Monarch Watch Update - February 16,
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2) Conservation Perspectives
3) The Western Population & Continuous Counts
4) Status of the Population
5) Tag Recovery Fund
6) Cold-Hardiness and Related Issues
7) Video Conferencing with Monarch Watch
8) New Life Cycle Poster
9) How to Unsubscribe from this Update
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2) Conservation Perspectives
"What can be done to stop the illegal logging?"
By Jordi Honey-Rosés
World wildlife Fund, Mexico
Monarch season is in full swing in Mexico with tourists climbing up and
down the Transvolcanic Mountains, journalists calling regularly for a
quote on the latest controversy, and researchers avidly jotting
observations inside the colonies with notebook, compass, camera, and GPS
A late January storm has caused some Monarch mortality in the colonies
although much less than the severe freeze of 2002 and by no means should
affect the visitors' spectacular experience at the overwintering sites
the remainder of the season. The biologists of the Monarch Butterfly
Biosphere Reserve (MBBR) will be finishing the count of dead butterflies
and releasing the final mortality numbers soon.
The press in Mexico picked up on the mortality story immediately and
along with the story came questions about the illegal logging inside the
protected area. The questions about the illegal logging in the Monarch
Butterfly Biosphere Reserve are without a doubt the most difficult and
complex to answer. However to ignore the illegal logging issue would be
just as problematic. The organized and illegal extraction of trees is
probably the primary threat to the habitat of the Monarch Butterfly in
Mexico and not to address the issue would make any interdisciplinary and
long term conservation plan incomplete and bordering on
To the Mexican government's credit, they have recognized the Monarch
region as one of the most contentious natural areas in the country.
Mexico's Minister of the Environment Alberto Cárdenas grouped the Monarch
region in the same category as the Montes Azules Biosphere Reserve in
Chiapas, which serves as campground and hideout for ski masked Zapatista
revolutionaries. Cárdenas also included in this category the forests of
Guerrero -- infested with drug traffickers and armed revolutionaries of
their own. Not bad company for the Monarchs. We could call this trio,
Mexico's Axis of Illegal Logging.
So clearly the Mexican authorities recognize the magnitude of the illegal
logging in the Monarch Butterfly Protected Area. And also to their
credit, money is being channeled into the region accordingly. The Mexican
Park Service (CONANP) has more than doubled the budget of the Protected
Area since 2000 under the leadership of Ernesto Enkerlin. This increase
of funds has been noticeable in the area and executed through the hard
work of the Reserve Director Marco Bernal and Subdirector Eduardo
Still, the illegal logging continues and is self evident. To better
visualize the dimension of the illegal logging, a group of Mexican
decision makers, researchers and journalists participated in aerial
flights above the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere reserve this past January
21st and 22nd. The flights were possible thanks to the non-profit
organization Lighthawk and its network of volunteer pilots. Passengers
included Michoacán State Delegates of SEMARNAT (Secretary of Environment)
and PROFEPA (Environmental Attorney General's Office) as well as the
Regional Director of the CONAFOR (Mexican Forestry Service) and the
Municipal Presidents of Angangueo, Ocampo and Senguio.
The flight passengers saw not only the dire effects of the logging, but
also witnessed the logging occurring in real time, where at least four
trucks were seen inside the Monarch Biosphere Reserve driving through a
devastated area of what only two years ago was dense oyamel
These powerful aerial images were shown later that night on Mexico's
national news channel Televisa. The news clip on the illegal logging also
featured an interview with the long time researcher Dr. Lincoln Brower.
The prime time news report denouncing the illegal logging created quite a
controversy and was followed up by an opinion article written by Mexican
poet and conservationist Homero Aridjis and published in Mexico's most
widely read newspaper Reforma also denouncing the continued illegal
logging in the protected area. ("Crespúsculo de la monarca"
Reforma, Febrero 1, 2004)
So all of this brings us to the most important and difficult question:
What can be done to stop the logging? And more specifically what can
independent and non-governmental organizations do? Aside from the police
and judicial work in the hands of the Mexican authorities, the
appropriate actions to halt the illegal logging can be broken down into
three groups 1) Empower local community efforts, 2) Document the illegal
extraction, and 3) Denounce the illegal activities to the
First and foremost, the agrarian communities that own this forest need to
be empowered to protect what forest they have left. In the long run only
a strong local commitment for protection will stop the illegal logging.
External efforts will never be a substitute for this local commitment.
Fortunately, within each community there is always a group who would like
to stop the logging, but who don't have the means to do so, or who feel
powerless before the network of illegal loggers. These individuals need
to be empowered. Local community forest watch groups need to be better
equipped, and if they are doing a good job, they should be paid for their
time spent protecting the forest. Interestingly, field research in the
forest could be an indirect way to support the community forest watch
groups. It has been seen that illegal loggers are less likely to enter an
area if there are people present in the forest. Lastly, when local
community members request forest protection help from the authorities,
independent groups can follow through on their request to be sure that
the correct action is taken.
