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The BBC's Peter Greste reports
"The kind of logging taking place here is enough to seriously damage the butterfly population"
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Friday, 31 March, 2000, 11:52 GMT 12:52 UK
Monarchs migrate to Mexico
Monarch butterfly
Nectar supplies build up energy for the long trip
By Peter Greste

Every year, tens of millions of monarch butterflies migrate from across the United States and Canada to spend the winter on a few remote mountain tops in central Mexico.

If only the government would look after the farmers and work with us, then the illegal logging would stop, and the butterflies would be safe.

Farmers' spokesman
The butterflies huddle together for warmth in spectacular bunches on the branches of the oyumel trees that flourish in a narrow belt across the highlands.

Each spring, they leave, dispersing across North America as far as the Great Lakes region, where they spend the warm summer months before heading south as the weather turns cold.

The round trip - 14,000 kilometres (8,700 miles) and an incredible five generations.

The parents pass on genetic maps so the young can navigate their way back to the few tiny islands of oyumel forest deep in the mountains.

Natural phenomenon

"It's incredible - one of the great wonders of the natural world," says environmentalist Fernando Ortiz.
Monarch in sun
A Monarch butterfly soaks up the winter sun
"Individuals fly 8,000 kilometres (5,000 miles), not like geese or other collective behaviour animals, but alone, to a tiny, isolated place where they've never been and find 60 million of their guys."

And because it is one of the few natural phenomena that spans the length and breadth of North America, it is a good measure of the region's environmental health. And the fear is this amazing butterfly journey could come to an end.

Ortiz believes the Mexican authorities have a single generation to stop illegal logging from decimating the few remaining islands of oyumel forest and destroying the Monarch's over-wintering habitats.

Each year, the Mexican Government issues logging permits to big companies and local farmers alike.
Tourists look for Monarch
Touists on the trail of the Monarch butterfly
The official in charge of the reserves, Roberto Solis, says the aim is to take out only what the forest can naturally replace. But even he admits that 15 years after the reserves were first regulated, the forests simply cannot keep up with the pace of illegal logging.

"However, there are signs that the forest has a great capacity to regenerate," he said.

Click here for map

"While there is no equilibrium now, we are working to achieve this, and the important thing to remember is that the phenomenon of the butterfly still exists, and there are masses of forest that still exist.

"I think the worries of the environmentalists are exaggerated." Ortiz and others like him are not convinced.


They believe the pressures of a growing local population and deepening poverty are becoming critical.

The valleys surrounding the butterfly sanctuaries are home to half a million people - the vast bulk of them among the poorest in Mexico.
Boy selling butterflies
A young man tries to make a living from the passing tourists
Many live like the Durantez family, in crude mud and timber huts, without electricity, running water or telephones.

They are known as Ejidetarios - traditional co-operative farmers who work large tracts of land - most of it forests. Like the 5,000 other people who share the 1,500 hectares around their village, 27-year-old Martin Durantez, his wife and four young children struggle to find enough just to eat.

Life for them was hard enough when they had complete control over their land.

But it became almost impossible when the government locked up over 60% of the best forests in a butterfly reserve.
Martin's house
People gather at Martin Durantez's house on the land worst affected by the government decree
"The truth is that the decree (creating the reserves) affected us a lot, because the best parts of our land were invaded, while none of us received any benefit from the invasion," he said.

"I don't steal trees myself, but I can see why some people do it - it's still our land, after all."

The farmers insist they understand the need to save the forests.

But they also believe they are being asked to suffer for the sake of the city-dwellers who rely on pristine forests for clean air, clean water and wonderful weekend get-aways.

Farmers not to blame

And Ejidetario spokesman Dario Garcia de la Paz said the farmers can hardly be blamed if they steal a few trees to fill empty bellies.

Both the government and environmentalists insist they have worked hard to provide alternative sources of income to the farmers who have lost their land - eco-tourism, for example.

And while some people have benefited, de la Paz said most of the schemes have been hopelessly ineffective.

"They brought sheep from other countries and when they arrived, they died. They brought cows and the same happened - they died.

"But we know what we can produce, what the land gives and what we can do. All we want is the resources to get these projects going," he said.

"If only the government would look after the farmers and work with us, then the illegal logging would stop, and the butterflies would be safe."

Bufferfly route map

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