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Articles : Conservation of Monarch Butterflies

Dr. O. R. Taylor
University of Kansas Department of Entomology
William Calvert
Texas Parks and Wildlife Nongame and Urban Program


16 June 1996

An informal meeting to discuss issues and options concerning the preservation of the Monarch roost sites in the Oyamel fir forests in the states of Michoacan and Mexico was held at the Marriott Hotel at the Houston Airport on 16 June 1996. This meeting was convened and hosted by Jeff Glassberg, Founder and Director of the North American Butterfly Association. A purpose of the meeting was to bring together authorities and conservationists from Mexico with others concerned with Monarch conservation. In attendance at the meeting were Hector Luis Ruiz Barranco of the Instituto Nacional de Ecologia (INE) who represented the Mexican government; Rodolfo Ogarrio represented Monarca A.C., a Mexican conservation group; Manuel A. Balcazar-Lara represented the Instituto de Biologia of the University of Mexico (UNAM); Andres Sada, from Monterrey, represented conservation interests in northern Mexico; William Calvert represented the Texas Monarch Watch; Orley R. "Chip" Taylor represented the national Monarch Watch and the Department of Entomology of the University of Kansas; Paul Opler informally represented the National Biological Service and will report on the meeting to the ICUN World Conservation Union's Lepidoptera Group; Bob Robbins informally represented the Smithsonian Institution.

The meeting was opened by each participant giving an account of their past and present association with Monarch conservation and who they represented. Rodolfo Ogarrio opened the program by giving a brief history of the development and establishment of measures to protect the Monarch butterfly in Mexico. Two key historical events in Monarch conservation were the 1980 Presidential Decree (by President Jose Lopez Portillo) which declared the Monarch a protected animal within the domain of Mexico and established the wintering area as a reserve and wildlife refuge and the Presidential Decree (by President Miguel de la Madrid Hurado) of October 1986 which declared five Monarch Reserves in eastern Michoacan to be Protected Natural Areas. Although the latter decree did not protect the Monarch colonies in the state of Mexico, this state subsequently established measures to protect the roost areas within its boundaries.

The main feature of the meeting was a presentation by Hector Ruiz B.(INE) of a comprehensive plan for sustainable development of the region containing the Oyamel forests and the overwintering Monarch populations. The complexities of protecting the forests and the Monarchs became clearer as Hector outlined the program favored by his agency.

The region is occupied by 500,000 people, and a large proportion of this population obtains income through subsistence agriculture and harvest of timber from the Oyamel forests. Because ejidos are owned collectively and partly because many ejido inhabitants are Indian in origin and have different cultural backgrounds, concepts of ownership and land use are different from those held by most Americans and Canadians. For example, many of the local residents regard lands set aside for conservation as unused or wasted. Because of various legal constraints, but primarily because the local citizens are not interested, options for protection of the roosts such as purchase or lease of the land appear to be out of the question. Throughout the meeting the point was continually made that any plan for protection of the forests and the Monarch roosts must be based on the realities of the cultures and economics of the region. The region contains 54 ejidos in 18 municipalities located in the Mexican states of Michoacan and Mexico.

The INE plan for sustainable development of the region is very comprehensive and includes an educational component which emphasizes the value of conservation, and sustainable harvest of resources. Development of alternative sources of income such as fish farming, clothes production, use of honey bees and development of alternative forest products is an essential part of the plan to improve the standard of living for the people. In theory, alternative sources of income will make the residents less dependent on the forests for income. Even though these alternatives encourage a degree of independence of the forest resources, the intent of the educational program is to make it clear to the local residents that the long term economic and social health of the communities is dependent on the maintenance of the forests. Production of nursery stock and continued reforestation is essential to the program and the possibility of opening more of the roosts to the public is one of the topics under discussion.

To date, resources have only been available to implement relatively small portions of this plan. Although our discussion did not encompass all the programs and support that have been available for protection of the forests and the roost sites, it is clear that substantial efforts have been made by the governments of the states of Michoacan and Mexico to protect the roost sites, particularly during the periods when the Monarchs are present. Monarch AC., a civilian conservation organization, has worked extensively with the ejido at Rosario to set up a model community that tickets visitors, provides a guide service for visitors while they are in the forest, sells products made in the community to tourists, and polices and protects the Monarchs in the Campanario reserve. Several large tree nurseries have also been developed in the area and reforestation is in progress in some regions. All these efforts are important, but political support and funding for the regional plan is clearly needed to assure long term survival of the forests and the Monarch populations.

After some discussion, there was general support for four proposals suggested by meeting participants: 1. Establishment of a trilateral commission to advise government agencies on the state of the Monarch butterfly in Canada, the United States and Mexico. Jeff Glassberg offered to promote this proposal; 2. Translation and dissemination of the INE plan with the intent of educating the public and decision makers of the complexities of conserving the forests and Monarch populations. Jeff Glassberg and Chip Taylor agreed to assist with this project; 3. Investigate the possibilities of obtaining funding for development of the region through the World Bank and other organizations interested in sustainable development; and 4. Establish Monarch migration reserves within the United states, following Canada's lead in this regard, and promote conservation and restoration of host plant (milkweed) and nectar (flower) sources needed by Monarchs within the United States and Canada. The Secretary of Interior could , for example, designate portions of Atlantic and Gulf coast national seashores and national wildlife refuges as Monarch Migration Reserves where fall nectar plants would be protected and portions of eastern and midwestern national wildlife refuges as Monarch Breeding Areas where milkweed would not controlled.

The meeting concluded with discussions of the importance of convening additional meetings, especially ones which would bring together representatives from the governments of each country with those interested in Monarch conservation. These possibilities will be explored in the coming months.

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