|A repost from this blog, 2009.|
"I understand more and more how population is the problem. I was asking almost every peasant I met how many children they have. They say 'I have eight, 12, 15, nine.' These people are in their 50s. I ask how many children their children have. They say, 'Oh, senor, there are so many that we can't count them.' And most of them are getting their living from the forest. They want to get permits to log in the forest."
- Homero Aridjis, Mexico's foremost authority on Monarch butterflies
The Monarch butterfly migration, from Canada to Mexico, is now in full swing.
This butterfly migration predates human existence in the western hemisphere. For thousands of years, millions of Monarch butterflies from the United States and Canada east of the Rocky Mountains have flow up to 3,000 miles to overwinter in a small forest area in central Mexico.
Now, however, the Monarch is seriously threatened. The reason: rapid deforestation of Mexico's high-altitude Oyamel fir stands which provide the rare micro-climate necessary to prevent the butterflies from freezing, but keeps them cold enough so that their reproductive systems remain dormant until spring.
The Mexican forest wintering ground of the Monarch was not discovered by scientists until 1975.
By the mid-1980s, scientists realized that rapid deforestation in the Oyamel fir forest was not sustainable, and could drive the Eastern Monarch butterfly to extinction. At that time, the Mexican government created a monarch reserve of approximately 62 square miles that consisted of no-logging zones at five known overwintering sites.
But local residents have largely ignored the restrictions, saying they are too poor to care about the monarch butterfly -- the trees must fall to put food on the table for hungry mouths.
"Maybe it wouldn't be such a bad thing if the butterflies didn't come back. At least we could log," said one campesino.
Ultimately, humans and butterflies are competing for the same forest resources. Unless population growth is stemmed, and alternative economic opportunities are developed, the fate of the Monarch may be sealed.
Aerial photographs of Mexico's forest region where the butterflies hibernate show that that 30 years ago the forest was nearly 2,000 square miles.
Today, only a tenth of it remains. The largest tract today is 20 square miles, five times smaller than the largest tract 30 years ago.