Monarch but­ter­flies re­bound in Mex­ico

Business Mirror - - GREEN MONDAY -

MEX­ICO CITY—Monarch but­ter­flies have made a big come­back in their win­ter­ing grounds in Mex­ico, af­ter suf­fer­ing se­ri­ous de­clines, ex­perts said on Fri­day.

The area cov­ered by the or­ange­and-black in­sects in the moun­tains west of Mex­ico City this sea­son was more than three-and-a-half times greater than last win­ter. The but­ter­flies clump so densely in the pine and fir forests they are counted by the area they cover rather than by in­di­vid­ual in­sects.

The num­ber of monar­chs mak­ing the 5,500-kilome­ter mi­gra­tion from the United States and Canada de­clined steadily in re­cent years be­fore re­cov­er­ing in 2014. This win­ter was even bet­ter.

This De­cem­ber, the but­ter­flies cov­ered about 4 hectares, com­pared to 1.13 hectares in 2014 and a record low of 0.67 hectares in 2013.

While that’s pos­i­tive, the monar­chs still face prob­lems: The but­ter­flies cov­ered as much as 18 hectares 20 years ago.

“The news is good but, at the same time, we shouldn’t let our guard down,” said Omar Vi­dal, di­rec­tor of the World Wildlife Fund in Mex­ico. “Now more than ever, Mex­ico, the United States and Canada should in­crease their con­ser­va­tion ef­forts to pro­tect and re­store the habi­tat of this but­ter­fly along its mi­gra­tory route.”

The United States is work­ing to rein­tro­duce milk­weed, a plant key to the but­ter­flies’ mi­gra­tion, on about 3 mil­lion hectares within five years, both by plant­ing and by des­ig­nat­ing pes­ti­cide- free ar­eas.

Milk­weed is the plant the but­ter­flies feed and lay their eggs on, but it has been at­tacked by her­bi­cide use and loss of open land in the United States.

Dan Ashe, the di­rec­tor of the US Fish and Wildlife Ser­vice, said that in the first year of that ef­fort, the US had man­aged to re­store about 100,000 hectares of milk­weed, and raised about $20 mil­lion for the pro­gram.

“It is time for cel­e­bra­tion be­cause we see the be­gin­ning of suc­cess,” Ashe said. “But our task now is to con­tinue build­ing on that suc­cess.”

The Wash­ing­ton, D.C.- based Cen­ter for Bi­o­log­i­cal Di­ver­sity, which is push­ing for en­dan­gered species sta­tus for the monar­chs, noted that even with the re­bound, the but­ter­flies are still only at 68 per­cent of their 22- year av­er­age. It said in a state­ment that “the pop­u­la­tion was ex­pected to be up this win­ter due to fa­vor­able sum­mer weather con­di­tions in the monarch’s US breed­ing ar­eas.”

“The in­crease is cer­tainly great news, but the bot­tom line is that monar­chs must reach a much larger pop­u­la­tion size to be re­silient to ever- in­creas­ing threats,” said Tierra Curry, a se­nior sci­en­tist at the Cen­ter.

In Mex­ico, mean­while, il­le­gal log­ging has re­mained a prob­lem. It more than tripled in the monarch but­terf lies’ win­ter­ing grounds in 2014, re­vers­ing sev­eral years of steady im­prove­ments. Il­le­gal log­ging had fallen to al­most zero in 2012.

Au­thor­i­ties said the re­serve’s buf­fer area lost more than 9 hectares in 2015 due to il­le­gal log­ging in one area, but said the tree cut­ting was de­tected and sev­eral ar­rests were made.

The for­est canopy acts as a blan­ket against the cold for but­ter­flies form­ing huge clumps on branches dur­ing their win­ter stay in Mex­ico.

Monarch ex­pert Lin­coln Brower wrote in a re­search pa­per that the 2015 for­est loss was ac­tu­ally 10 hectares in the re­serve area, and said the il­le­gal log­ging “ques­tions the ef­fec­tive­ness of cur­rent strate­gies to pro­tect the al­ready pre­car­i­ous over­win­ter­ing habi­tat of the monarch but­ter­fly.”

The log­ging took place in a par­tic­u­larly sen­si­tive area of the re­serve, and if but­terf lies can’t find shel­ter there, “they may be forced into forested ar­eas with less mi­cro­cli­matic pro­tec­tion,” ex­pos­ing them to po­ten­tial cold and rain that can prove fa­tal, Brower wrote.

Ale­jan­dro del Mazo, the head of Mex­ico’s pro­tected nat­u­ral ar- eas, cred­ited the three coun­tries for their co­op­er­a­tion and said they were on their way to achiev­ing the goal of hav­ing 220 mil­lion but­ter­flies in the re­serve by 2020. Del Mazo es­ti­mated there were 140 mil­lion this year.

“This is a mo­ti­va­tion for us to con­tinue build­ing bridges be­tween our three coun­tries, not walls,” Del Mazo said.

The mi­gra­tion is an in­her­ited trait: No but­ter­fly lives to make the full roundtrip, and it is un­clear how they find their way back to the same patches of pine for­est in Mex­ico each year.

Some sci­en­tists sug­gest the but­ter­flies may re­lease chem­i­cals mark­ing the mi­gra­tory path and fear that if their num­bers fall too low the chem­i­cal traces will not be strong enough for oth­ers to fol­low.

The long- term trend is trou­bling. Af­ter their peak in 1996, when the monar­chs cov­ered more than 17.8 hectares, each time the monar­chs have re­bounded, they have done so at lower lev­els. The species is found in many coun­tries, but ex­perts fear the mi­gra­tion could be dis­rupted if very few but­ter­flies make the long trip.

Largely in­dige­nous farm com­mu­ni­ties in the moun­tain re­serve have re­ceived govern­ment de­vel­op­ment funds in re­turn for preserving the 56,259 hectare re­serve that United Na­tions Education, Sci­en­tific and Cul­tural Or­ga­ni­za­tion has de­clared a World Her­itage site.

Writer and en­vi­ron­men­tal ac­tivist Homero Arid­jis, and the chief sci­en­tist for Parks Canada, Dr. Gilles Seutin, also sug­gested that fa­vor­able weather con­di­tions may have helped the monar­chs re­bound this year.

“Al­though thanks to more fa­vor­able weather con­di­tions along the monarch’s mi­gra­tory routes num­bers in the re­serve this sea­son have in­creased, this does not mean we can ig­nore one of the main threats to the monar­chs now: the ex­tremely dam­ag­ing il­le­gal log­ging tak­ing place within the re­serve,” Arid­jis wrote.

NONIE REYES

Rays of light il­lu­mi­nate the Old Zig-Zag Road in Ati­mo­nan, Que­zon prov­ince. The Old Zigzag Road, more pop­u­larly known as (chicken in­tes­tine), is the most fa­mous land­mark within Que­zon Na­tional For­est Park, what with its dreaded dan­ger­ously wind­ing road net­work.

AP/RE­BECCA BLACK­WELL

A KALEI­DO­SCOPE of monarch but­ter­flies clings to tree branches in the Piedra Her­rada sanc­tu­ary near Valle de Bravo, Mex­ico.

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