The oyamel fir forests of Mexico are remnants of boreal forests that advanced south with periods of glaciation. When the glaciers retreated, they were left as high elevation survivors, existing as isolated islands at 2400-3600 meters (7,800 – 11,700 feet). Several hundred million Monarch Butterflies spend the winter clinging to Oyamel Fir trees on a cluster of these mountaintops of the Transverse Neo-Volcanic Mountain range of Central Mexico. Waxy pine and oyamel needles shelter the monarchs, protecting them from moisture. When the butterflies become wet and temperatures drop to below freezing, millions of butterflies perish.
The Mazahua indigenous community has lived among the monarchs for unknown millennia. The human population around these butterfly havens has grown to around 100,000, increasing the demand for wood, an important cooking and heating fuel as well as an economic resource. Relentless logging has compromised the forest canopy that once protected the monarchs. Once cleared of the native forests, poor soils quickly become depleted and eroded.
Since 1997, Forests for Monarchs has been restoring forests in and around the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve.
By restoring degraded forest and depleted farmland of the area, the project contributes to the long-term conservation of essential monarch habitat by reducing wood harvesting pressure within the core zones of the Reserve. The pressure on the forest is high as the demand for wood is great. Most families use wood for daily cooking and heating, building materials, and as a source of income. As a local campesino said, “My choice is difficult, but not hard to decide. Either my children starve if I don’t sell wood or many monarchs die if I do.” It is estimated that domestic wood use in the area averages 35 to 50 cubic meters per year per family, not counting commercial uses of wood. The total annual domestic wood use in the Reserve area has been estimated at 200,000 cubic meters per year, which translates to 100,000 commercially mature (15 to 20 year-old) pine and oyamel trees per year. With this high demand as a reality, we offer the people a different choice, an alternative for a brighter future where they will not have to continue to degrade natural forests to meet their wood needs.
The project provides local families and communities with pine, cedar and fir tree seedlings and trains them in sustainable forest management. By pruning and thinning the trees planted, they have access to wood for fuel, and it increase the value of their trees for sustainable harvesting over the course of many years. These new forests plantations will bring an ongoing source of income to the participants now and for future generations.