Nature Canada

Journey to the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere


Sharolyn Mathieu Vettese

The following is a guest blog written by a founding member of Women for Nature about her recent journey to visit the winter roosting sites of the Monarch Butterfly in Mexico. She shares with us the sights and sounds from this UNESCO Biosphere and her thoughts about the need for Monarch conservation.

[separator headline=”h3″ title=”Reserva Mariposa Monarca – by Sharolyn Mathieu Vettese”]

The Reserva Mariposa Monarca is found at 3,000 metres above sea level and a distance of more than 2,300 kilometres away from my home. Following my first trip last year to the Reserva Biosfera Mariposa Monarca (the Monarch Butterflies’ UNESCO Biosphere), I was more determined than ever to revisit them again this February 2015, and to finally see them roosting in the Oyamel forest trees.

At 3,000 metres altitude, a plane is not visible from the ground, yet the Monarch migrates from this height down to just above sea level. This is just one of the things that is amazing about the Monarch butterflies. It’s incredible to think that they migrate in the fall from around Ottawa – and from all over Canada and the northern US – all the way down to Mexico. One butterfly makes this incredible journey, and then rests in the forest for the winter months, where it mates before returning to where the milkweed grows. The first stop is in Texas, and then its descendants have a more leisurely trip back to Canada. It is simply fantastic.

Early morning, we head out to the Mariposa Monarca reserve from Mexico City. As we near our destination, the roads become more winding, and narrower. In the last town, we see small logging trucks. Last year we saw farmers leading their donkeys laden with logs. The loggers seem to be prospering, and they will continue to do so until the very last tree is cut down. That is the way it is, unless they see they are cutting down their own future, and that of their children. Already, the loss of trees is impacting the quality of the air. On the way to the entrance of the reserve, there is a sign indicating the road to the Nature’s Path, but there is very little nature around that sign. The unrestricted development and the bald spots in the mountain forests are evident. The Monarch’s journey is not easy! I had a tiring journey, and it was much easier, and shorter.

Cluster of Monarch butterflies

To the left of the entrance, there is a small tree nursery covered with a shade cloth. Although reassuring, the trees being cut down are likely more than 100 years old, and by the time the baby saplings from the nursery will mature it will be too late for the Monarchs. Wouldn’t it be better to protect the existing forest?

Within the sanctuary, the path is wide to accommodate the tourists, mostly domestic travellers. We can see clusters of Monarch butterflies huddled together on a branch. It looks like a wasp nest. There are several clusters hanging on the branches. The sun is coming through, and some monarchs are flying around, using valuable energy. There are very few flowers. Not enough to feed all the butterflies.

Monarch in trees

Then, we are led a little distance into the forests up to the rope barrier. We are told to be silent so as not to disturb the Monarchs. Here, there are more monarch clusters. In an open area of the forest, in the sunlight, there are thousands resting with open wings, cascading down the cedar’s branches. On the forest floor, we see deceased. It is obvious the locals appreciate the Monarch Butterflies, but their knowledge about the life cycle seemed limited. The guides did not know they migrate all the way to Canada. To them, it is simply a phenomenon that appears every year. The locals benefit from tourists coming to see the Monarch Butterflies, but it is short term, and not co-ordinated.

A community appreciation that the forest is more valuable alive than dead would stop the logging. Tourist dollars generate far more income than selling blackberries, especially if there are no tourists to buy the farmers’ produce grown where the forest used to be.

For the locals to appreciate this tremendous natural gift in their midst, they need to be entrusted as custodians of the Monarchs. To do this, they need to be educated about the migratory route of the monarchs to Canada, perhaps by having signs at the sanctuary entrance. It would also be great to have tri-national flags flying to show solidarity for the Monarch butterfly, that we all love in our gardens no matter where we live.

I’m committed to being the voice for the Monarch butterflies and to preserve the forests in the UNESCO Biosphere in Mexico. [mini-icon icon=”leaf”]

You can be voice for Monarch butterflies in Canada. Sign our petition calling for federal funding to help save Monarchs and their habitat.

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Canada’s wilderness is the world’s envy. It’s our duty to keep our true north strong and green.