The International Butterfly Breeders Association (IBBA) organized a trip for its members to visit the monarch butterfly overwintering colonies in Mexico in January of 2017.
The trip enrolled over 40 participants, mostly commercial butterfly farmers and family, the core of the membership of the IBBA, but also other members that own or manage butterfly exhibits or give educational presentations as well as authors on the Monarch butterfly, Danaus plexippus. Three of the overwintering colonies were visited. El Rosario, Sierra Chincua, and Cerro Pelón. Cerro Pelon is the location where the late Dr. Fred Urquhart, the pioneer monarch researcher recently profiled in the IMAX feature “Flight of the Butterflies,” first unraveled the mystery of where the migration of Monarch butterflies in northern North America, notably Dr. Urquhart’s native Canada, disappeared to in the winter months. The search eventually led to an area of remote mountainous Mexico. In 1976 of the existence of these massive overwintering Monarch butterfly colonies was revealed to the public in National Geographic Magazine.
This story is about Cerro Pelón today and the initiative of the IBBA to assist in conserving this particular monarch biosphere reserve with Butterflies & Their People, a non-profit organization located in the village of Macheros. Macheros is one of the entries to the Cerro Pelón Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary. When the IBBA was planning the trip, they inquired of Ellen Sharp who owns along with her husband, Joel Moreno Rojas, JM Butterfly B&B where we would be lodging if there were any items the IBBA could bring with them to help, a wish list of necessities if you will. Ellen and Joel are the driving force behind the nonprofit Butterflies & Their People. We wanted to be involved in some small way of help other than just the financial impact of our group on the local economy as tourists.
Since its inception, the goal of Butterflies & Their People has been to provide funding for effective forest protection on the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve. The area of Mexico where the monarchs migrate to is remote and relatively poor. While tourism of the reserves has provided a much needed economic influx, once the butterflies leave in the spring, so do the jobs, and villagers in the past have turned to illegal logging to get by. In rural Mexico wood is still the principal fuel used for cooking and heating. The project’s purpose is to provide an economic alternative: full-time, decently paid work in forest conservation. They now employ four forest arborists to patrol Cerro Pelón. The arborists pick up garbage, maintain trails and monitor wildlife. Most importantly, since they started work, clandestine logging of the sanctuary’s core protected area has dropped by 87%. Even so, funding still falls short and the wish list Ellen Sharp provided included these needed items: portable radios in order to communicate with tour groups and the arborists on the mountain, a better digital camera with a good zoom capacity as the arborists also monitor wildlife, in particular birds, and needed a better digital camera with a long lens to identify species at a distance, thermoses, good hiking boots, and warm socks. The terrain is rough and wild and good footwear is a necessity. There is nothing like being there, as any journalist knows to fully appreciate the situation. Thanks to the generous contributions of several IBBA members these items were acquired and presented to Ellen and Joel upon the IBBA’s arrival. The hiking boots were supplied by a monetary gift for purchase later. They immediately made use of the radios. Communication for safety was lacking. While the trail up the mountain to the reserve is well worn, at times very steep, access is by horseback. If any medical emergency should arise someone would have to ride down the mountain for help as there is no cell phone reception.
The IBBA board of directors upon returning met and launched another a plan to raise some money as a fund raising effort on behalf of Butterflies and their People. A source of Common milkweed, Asclepias syriaca, seed was acquired and seed packs prepared for sale at member’s temporary exhibits. Sales raised $1,500.00, which has since been donated to Butterflies and their People as well distributing seeds of this most important native milkweed species for the future preservation of the Monarch butterfly.
The seed pack sales amounted to a donation that provided the equivalent of two months salaries for the Rangers according to Ellen Sharp and was greatly appreciated.
Interestingly, the reason for formation of Butterflies and their People is a matter of local politics.
Cerro Pelon encompasses two states, Michoacan and the State of Mexico, as well as multiple local political jurisdictions. Shortly after the discovery of the monarch colonies, the state park system of the State of Mexico deployed forest rangers from the Macheros side of the sanctuary to protect the area. They patrolled the State of Mexico side of the park, where the forest canopy remains noticeably more intact than across the state line. The Butterflies and their People forest conservation project doubles the number of full-time personnel patrolling the mountain and for the first time enlists people from the Michoacan side of Cerro Pelon in full-time forest protection.
The IBBA plans to continue to help with fund raising projects on behalf of Butterflies and their People, but more funds are needed than a relatively small nonprofit trade association can produce.
Over the years the IBBA has also supported with financial donations Monarch Watch at the University of Kansas headed by Dr. Orley “Chip” Taylor. Dr. Taylor is also the driving force behind Milkweed Market distributing annually thousands of milkweed seedlings native to differing regions in order to create more habitats. Milkweeds and their relatives represent the sole family of plants Monarch eggs are laid on and the caterpillars consume to eventually become Monarch butterflies.
Deforestation and habitat loss in general is an issue worldwide. We have found it is sometimes the little things that make the difference, like socks and shoes, to save a forest.
For more information about Butterflies and their People:
The International Butterfly Breeders Association
Thank you for your consideration to publish.
Prepared by Dale McClung, past president and board member of the IBBA