feed them. I went to jail for one year for illegal cutting, but I would do it again because there is no work and I need money for my family."

Also attending last November's NAFTA Monarch conference were many of Mexico's peasants who live in the same region with the butterflies. This soft-spoken man was quite unlike the image one would have of an illegal logger. He told his story, then asked: "Are butterflies more important than people?"

Mexico's Secretary of the Environment, Julia Carabias, challenged the U.S. and Canada for demanding stronger conservation action in Mexico. "What are rich countries doing to help?", she asked. Many Mexicans wondered aloud how the U.S. can tell them to protect monarch habitat in Mexico when monarch habitat in California has been almost destroyed.

It became clear at the conference that some of the poorest people in our hemisphere are shouldering the entire economic burden for monarch conservation in Mexico. Last week, high school students from Blake School visited an ejido (peasant) community in the monarch region and saw the economic realities first-hand. The students witnessed the dilemma facing the rural people of the "Los Remedios" community, one of two dozen communities who owns land at the Sierra Chincua sanctuary.

Sawmill Owned by the Los Remedios Community

A 65 year old Oyamel fir tree is sawed into boards

Logs that have been cut legally are marked with this stamp.

Explained one student, "While the people understand the ecological importance of the trees around them, they also know that logging is one of their only sources of income. Each ejido family receives 10,000 to 12,000 pesos annually ($1,463) in logging profits. The other primary source of income for the community is through selling crops. However the cool climate permits only one harvest per year and most of what is grown is for home consumption. "

"The people of Los Remedios have never been compensated by the Mexican government for the land that is now off limits to logging because of the sanctuary, nor has their community received any direct benefit from the monarch-related tourism. Nowhere had our group felt more of a division between our American wealth and the peasant's struggles than in Los Remedios."

International Challenge
Scientists, politicians and concerned citizens of Canada, Mexico and the U.S. are now struggling to resolve these difficult issues.

Challenge Question #3

"Who do you think is responsible for protecting monarch habitat in Mexico? Do you have ideas for ways in which you can help?"

(To respond to this Challenge Question, please follow the instructions at the end of this report.)

Cycling Through Controversy
While the monarchs rest in Mexico for the final 8 weeks of the winter, you will meet people with different perspectives on this problem. One way to help understand controversy is through role-playing, since our views are usually based on how things affect us personally. As a class, plan to identify as many different viewpoints as you can. Research the facts and opinions of each. Then debate the issues in your class as described in this lesson:

How to Respond to Journey North Monarch Challenge Question # 3

1. Address an e-mail message to:
2. In the Subject Line of your message write: Challenge Question # 3
3. In the body of the message, give your answer to this question:

Challenge Question #3
"Who do you think is responsible for protecting monarch habitat in Mexico? Do you have ideas for ways in which you can help?"

The Next Monarch Butterfly Migration Update Will be Posted on February 17, 1998.

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