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Monarch butterfly numbers see drastic decline from illegal logging

Mexico City — Investigators say illegal logging in Mexico’s forests have devastated years of butterfly improvements.

World Wildlife Fund and the Institute of Biology of Mexico’s National Autonomous University have discovered that illegal loggers in the state of Michoacan cut down 47 acres (19 hectares) of trees in San Felipe de los Alzati since last year’s gathering of butterflies. When combined with the natural forest loss of pests and drought, 52 acres of forest in total has been lost.

They say these are the highest figures since 2009, and well above the 20 acres lost in 2014. Last year, 8 acres of the loss was due to drought while about 12 acres was from logging. In 2012, they say that illegal logging was nearly zero as the surrounding communities kept the levels very low.

This particular area of forest is a natural wintering ground for the Monarch butterfly who, each year, make their way across Canada and the US to central Mexico. Scientists say this migration is an inherited trait and that it remains a mystery how the butterflies find the route back to the same patch of pine forest each year. Some speculate the butterflies release a chemical marking the migratory path. But now, loss of that habitat is one of the many threats to their amazing migration.

At their peak in 1996, the monarchs covered more than 44.5 acres (18 hectares) in the mountains west of Mexico City. This year, butterflies that reached the wintering grounds covered 2.79 acres (1.13 hectares), a 69 percent rebound from last February’s 1.65 acres (0.67 hectare), which was the lowest since record-keeping began in 1993. Butterflies cluster so closely together that they are counted by the area they cover, rather than by the number of individuals.

The area where the trees are being illegally logged is on a reserve declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. These falling numbers have concerned Omar Vidal, head of the World Wildlife Fund in Mexico.

“The government has to step up enforcement and start talking more seriously with this community to find out the causes [behind the logging]”, Vidal said. “Some communities have complained that outside loggers — sometimes armed — invade local forests without the consent of the community. Other logging, however, has been the work of locals with few other job opportunities.”

When illegal logging felled hundreds of acres of trees, Mexican authorities cracked down on illegal sawmills and stepped up wood-preservation incentives.

“The main problem in Mexico is the lack of protection,” said writer and activist Homero Aridjis, who noted that Mexico’s President Enrique Pena Nieto had recently appointed his cousin, Alejandro del Mazo, to head the agency that oversees Mexico’s nature reserves. Some officials at the reserve have been replaced.

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