Second, conservation organizations and researchers can and must document
the status of the logging. The use of aerial photography and high
resolution satellite images have recently allowed specific areas to be
identified for action. Also, written documentation must be gathered that
describes the logging activities and what is being done (or not) to stop
it. The analysis and conclusions generated, such as the most affected
areas, the access points for loggers, and the patterns of illegal
activity should all be shared among conservation organizations and
authorities to find more effective means to stop the illegal
Lastly, there comes a time when the illegal activities needs to be made
public and denounced in the press. Going to the press can help pressure
for a deeper political commitment at a higher level of government but
also risks a negative twist in the message by the press, or generating
ill will from local government agencies. Criticism should be used
carefully so as to address specific problems and not fall into sweeping
statements or condemnation about the status of the Reserve as a
All three courses of action require close coordination between
conservation groups, researchers, local communities and the government
authorities. A recent initiative designed to catalyze this coordination
is the Monarch Butterfly Regional Forum whose website is temporarily
being hosted at
The Forum will bring most of the major Monarch conservation groups to the table to share their work-plans and map them in a Geographic Information System and database. Hopes are high that this latest effort may help diminish the illegal logging.
For years the discussion on illegal logging has lacked site specific evidence to focus the debate. Finally, new technology is allowing this debate to become more specific and quantitative. Conservation organizations, researchers and the public at large are not the authority to directly confront the illegal logging, but there are specific actions that may be taken. The time has come for a more open dialogue with Government agencies in Mexico to jointly find solutions in order to ensure an intact and permanent habitat for the Monarch butterfly.
About the Author
Jordi is from Sunnyvale, California and graduated from the University of California, Berkeley. He joined World Wildlife Fund (WWF) in Mexico City in November of 2001 and since has been privileged to join the trinational conservation efforts to protect the overwintering habitat of the Monarch Butterfly. When not chasing after Monarch Butterflies, Jordi enjoys triathlon training and reading about Mexican and European history.
Conservation Perspectives will provide regular and accurate updates on the local conservation issues at the Mexican overwintering sites of the Monarch Butterfly. This space will be a forum for discussion and sharing. The updates will serve as conduit for ideas and stories that are rarely heard from Mexican side of the border, especially those successes by local Mexican inhabitants to protect the forest of the Monarch Butterfly.
3) The Western Population & Continuous Counts: Is it Worth the Effort?
By Mia Monroe, Park Ranger, Muir Woods National Monument
The size of the western monarch population is estimated by a one-time count at each of the overwintering sites. These counts occur around Thanksgiving each year. This year, stewards at the Ellwood Main overwintering site have been conducting counts throughout the season. The hope is that the ongoing monitoring at the Ellwood Main overwintering site will help us understand how a site protects monarchs during storms, sunny days when monarchs venture out to nectar and sip dew, and when unseasonal conditions render a site inhospitable. However, these ongoing counts could have bigger applications as well.
John Goldwasser, a mathematician, and his daughter, Shama Cash-Goldwasser, are monarch lovers from West Virginia. They visited Ellwood Main in January and were told the overwintering population numbered approximately 8,000 butterflies (this number was obtained during early November). This number seemed low to John and Shama and they conducted their own count. They estimated a population of 25-35,000 butterflies. After returning home, they shared this information with Monarch Watch. Monarch Watch then asked western monarch observers to comment. Due to continual monitoring, Ellwood Main Stewards Chris and David Lange were able to confirm that numbers had increased from the beginning of the season. The initial count (in early November) indicated the site hosted 8,000 monarchs. By the end of November (11/23) the site hosted 13,400 monarchs. Counts on 12/05 and 1/13 showed 18,400 and 22,000 butterflies (respectively), indicating the overwintering population at Ellwood continued to grow as the season progressed.
We generally don't expect overwintering populations to increase much after mid-November. What happened at Ellwood? Well, we don't really know. November counts can be misleading since butterflies from temporary sites continue to join the main sites as the season progresses. Weather may have been a factor as well. Perhaps monarchs from less protected sites moved into Ellwood after the bruising holiday storms coastal California experienced. Monarchs were virtually absent from the extremes of the overwintering range (Baja, San Diego, LA, and Marin Counties) later in the season; these counties were hit by severe winter storms and conditions chilled. It is possible that the core counties, including Ellwood, took in monarchs as they fled the chilled counties. One explanation is that other regional sites are "weaker" structurally (from a monarch's point of view) and "feed" the main, or at least more meteorologically stable, sites such as Ellwood throughout the season. Another possibility is that a break in the weather encouraged monarchs to forage out of site range. Later, when cloud cover moved in earlier than expected, they dashed for the closest site - Ellwood! It is interesting to note that nearby overwintering clusters in the East Bay counties, such as Ardenwood, Alameda Golf Course and San Leandro Golf Course, were able to hold on to their monarchs throughout the same winter period.
