Shouldn’t the Mexican government handle monarch conservation in Mexico?
Sure, that would be nice. Unfortunately, the institutions charged with protecting the Biosphere Reserve seem more interested in promoting the appearance of conservation than in actually implementing effective conservation. Under their watch, 10 hectáreas of Sierra Chincua were clear-cut over a three month period in 2015. After the devastating March 9, 2016 storm toppled trees and ravaged the monarch colonies, officials authorized salvage logging throughout the Reserve. Many perfectly healthy trees were likewise taken in this poorly supervised process. Additionally, it appears the relevant government agencies are in the process of permitting a highly contaminating copper mine to open in the middle of the Michoacan side of the Reserve.
Sadly, it seems that profits rather than forest protection motivate Mexico’s powers that be. If we wait for the political will to form in Mexico to actually protect the butterfly sanctuaries, it may very well be too late to save the migration.
Isn’t there a payment for ecological services program in place in the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve?
Yes. But from what we’ve seen on the ground, these paltry annual incentives handed out to a handful of patriarchs has done little to halt deforestation on the Biosphere Reserve. Payment for ecological services programs only work when there is accountability. Logging on the Reserve is consistently undercounted every year. Thus many program participants log the butterfly forest and still receive their annual incentive for not logging. It seems that paying people to not do something doesn’t work all that well. What we would like to do is pay people to do something.
Why not just fund reforestation projects?
Official statistics report that 10.73 million trees have been planted on the Reserve over the last 12 years. No mention is made of what the survival rates are for these saplings. These numbers, it seems, are not collected. Oyamal fir trees, the preferred tree of the monarchs, are notoriously fickle. It seems highly unlikely that a very high percentage of these 10 million plus trees have survived.
While reforestation enriches the owners of tree nurseries, this industry does not provide long-term year-round employment for locals. Even if it did, it would take decades for these little saplings to grow to the point where they provide an adequately protective microclimate for monarchs. We would like to see more energy put into protecting the forest that we have, and thus reduce the need for reforestation.
Isn’t confronting illegal loggers dangerous?
Reserve officials have excused their inaction by spreading rumors that logging is done by armed members of organized crime. Local people find this claim risible. They know that loggers are poor people, just like them, working on their own. Unlike the United States, guns are illegal and hard to come by in Mexico. In the 30-plus years that forest rangers patrolled Cerro Pelon, they never even had a verbal confrontation with loggers.
Isn’t employing full-time workers is too much of a responsibility and not cost-effective?
It would be a commitment. But from what we’ve seen, committing to workers means that they in turn commit to protecting the forest. If we actually had an accurate account of logging and forest health, it would become obvious that the current conservation model is not in fact cost-effective. Instead of a small once-annual payment of a few hundred dollars to a few hundred people, the same amount of money could be used to employ a dozen people year round in meaningful work protecting the forest.