Taking Care of the Butterfly Forest

Butterfly guide Anayeli Moreno and I have started hiking on Cerro Pelon most mornings to get in shape for the upcoming season. Happily, the forest we’re walking through is in much better shape after this off season than it has been in previous years.

Core “protected” area, Cerro Pelon Sanctuary, as it appeared in June 2017

You may have seen my plea for help in June 2017, when Cerro Pelon’s forest rangers were indefinitely pulled from the job. Their absence facilitated an illegal logging free-for-all in the sanctuary’s core protected area. If you signed our petition, thank you! It worked. The three rangers were returned last July and they and their employers CEPANAF are now collaborating with the Biosphere Reserve on forest protection. And since then, we’ve more than doubled paid presence in the forest with the Butterflies & Their People Cerro Pelon Arborist Project.

Last October we were able to use a grant from the Monarch Butterfly Fund to hire three additional Reserve residents to patrol the forest. Members of the International Butterfly Breeders Association visited in January and helped out with a high-quality camera, walkie talkies, new boots and other goodies. Then in April, a highly motivated group of JM Butterfly B&B guests started a Go Fund Me campaign that raised additional funds for the project in short order, which allowed us to hire a fourth arborist and continue to pay his predecessors once the MBF grant ended.

Golden-browed warbler on Cerro Pelon.

One thing the arborists have been doing is documenting bird life on Cerro Pelon. We have at least 68 species, including bumblebee hummingbirds, red warblers, golden-browed warblers, russet nightingales and mountain trogans. More recently, the arborists started working on making trails safer for people and horses in preparation for the arrival of butterfly visitors.

Butterflies & Their People Arborists clearing debris from a storm-felled tree on Cerro Pelon.

Left: The black bags once held seedlings. Right: Arborist Leonel fills his costal.
The arborists also pick up garbage on the mountain — taking down an average of 5–7 costales (a large burlap-like bag) every week with plastic bottles and bags. More than half of it comes from reforestation projects from years past. The arborists have asked me to ask those of you who donate to reforestation projects to please include picking up after yourself as part of these projects’ requirements.


Reforestation is a centerpiece of conservation efforts in Mexico. But planting trees only gives local people a few days of work a year.


And without regular work, people turn to illegal logging, thus fueling the need for more reforestation. While tree nursery owners win, the monarchs and their neighbors (along with the rest of humanity) lose.

Arborist Oswaldo and daughter herding newly acquired sheep.

Being consistently employed has already made a difference in the arborists’ lives. Jose Carmen from Ejido Nicolas Romero added a floor to his house. Oswaldo of Comunidad Indigena Nicolas Romero invested in a flock of sheep. Francisco of Macheros, an elementary school graduate, enrolled his oldest daughter in college. And Leonel, also of Comunidad Indigena Nicolas Romero, broke ground on a new house after only six months of a steady paycheck.

More importantly, the arborists’ presence has made a difference to the forest. When the forest was abandoned last summer, the rangers came back to find some 80 trees down in the heart of the monarchs’ roosting area. In contrast, there was no logging in Cerro Pelon’s core protected area until last month, when illegal loggers waited until nightfall to take twelve trees. Twelve trees is still too many, and someday we would love to be able to hire even more arborists from the marginalized communities that produce these loggers.

Mike Martin of the Monarch Research Project releasing monarchs with a youngster at the Wickiup Hill Learning Center in Toddville, Iowa in August, 2018.

I’ve had the pleasure of meeting so many committed monarch enthusiasts, both through our B&B and butterfly tour business and during my off-season speaking engagements. I am constantly struck by the amount of passion and energy expended in the US and Canada on monarch conservation — where people are raising monarchs, tagging them, making reports, growing milkweed, and otherwise restoring habitat in the monarchs’ summer breeding grounds.


But all these conservation efforts will be for naught if we don’t make sure that the monarchs have a mature and intact forest home from November to March.


Which is why I’d like to issue a heartfelt thank you to each and every one of our supporters who have helped make this conservation necessity a reality in our sanctuary. Let us continue to connect our efforts!

Ellen delivering paychecks to the arborists in July 2018. None of the arborists were consistently employed before they were hired for this project. Some of them sometimes had to resort to illegal logging to get by. Not any more!

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