A good way to explore these theories is to develop a continuous monitoring program at nearby sites and to begin a tagging program that would help monitor intra-site movement. The Thanksgiving Count has been invaluable through the years to give us an idea of the size of the western population. However, it is now time to think about a continuous monitoring effort throughout specific regions, as this could help us understand population dynamics and trends. Clearly, the Ellwood counts this season demonstrate the value of identifying sites in California to use in a tagging program and to monitor carefully throughout the season to determine whether "gain and loss" at these sites can be correlated with environmental factors.
What's next for the Western population? Thanks to the early spring we're experiencing, the mating season will be underway over Valentine's Day weekend (quite a heartwarming sight at Natural Bridges SP, Pacific Grove, Pismo Beach or Ellwood). In just a few more weeks the overwintering season will come to a close and the butterflies will be heading north and east again.
Edited by Sarah Schmidt, Monarch Watch Program Assistant
4) Status of the Population - by Chip Taylor
There is good news and bad news this month, first, the good news. The measurements of the monarch colonies by the personnel of the Reserva Biosfera de la Mariposa Monarca (RBMM) show that the total area occupied by all the colonies to be 11.12 hectares (22.24 acres). This is the third largest overwintering population since the colonies were first systematically measured in 1993. We had expected an increase above the 8 hectares reported last year based on reports from observers and taggers throughout the fall migration. The weather conditions during the migration were also favorable, decreasing the likelihood of significant mortality during the migration. Given that only 20-25% of the population survived the winter storm of 2001-2002 the size of the population this year signals a remarkable recovery over the past two breeding seasons.
The bad news is that it's happened again. For the third time in four years the overwintering monarch colonies in Mexico have experienced severe mortality due to winter rains followed by snow and clearing skies and temperatures in the 20s (F). There appear to have been two episodes of cold weather, one starting on the 17th of January and the other occurring at the end of the month. The details of these events are unclear. We need data from monitoring sites in the colonies and reports of the chronology of the weather changes from residents of the area. On the 3rd of February we posted a report on the effects of the first storm to Dplex-L. This report from the RBMM (published in the popular newspaper Reforma) indicated that only 10% of the monarchs had died as a result of the freeze. However, subsequently I learned of the claim by one resident familiar with the colonies that the mortality was "twice as bad" as in 2002. Since 75-80% of the monarchs were killed in 2002, I wasn't sure how to interpret what was meant by "twice as bad". In addition, it wasn't clear when this person had visited the colonies. On Wednesday, 11 Feb., I received another report from a Mexican observer who visited the colonies on the 9th. He indicated that the mortality was indeed quite severe and that only a few trees at both Sierra Chincua and El Rosario contained monarchs. The numbers of live monarchs seen at each site was extremely low. This observer also thought that the mortality was greater than in 2002 and that many butterflies were buried alive in the masses that had fallen from the trees. The colonies appeared to be all but wiped out - gone. That night I didn't sleep well and periodically got up to send off emails in the middle of the night. On Thursday, I was busy with lots of details and teaching but late in the day I received an express mail letter from Dr. John Wenzel from Ohio State University. I'll quote portions of the letter (dated 11 February) relevant to the mortality issue. John visited Chincua on 2 February. "I just got back from Michoacan. - Chincua was particularly beautiful. We rode a couple of miles, crunching through icy puddles on the path, to a point that became too steep for the horses. Then we hiked down a steep face to where the monarchs were in the forest. One of our guides said they had counted about 300 trees festooned with them (well he didn't use the word festooned but anyway -) --- The storm that knocked them from their perches on 30 January did NOT kill them, and by Feb 2 millions upon millions were back in the trees where they belong, although they were slightly displaced from the area where Lincoln Brower had apparently been two weeks before and marked many trees (not far, same hillside). Yes, there were tons of butterflies on the ground, but if they were not wet they are usually not dead either. We put many (thousands?) in sun spots and they warmed and moved around, and some took flight. --- Anyway, in addition to the tags, I just wanted to pass along the information that I was there after the snowstorm, and I doubt the butterflies really suffered great mortality despite news reports to the contrary. The ones that didn't get stepped on seemed to be okay, and most were back up in the trees after a few days." This was certainly a more positive perspective and I slept better the next night. It is common for the survivors of these catastrophic storms to move and reform colonies at some distance from the original site.
