Monarch Butterflies Begin Amazing Southward Journey Despite Growing Challenges
American Forests and Forests for Monarchs Help to Rebuild Monarchs’ Forest Ecosystem Threatened by Logging and Climate Change
WASHINGTON, D.C.; October 4, 2011 — For the next few weeks, people throughout the United States are likely to have some stunning-looking visitors cruising through their backyards. ‘Tis the season for the monarch butterflies — known for their distinctive orange and black wings — to head south for the winter on their annual 2,500-mile southern migration.
For the last five years, American Forests has been working with its partner, Forests for Monarchs, to restore the forest ecosystems in and around the monarch butterflies’ Mexican habitat, where they spend each winter huddled together in oyamel fir trees to stay alive and warm. Without these fir forests, monarchs wouldn’t survive the cold. Since 2006, American Forests has planted nearly a million trees to help bolster the monarch’s wintering grounds in Michoacán, Mexico, bringing Forests for Monarchs’ total to more than 5.5 million trees over the last 15 years.
“Without the right kind of winter forest habitat, it is possible that we could lose the North American monarch migration,” says Scott Steen, American Forests CEO. “For American Forests, our goal is to restore this important forest ecosystem to help ensure the survival of these beautiful butterflies and their remarkable migration.”
“The monarch butterfly is an integral part of the Michoacán community,” says Dr. Sue Sill, executive director of Forests for Monarchs. “For 15 years, we’ve been working with the local families and communities to restore the forests that are depended upon by both monarchs and people and to curb the deforestation that was once rampant with little reforestation. There is still so much that needs to be done to reforest and restore the monarch sanctuaries and the lands that surround them.”
The beautiful monarch butterfly has intrigued scientists for decades, as the monarchs that are currently making their way back to Mexico have never been there before. The butterflies that left Mexico last spring for the journey northward were the great-grandparents of those making the long trek back this fall.
Mature butterflies only live for two to six weeks, so it takes multiple generations of butterflies to make the migrations northward each spring. However, the monarch butterflies that make their way south each year have some sort of superpower. They can live for up to seven months in order to survive the winter and mate in the spring. Scientists have yet to figure out how the great grandchildren, who have never been there before, make their way back to the same wintering grounds year after year with no guide.
Due to decades of illegal logging and climate change, the monarchs’ winter forests have degraded by more than 40 percent, putting the overwintering monarchs at greater risk when severe winter storms hit the area.
This year, monarchs face an additional hurdle. Experts are concerned that the severe drought conditions currently affecting the migration route across southern Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas and Northern Mexico and other factors affecting the monarch’s breeding success may have resulted in a precariously low and weakened population for this year’s migration.
Conservationists and locals alike are fervently hoping that sufficient numbers of monarchs successfully survive the climate hardships to arrive in Michoacán and are able to rebuild their population. Through forest restoration and education efforts, American Forests and Forests for Monarchs are working to ensure the population recovery of these majestic creatures.
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About American Forests
American Forests restores and protects urban and rural forests. Founded in 1875, the oldest national nonprofit conservation organization in the country has served as a catalyst for many of the most important milestones in the conservation movement, including the founding of the U.S. Forest Service, the national forest and national park systems, and literally thousands of forest ecosystem restoration projects and public education efforts. Since 1990, American Forests has planted nearly 40 million trees in forests throughout the U.S. and beyond, resulting in cleaner air and drinking water, restored habitat for wildlife and fish, and the removal of millions of tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Learn more at www.americanforests.org.
About Forests for Monarchs
Forests for Monarchs is the new project name for La Cruz Habitat Protection Project, Inc., working in close partnership with La Cruz Habitat Protection Project – Mexico. This collaborative program has been providing seedling trees and technical support to ejidos and indigenous communities around the Monarch Biosphere Reserve in the states of Michoacán and Mexico, Mexico, since 1997 and has now planted 5,643,595 trees. In 2008, the reforestation and forest restoration project expanded to include Michoacán’s historically and culturally important Highland Lake areas. Project participants receive technical assistance throughout the growing cycle that increases their understanding of tree maintenance and promotes an attitude of stewardship toward the forest. By experiencing the benefits of establishing forests firsthand, they develop skills that are transferable to other conservation activities, including soil conservation, wildlife protection, watershed management and sustainable agriculture. This new attitude of stewardship benefits the butterflies, other wildlife and human communities while contributing to a healthier global environment. Learn more at www.forestsformonarchs.org.
202-737-1944 ext. 212