The news was already bad. Really, really bad.
Monarch butterflies that alight from Mexico and fly across the United States to
Canada are being massacred. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service laid out a grim
statistic in February: Nearly a billion have vanished since 1990 as farmers and
homeowners sprayed herbicides on milkweed, a plant the colorful creatures use as
a food source, a home and a nursery.
On Tuesday, Mexican scientists and American conservationists announced that the
killing field has widened in the worst place possible — a monarch sanctuary.
More than 52 acres of a haven where the butterflies hibernate over winter has
been degraded, mostly by deforestation from illegal logging, with drought
helping the decline, they said. The upshot is that a sizable portion of monarchs
that straggle from Canada, back across the states and into Mexico won’t have a
The finding is from a newly released survey of the core area of the Monarch
Butterfly Biosphere Reserve in Mexico for 2014-2015. It was undertaken by the
Institute of Biology of the National Autonomous University of Mexico and the
World Wildlife Fund-Telcel Alliance and showed that 49 acres were degraded by
logging and another three acres by a wicked cocktail of “drought, pests,
lightning and landslides.”
“For years most of the local communities in the core zone of the Monarch
Butterfly Biosphere Reserve have shown their commitment to conserve their
forests by participating in the Monarch Fund, reducing deforestation to almost
zero in 2011. Unfortunately over the last three years illegal logging has been
documented in the same community of San Felipe of los Alzati,” said Omar Vidal,
director general of the World Wildlife Fund in Mexico.
“It is essential that the authorities increase surveillance in the area and
continue their dialogue with the San Felipe de los Alzati community to stop
forest degradation immediately,” said Victor Manuel Sanchez Cordero, director of
the Institute of Biology at the university.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife is reviewing a petition filed by the Center for
Biological Diversity to list monarch butterflies as an endangered species that
requires special protection to survive. The agency is studying whether that is
necessary and also trying to do more to help restore the population.
Butterflies aren’t immune to extinction, in spite of their prolific
reproduction. The blueberry-colored Xerces blue disappeared from San Francisco
years ago, and in recent years Fish and Wildlife announced that a pair of
subspecies — the rockland skipper and Zestos in South Florida — haven’t been
seen since 2004 and are probably extinct. Populations of other pollinators have
collapsed — wasps, beetles and especially honeybees. Widespread pesticide use is
the suspected cause.
Fish and Wildlife entered into a partnership with two private conservation
groups, the National Wildlife Federation and the National Fish and Wildlife
Foundation, to grow milkweed like crazy across the country in the hopes of
saving as many monarchs as possible. The plan is to make the plant widely
available at nurseries.
The agency is providing $2 million for on-the-ground conservation projects. As
part of an agreement, the federation will help raise awareness about the need
for milkweed, provide seeds to anyone willing to plant it and to plant the seeds
in open space — roadsides, parks, forests and patio flower boxes, to name a few
places. Another $1.2 million will go to the foundation as seed money to generate
a larger fundraising match from private organizations.
Monarch butterflies once fluttered throughout the United States by the billions,
flapping about on technicolor and fragile wings. Many didn’t survive the round
trip to Canada and back, pass a killing field of agriculture in the United
Farmers are only partly to blame for the insect’s decline, said Dan Ashe,
director of Fish and Wildlife. “We’ve all been responsible. We are the consumers
of agricultural products. I eat corn. American farmers are not the enemy. Can
they be part of the solution? Yes,” Ashe said.
In 2014, President Obama, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto and Canadian
Prime Minister Stephen Harper formed a tri-national working group to protect the
monarch butterfly and its habitat, the WWF and its partners said in a statement.
“It’s not about this wonderful, mystical creature,” Ashe said. “It’s about us.”