The number of monarch butterflies that wintered in the central Mexican mountains dropped by 22% from the previous year. The reduction coincided with significant tree loss in the butterfly’s favourite wintering grounds, which more than tripled from the prior year. Humberto Peña, director of Mexico’s nature reserves, suggests that frost and “extreme temperatures” in the United States may have played a role in the butterfly’s decline during the most recent winter season. The monarch butterflies in the eastern US and Canada migrate annually to the fir forests of Michoacan, west of Mexico City, to overwinter. The total area they occupied this past winter dropped to 5.4 acres from 7 acres a year earlier. Experts blame climate change, drought, severe weather, loss of habitat, pesticide and herbicide use, and deforestation in the butterfly reserves in Mexico, among other factors, for dwindling monarch numbers. Illegal logging has been a major threat to the pine and fir forests where the butterflies gather in clumps to keep warm, while the loss of milkweed north of the border contributes to the species’ migration threat. Illegal logging continues to plague the reserves, and measures are underway to station the National Guard troops there to prevent it. Open, illegal tree cutting actually dropped 3.4% this year, largely because of the efforts of inhabitants committed to protecting their forests. Despite the challenging environment, the communal farm community of Crescencio Morales had a turnaround story and began fielding trained and officially approved forest rangers to safeguard the land, transforming into a 58-strong forest ranger “Community Guard”. Today, the village aspires to attract tourists sustainably, without destroying the environment.

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