The Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary Foundation

A Conservation Initiative
to Protect Monarch Butterfly Wintering Habitat in Mexico

How You Can Help

Each fall, monarch butterflies east of the Rocky Mountains migrate to high-altitude oyamel fir forests in central Mexico, where they overwinter in extraordinary aggregations of millions of individuals. Habitat degradation in these overwintering sites has led to the formal designation of "threatened phenomenon" to the monarch butterfly migration, and a first priority in world butterfly conservation.

Many studies have demonstrated that an intact oyamel forest ecosytem is key to the monarchs' winter survival. The forest provides unique microclimatic conditions which promote monarch survival in freezing temperatures, slow dessication (drying out), and conserve energy stores until the spring remigration. This forest ecosystem is the most endangered in Mexico, constituting less than 2% of Mexican forests. However, wood harvesting continues and many people are reluctant to control the access of the very poor landowners to their forests, even though current and projected demands on the forest cannot possibly be sustained.

A 1986 presidential decree created the "Reserva de la Biosfera Mariposa Monarca," the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve. This decree provided two zones of protection in five of the known monarch overwintering areas. The two zones of protection are:
  1. The nuclear zone, in which no cutting is allowed, and
  2. The buffer zone, in which limited cutting is allowed.

The total land area in this reserve is 16110 hectares (about 60 square miles), with only 4490 hectares (less that 17 square miles) in the nuclear zone. Most of this land is in "ejido" ownership. (Ejidos are groups of peasant farmers whose hold land in communal ownership.) Significantly, these peasant landowners have not been adequately compensated for the logging limitations imposed by the decree.

This has resulted in continued resource demands on the forests that are incompatible with the survival of overwintering monarch butterflies. Logging activities are presently occurring in and around the sanctuaries--on a legal and illegal basis--posing a threat to the monarch's winter habitat.

A New Conservation Initiative
The Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary Foundation (MBSF) was established in August, 1997 by scientists and educators concerned about this rapid loss of habitat. Monarch biologist Dr. Lincoln Brower, who has conducted research in the Mexican sanctuaries for over two decades, will serve as Chairman of the MBSF Board.

Says Brower, "Over the past 20 years, millions of dollars have been directed toward monarch conservation in Mexico, but have failed to address long-term conservation of the dwindling oyamel forest ecosystem. At the same time, the economic needs of the people who depend on the forest for survival have never been adequately addressed. A solution is needed that will allow the people and the butterflies to coexist with the forest in a long-term sustainable manner."

Your support of this effort is needed.
To contribute, please send donations to:

Dr. Karen Oberhauser, President
The Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary Foundation
2078 Skillman Avenue
Roseville, Minnesota 55113 USA

Checks should be made payable to:
The Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary Foundation

Work of the Foundation has included:

Scientific Documentation of Monarch Use of Sanctuary Habitat
MBSF is working with World Wildlife Fund-Mexico (WWF) to develop GIS (Geographic Information System ) mapping of the locations of butterfly colonies in the reserves and the past and current conditions of the forest. This GIS will enable scientists to present a coherent, compelling, data-based document to the Mexican government for their use in a real long-term policy revision of the decree that includes the extension of the protected monarch reserves and incorporates the currently unprotected ones.

This will promote the establishment of an effective conservation scheme to protect the overwintering sanctuaries of the monarch butterfly and the oyamel forest ecosystem. This will be done by providing decision-makers with updated information on the ecological parameters that define habitat requirements of the monarch butterfly in the overwintering sites and the consequences of the different preservation schemes contemplated.

Translation of Scientific Papers
Throughout the years, extensive research has been done on the monarch butterfly's biology and migration by American, Canadian and Mexican scientists. However the sharing of information has been stymied due to the language barrier. Consequently the MBSF has set as one of its goals to facilitate the exchange between scientists translating the numerous papers that have been writtenon the subject. Our end goal is to have a newsletter or journal where articles will be published in both languages. In working towards this goal we have begun to translate what we consider are some of the most important papers that have been written in the past. To date, we have finished 6.

Evaluation of Effect of Recent Forest Fires
Concerned about the fires that devastated Mexico in the late nineties, MBSF personnel visited the monarch butterfly sanctuaries to observe first-hand how they had been affected. Unfortunately many of this fires are generated by the local farmers who practice "slash and burn" agricultural techniques. Additionally once a forest is burned in Mexico, no matter where it is or what its protected status is, the law allows logging of the burned wood (so-called "salvage-logging"). Inevitable land use change ensues. However this year the Mexican environmental authorities have issued a contingency plan. Aware of their lack of resources to implement post-fire strategies in all the forests that burned throughout Mexico, they will assess all the areas to establish high-priority areas that need to be protected immediately. The MBSF in its joint effort with WWF is working with the government to establish the sanctuaries as high-priority areas and is promoting natural regeneration in the area. The main priority now is to prohibit all access to the area to avoid land use changes.