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  • Monarch Butterfly Migration Update: February 11, 1997

    Millions of monarch butterflies have recently been sighted. Special thanks to Blake School teacher Jon Dicus and his students, who have just returned from their second annual trip to the monarch wintering sanctuaries in Angangueo, Mexico. Today's report is full of the news they gathered. You are also invited to visit Blake School's WWW site where you can read the students' field reports. While in Angangueo, they lived like exchange students, staying as guests in the people's homes and learning the way of life. Explains Dicus, "The students and I hope by sharing our stories about the people of Angangueo, we can provide a picture of what life is like for the residents of this town and how they live side-by-side with the monarch butterfly."

    Before leaving Angangueo, they found a local student who will serve as our field reporter over the coming weeks. Fernando Romero has agreed to take on the job, and will send regular reports from his home town. Fernando is pictured here in his family's store. Here is his first message:

    Can you find Angangueo on this map? (Click on the image to make it larger.) It's located about 125 km west of Mexico City. Four of the nine monarch sanctuaries surround this small mountain town! Each winter, after their long migration from the U.S. and Canada, the monarchs rest for five months high in the mountains near Fernando's town.

    While we wait for the monarchs' migration to begin, these weekly update will focus on various aspects of the monarchs' over-wintering biology. We will also touch on the economic, sociological, and political issues that make conservation of the monarch sanctuaries so challenging. The following news provides a introduction to these issues:

    Largest Monarch Butterfly Reserved Opens for Tourism
    This winter, Mexico's largest monarch reserve is open for tourism for the first time. On December 10, 1996 the pristine Cerro Chincua sanctuary, which had previously been reserved for scientific research, opened its gates for "limited tourism", defined as small groups accompanied by a trained guide.

    Until this year, one nearby sanctuary known as El Rosario was the primary destination for tourists, with as many as 4,000 people visiting the small site in a single day. (See: The Impact of Tourism on Monarch Reserves.) In recent years, an annual income of approximately $50,000 has been raised from admission fees. This money has been shared by the people who own the El Rosario reserve. (These local landowning communities are known as "ejidos".) Meanwhile, landowners of the other monarch reserves had been unable to derive any economic benefits for the protection of their sites. Pressure had been mounting to find a solution to what the ejidos considered an unfair situation. This led to the Mexican government's decision to open Cerra Chincua.

    In the 20 years since the monarchs' Mexican wintering sites were first discovered, little progress has been made toward their long-term conservation. Government officials, scientists and conservationists now agree that a basic problem has never been addressed:

    To date, the people who own the land that is designated as monarch reserves have been excluded from their own land and have not been compensated. That is, when the monarch reserves were established as sanctuaries by Presidential decree in 1986, these people were forced from using their own land and received nothing in return. As the situation now stands, the monarchs' winter colonies are legally protected by Mexican law as sanctuaries, but the land is still legally owned by the ejidos.

    Last week, Blake students visited the people of the Cerro Prieto ejido. These are the people who own the Cerra Chincua monarch sanctuary. According to Tara Ward and Natalie Weiner, "Our visit to the ejido gave us a clear understanding of the conflict between those who fight for conservation in the forest, and those who need the forest to survive. As our guide said, 'La lucha para ellos no es el futuro, la lucha para ellos es el presente.' ('For the people in these communities, the fight is not about a better tomorrow, but is about daily survival.') The students describe their visit in these two reports:

    1. A Visit to the Cerro Prieto Ejido
    2. An Afternoon in Cerro Prieto

    After reading their reports, consider this:

    Challenge Question #1
    "How many factors can you name that make life difficult for the people who own Cerro Chincua? Do you think these factors will make conservation of the monarch reserve difficult? If so, please explain how."

    How to Respond to Challenge Question #1

    1. Address an e-mail message to: jn-challenge-monarch@learner.org
    2. In the Subject Line of your message write: Challenge Question #1
    3. In the body of the message, answer the question above.

    Recommended Map for Tracking the Monarch Migration
    Now is the time to select the map you will use to track the monarch migration this spring. We recommend purchasing a wall map of the United States. (This is because the only map we could locate which included the monarch's entire range from Mexico to Canada cost over $30--and it was out of print!) Most U.S. maps include the portions of Canada at the northern extent of the monarchs' summer range, so should suffice. We also suggest having a road atlas on hand which lists U.S. and Canadian towns in its index. This will help you locate the sightings on your wall map. If you cannot find these maps in your town, they can be easily obtained from Latitudes Map store at: (612)927-9061

    The Next Monarch Migration Update Will be Posted on February 18, 1997.