Albion Monitor /News

Three Nations Join Forces To Protect Monarch

by Diego Cevallos

Butterfly migration will stop in the next two decades unless actions taken now
(IPS) -- Canada, Mexico, and the United States plan to join forces to ensure the future of Monarch butterflies, which undertake a spectacular migration journey of more than 10,000 kilometers every year.

The joint plan was agreed on last week in Morelia, 300 kilometers west of Mexico City, at the first conference on the Monarch butterfly. The measures to be adopted are designed to fight the dangers that for decades have threatened the age-old migration rite of the beautiful black and orange butterfly.

But if the new policies are not applied swiftly and in a coordinated manner, the butterfly's long journeys through Canada, the United States, and Mexico, which have long drawn the attention of scientists, will disappear in the next two decades, warned Lincoln Brower, a researcher with the University of California and an expert on Monarchs.

Rather than becoming extinct, the species would stop migrating, Brower told IPS in a telephone interview.

Threat includes logging, increasingly toxic pesticides in all three countries
Illegal logging and burning of trees, disputes over land, and increasing human settlement in forested areas of Mexico are the main threats to the species.

Added to those dangers is the destruction of the plants on which the butterfly deposits its larvae in the United States and Canada, and the use of increasingly toxic pesticides in all three countries.

The scientists and authorities meeting in Morelia agreed to join forces and work to ease poverty and other problems plaguing the people living in the areas used as sanctuaries by the Monarch, provide alternatives to the use of agro-chemicals, and conduct further research on the butterfly's behavior.

The peasant farmers living on the close to 80 square miles declared as a Monarch butterfly reserve in Mexico have complained about the ban on logging and restrictions on planting crops, and have accused the government of caring more about butterflies than people.

In spite of inspection and controls in the area, as well as promises of social assistance, illegal logging and clear-burning of forests of "oyamel," a Mexican species of fir tree and a favorite of the Monarchs, continues unabated. Environmentalists charged that neither the people nor the butterflies are being helped.

Authorities have reported an average daily destruction this year of 75 cubic meters of wood in the reserve, 13 meters higher than the 1996 level.

As they do every year, some 100 million butterflies began to arrive to Mexico this month after flying 5,000 kilometers in six weeks from the forests of Canada and the United States. The butterflies are resting on the forested hills near the city of Morelia, waiting for their sexual organs to mature so they can mate and head back north in March and April.

More than 30,000 people a year visit the Monarch's refuges in Mexico, drawn by the enormous trees, the extensive stretches of ground that have turned orange and black seemingly overnight, the butterflies' mating rituals, and the immense clouds of butterflies that form when the sun heats up.

Scientists explain that in late summer a kind of restlessness awakens in the butterflies in their northern forest habitats, compelling them to fly to warmer climes.

Before setting out on their long journey, during which they fly an average of six hours a day at speeds of 16 to 48 kilometers per hour, the butterflies undergo physiological changes that interrupt the maturation of their sexual organs and extend their lifespans to eight months.

When they reach Mexico's jungles, they recover their strength by sipping plant nectar. Over the following weeks they enter a phase of lethargy, and after mating, they fly back north.

The butterflies excrete toxic substances that protect them from hungry insects or birds.

Brower stressed that the Monarch will be safe if coordinated policies are implemented by the members of NAFTA. Otherwise, this unique and fascinating migration ritual will disappear.

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Albion Monitor November 24, 1997 (

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