Cerro Altamiro is the site of one of the La Cruz Habitat Protection Project’s many reforestation efforts.
The increased forest cover in and around the sanctuaries helps to restore the climate for the butterflies and maintain the water balance in mountain springs, which are critical water sources for all life in the area. Trees inside the core zone of the reserve cannot be legally cut, but people in the communities are often willing to donate time and energy in planting trees there. This is no small sacrifice for these families and individuals, but they do this because they understand that it makes their region a safer habitat for butterflies and humans alike. Reforesting bare slopes can prevent erosion, which in turn prevents natural disasters such as landslides. Reforestation also helps restore the land’s hydrology; within a few years after adjacent slopes had been planted, previously dried and degraded springs begin to flow again.
In 1997 Alvarez, having turned his efforts into the official La Cruz Habitat Protection Project (LCHPP), and using funds from a donation made by Robert L. Small, convinced four families from Ejido El Rosario to donate their time and labor and dedicate a portion of their limited parcels of land to growing forest trees instead of corn or oats. As a result, 7,000 new trees were planted that first year on over eight acres of land. The following year 40,000 seedlings were given to 20 more families that Alvarez was able to convince. The funds for this undertaking came from the efforts of Robert Small, D.J. Agnew, and Ed Rashin, who organized the Michoacán Restoration Fund. From there, the project continued to grow. In 2007 the project’s territory was expanded into new and important areas of the monarch region. These include the slopes of Cerro Altamirano in the northernmost part of the reserve, and the site of the previously destroyed El Cedral monarch colony near Tlalpuhahua. The El Cedral colony had been part of the original reserve but was denounced when its forests were lost to wildfires, pine beetles, and logging, and the butterflies stopped returning there. With the progress the project has made in the region, monarchs have slowly begun to return to nearby reforested regions, nestling in the much younger oyamel firs. This development gives hope that the entire colony will return if the forest is fully restored.
With encouragement and support from the October Hill Foundation, Alvarez was recently able to initiate a long-held plan to expand LCHPP’s reforestation efforts to include the watersheds of two important highland lakes. The expansion began in 2008 with the planting of 100,000 trees around the watersheds of Lake Patzcuaro and Lake Zirahuen. Pollution from development and agricultural chemicals has tainted one lake and threatens the other, as each rainfall brings the pollutants running down the nearby mountainsides. Planting trees on mountainsides reduces runoff and would ensure that fewer contaminants end up in the lakes.