Update Salvage Logging on Cerro Pelon Journey North
May 22, 2016
By Ellen Sharp
The science that says that leaving downed trees to decompose naturally makes for healthy forests is up against powerful common sense in the communities of the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve. Everybody here will tell you that leaving dead wood in place increases the chance of forest fires. It’s a firmly held belief that it’s safer to remove toppled trees—especially if you stand to make some money off of them. And our ejido stands to make quite a bit of money off of the legalized logging made possible by the high winds of the March 9th storm.

The geography and local governance involved can be confusing, so here's some background. The monarchs’ overwintering roost on Cerro Pelón encompasses three ejidos and two states, Michoacán and the State of Mexico. The entries to the monarch sanctuary are on the State of Mexico side in the ejido of El Capulin. One trail head starts in the village of Macheros and the other begins in the community down the road from us, which is also called El Capulin. Ejidos are rural communities that were created to give landless peasants commonly-held land after the protracted uprising against hacienda-owning elites known as the Mexican Revolution. Unfortunately, one unjust hierarchical system was replaced with an only slightly more equitable one. While the combined communities of the ejido of El Capulin include almost 2,000 inhabitants, only 240 of them can claim the inherited status of ejiditario. This title confers the right to political representation and a share of the ejido’s resources. Ejiditarios are almost all men and mostly over 50. Everyone else is disenfranchised.

The El Capulin commissioner has already surveyed the part of Cerro Pelón that falls within ejidal boundaries and marked the trees that will be taken with green paint. While he’s reticent about exactly how many trees were designated, he has announced that the lumber amounts to 2,000 cubic meters of wood. But the ejiditarios haven’t started the logging process just yet: the contractors invited to bid on the wood lowballed them on the price. One offered 900 MXN (or $52 USD at 17 pesos per dollar) per meter, the other just 500 MXN ($29 USD). The ejiditarios are holding out for 1,300 MXN ($76 USD) per meter. That price would fetch them 2,600,000 MXN, or some $152,941 USD. Minus the cost of the permit and whatever the ejido’s governing board members manage to set aside for themselves, the spoils could come out to about $600 USD per ejiditario.

El Capulin’s ejiditarios are anxious to get to work. Folks from the neighboring ejido of Nicolas Romero are already sneaking across the ejido (and state) line to take trees from Cerro Pelón. They dragged down one storm casualty, and snagged a perfectly healthy tree while they were at it. Many fear that that our ejiditarios will do the same once they get started. Unauthorized trees can be retroactively authorized with an official seal once they’re taken down the mountain, and thus sold at a higher price than an “illegal” log would fetch. Observers have already noticed that some of the trees marked with green paint were still standing; they had only lost a branch or two in the storm. They survived that natural disaster, but they will not, it seems, survive this man-made one that promises to further thin the forest canopy.

All of this pilfering of a “protected area” is happening as part of a legal, permitted process authorized by high levels of the Mexican government. At the last trilateral meeting of the leaders of the three countries connected by the monarch migration, President Peña Nieto proclaimed the importance of defending the habitat of this “emblematic species.” All actions subsequently taken by his administration reveal the emptiness of that promise. His government has slashed the budget of the Commission of Protected Areas by almost half, and allowed Grupo Mexico to move ahead with plans to open a copper mine in the middle of the Michoacán side of the sanctuary. The “three amigos” are set to meet again to discuss trade between the NAFTA nations in Ottawa next month. It will be interesting to see what kind of lip service Mexico’s head of state gives to monarch conservation this time around.

Ellen Sharp
Co-owner of JM Butterfly B&B
Village of Macheros
Ejido of El Capulin
State of Mexico, Mexico

Post-Storm Salvage Logging El Rosario Sanctuary

This only semi-damaged pine tree is marked.

Post-storm Logging at Cerro Pelon Sanctuary in Mexico

Trees marked with this seal can legally be removed.

Post-Storm Salvage Logging El Rosario Sanctuary

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