The Butterflies and Their People Project

Monarch butterfly clusters on Cerro Pelon.

All around the world, people are passionate about protecting the natural wonder that is the monarch butterfly migration. Every year, millions of monarchs fly up to 3,000 miles from Canada to Mexico to spend the winter roosting in fir trees high in the mountains of Mexico. But their winter home is at risk: poverty pushes people into illegal logging of the butterfly forest. Our mission is to preserve the butterfly sanctuary by creating jobs for local people in forest and monarch butterfly conservation.

The Butterflies & Their People Project is an Asociación Civil (non-profit organization) registered and located in the village of Macheros in the State of Mexico. Macheros has one of the entries to the Cerro Pelón Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary, the site where the monarch butterflies’ astounding annual migration was first confirmed in 1975. Despite this distinction, Macheros remains a marginalized peasant community with few sources of income—apart from cutting trees.

Habitat loss along the entire monarch butterfly migratory route has decreased size of Mexico’s monarch overwintering sites by at least 84% over the last 20 years. Low population numbers means that we could be one winter storm away from

Storm 2016
In March of 2016 a freak snow storm killed an estimated 37% of overwintering monarchs.

extinguishing the monarchs’ migratory roosts in Mexico entirely. As the world heats up, severe weather events have become increasingly common. Monarchs need thick forest cover and old growth trees to protect them from inclement weather. Effective forest protection on the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve more crucial than ever.

Butterflies & Their People Arborists Jose, Oswaldo and Francisco in the Cerro Pelon Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary.

Logging causes habitat loss in the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve. But people continue to log because they have no other economic options. Our project addresses both issues by hiring local people to protect the butterfly forest. The fate of the monarchs and that of the people who live alongside them are intimately interconnected: we cannot safeguard one without safeguarding the other.

Our project has

  • Doubled the presence of paid personnel in the Cerro Pelón Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary.
  • Provided three local people with stable, full-time employment as forest arborists.
  • Trained the arborists to participate in citizen science, including
      • monitoring the timing, location and behavior of the monarch colonies
      • monitoring natural regeneration
      • monitoring monarch nectar sources as well as documenting other flora and fauna on Cerro Pelon.