The task that remains is to assess the true extent of the mortality and to estimate the number of survivors. The later is particularly important since it gives us a view of what to expect in the future. Estimating the mortality is difficult because many dead butterflies remain lodged in the trees and large numbers still alive after the storm are nevertheless seriously damaged and take many days to die. According to Jordi's account above, the RBMM is in the process of reassessing the mortality and I've also learned that Jordi is working with a group of international students to assess the numbers of dead butterflies in the colonies. To sum this up, all I can tell you at this point is that it is certain that the mortality was much higher than the 10% previously reported but probably lower than the 90% I had envisioned from the first two eyewitness accounts. We will know more in a few weeks.
The occurrence of catastrophic winter mortality in three of the last four years, with both of the last two events being extreme in their severity, is of great concern. In the past, most episodes of weather related mortality have affected only a few of the colonies. In 2002, and this year, all of the colonies were impacted and the proportion of the population lost to these two weather events is unprecedented in the twenty-nine years these sites have been observed by scientists. Global climate change is a reality, and, in the case of central Mexico, the models predict increasing winter rainfall. Normally, winter is the dry season in Mexico but there is no doubt but that winter moisture has been increasing in recent years. This has been a particularly rainy winter, and it is rain followed by falling temperatures that devastates the population. The increase in rainfall is consistent with the climate change models and Karen Oberhauser and Town Peterson recently predicted that over the next 50 years there will be a significant increase in the conditions that contribute to winter mortality such that it will threaten the very existence of the eastern migratory population. Global climate change is upon us and this may already be happening. Should this pattern continue, the monarch could become a poster symbol for the effects of global warming - not a happy thought.
Oberhauser, K and A. T. Peterson. 2003. Modeling current and future potential wintering distributions of eastern North American monarch butterflies. PNAS 100:14063-14068.
5) Tag Recovery Fund
Last month we appealed for more contributions to the tag recovery fund. This was before the storms. Now we have a crisis. Many of the local residents have 100s of tags found on the monarchs killed by the late January storms. We don't have the funds to buy the number of tags available. Donations to the tag recovery fund for this year were $2,371. As you know, we pay 50 pesos (approximately $5) for each tag recovered - a reasonable compensation, since it normally takes 1-3 hours to find each tag among the dead butterflies on the forest floor. After the big chill of January 2002 (fall 2001 tags) we spent approximately $12,000 recovering tags with the help of Dave Kust and others. This resulted in 31 pages of data entries in the 2001 Season Summary. We recovered many more tags the following year and we could have bought more had we anticipated the large number of tags that still remained as a result of the storm in 2002.
We will match up to $5,000 in donations from our operating budget but even $10,000 may not be enough to recover all the tags available. If you can help us with the tag recovery fund, your tax-deductible contributions would be greatly appreciated. Checks may be sent to us at:
University of Kansas
1200 Sunnyside Avenue
Lawrence, KS 66045-7534
If we have the money to buy the tags, many of the taggers will have their tags recovered and we will learn more about the patterns of the migration.
6) Cold-hardiness (cryoprotectants), mortality due to winter storms, why monarchs overwinter at lower latitudes and related issues.
By Chip Taylor
The text for this topic was written for inclusion in the January update but was left out due to the overall length of the email message. Unfortunately, this topic is even more appropriate for this month's update and if we included it here the Update would be much too long (again). So, we have decided to post this article online at
7) Video Conferencing with Monarch Watch
We have posted a couple of pages online that summarize our early experiences with video conferencing over the internet and provide a "getting started" guide for those of you that would like to participate. We are still looking for classes/groups to connect with so if you are interested in setting up a session please read through the information we have online at
and then contact us at [log in to unmask] and we'll set up a time to connect.
The iChat software that we use runs on Macintosh hardware; however, the latest beta version of iChat AV supports audio and video chatting with PC computers running Windows XP and AOL Instant Messenger 5.5 - for more information about the PC requirements for "Video Instant Messaging" visit
If you have any questions about this please feel free to drop us a line anytime!
8) New Life Cycle Poster
We have added a new poster to our educational offerings in our online storefront. It is a beautiful 14" x 20" photo montage created by artist and monarch enthusiast Ron Brancato. The poster illustrates the entire life cycle of the monarch butterfly and includes descriptive captions, making it the perfect blend of art and education. This poster is available in laminated and non-laminated (suitable for framing) formats for $15.
You can order the poster now, but we will not begin shipping it until March 15th. To view and/or order the poster visit:
Alternatively, you can do a quick search for "monarch butterfly poster" in Gulliver's Gift Shop (our online storefront) at
Remember, each and every purchase you make in "Gulliver's Gift Shop" supports Monarch Watch!
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Kent P. McFarland
Conservation Biology Dept.
Vermont Institute of Natural Science
27023 Church Hill Road
Woodstock, VT 05091 USA
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