The United States Fish and Wildlife Service has determined that Monarchs are indeed threatened with extinction, but will not be added to the US list of Endangered and Threatened Species. The official designation is “warranted, but precluded,” which means they fall in line behind 161 other species considered more endangered.
Monarchs mating in a patch of Common Milkweed, Good Harbor Beach Gloucester
From USFWS –
What action did the Service take?
We have made a 12-month finding on a petition to list the monarch butterfly under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Based on a thorough review of the monarch’s status, we determined that listing is warranted, but a proposal to list the monarch is precluded at this time while we work on higher-priority listing actions.
Is the monarch federally protected now?
No. Our 12-month finding does not protect monarchs under the ESA at this time. We first must propose the monarch for listing as either an endangered or threatened species, gather and analyze public comments and any new information, and using the best available science, make a final decision and publish a final rule. That process is deferred while we work on higher-priority listing actions.
What is a 12-month finding?
Under the ESA, when we receive a petition to list a species, we first make a 90-day finding, in which we evaluate the information in the petition to see if it is substantial enough to begin a review of the species’ status. If it is a substantial finding, we then prioritize the species in our evaluation process, and at the appropriate time, we begin a status review. The culmination of that review is a 12-month finding on whether listing is warranted, not warranted, or warranted but precluded by higher-priority listing actions.
Who petitioned the Service to list the monarch?
The Center for Biological Diversity, Center for Food Safety, Xerces Society and a private individual petitioned us in 2014 to list the monarch. We made a positive 90-day finding in December 2014 and launched the status review in 2016.
Read more questions and answers here on the USFWS website –
I hope you are well and staying safe. The happiest of news is that a vaccine is on the way. I am praying with all my heart that you all stay healthy between now and when we will be protected by the vaccine’s herd immunity.
On a lighter note, I am delighted to share that Beauty on the Wing received an Outstanding Excellence award from the Nature Without Border’s Film Festival, and even more excited to share that we are an official selection to the Providence Children’s Film Festival. The Providence Children’s Film Festival takes place in mid-February (I don’t yet have the dates to share). The best news is that the film is geo-blocked to Rhode Island, Connecticut, and Massachusetts, which means film friends in Massachusetts will be able to participate in the screening. More information to follow, as soon as the schedule is made public.
I am overjoyed that Beauty on the Wing is finding acceptance at both children’s and conservation festivals; that jurors see it as it was meant to be, a conservation film for people of all ages.
A request for help from my graphic design readers/photoshop experts -does anyone know how to remove a background from a .png file. The laurels that the Providence Children’s Film Festival sent over have a white background and I need to turn it into a transparent background to add to the film’s poster. The other laurels sent from other festivals had a transparent background, which I was able to easily add to the poster. Thank you if you have any tips on how to do this <3
Edited note – many, many thanks to Linda Bouchard from Snow Harbor Graphics for removing the background!!
Take care dear Friends and stay well. Happy Holidays in this hardest of times. Better days are sure to come.
The festival went very, very well. The organizers, Laura Azevedo and Natalia Morgan from Filmmakers Collaborative, working with WGBH, did an extraordinary and outstanding job producing an online film festival, no easy feat, but especially during a global pandemic! I was able to view many of the films and they were wonderfully entertaining and inspiring. I am so proud Beauty on the Wing was a part of the BIKFF 2020!
Wishing you a Happy Thanksgiving, wherever that may be during these most challenging of days.
Gloucester resident Kim Smith will showcase her film on butterflies at the Boston International Kids Film Festival on Saturday, Nov. 21
Smith’s “Beauty on the Wing: Life Story of the Monarch Butterfly” is a 56-minute narrated film featuring visuals of Cape Ann and Mexico’s volcanic mountains.The film explores the life journey of the monarch butterfly from birth, and talks about environmental impacts that led to it being an endangered species.
“I think butterflies are beautiful. They make a garden come to life,” Smith said.
The picture will not only share information about monarchs, but will bring attention to other endangered species as well, said Smith.
The film is 10 years in the making, she said. The idea of the film came to her in 2006 when Smith was writing a book about monarch butterflies and taking pictures of them.
“It was a phenomenal migration that year and they just kept pouring in,” Smith said. “Over the years, I just kept at it.”
Smith bought a video camera and took it with her wherever she went.
Smith traveled to Mexico twice to film, and other parts of the project were shot in Gloucester. She said she enjoys incorporating Cape Ann because it’s a “special and unique place” that’s full of hardworking people.
“I love my community, I love the people in my community. It’s truly my home,” Smith said.
Smith then reached out to the Boston International Kids Film Festival, who helped her through the process of presenting her film.
The festival, taking place November 20-22, will be held virtually due to the coronavirus.
The festival includes 70 animated short and narrative films from 17 countries, all directed towards children.
Laura Azevedo is the executive director of the festival, who said it’s important to help creators get their stories out to the world.
“We’ve been a resource for independent filmmakers all over the country,” Azevedo said. “It’s a lot of fun and I’m looking forward to it.”
Azevedo said Smith’s film will do a great job connecting with children. Kids will get access to the movie and a zoom link to interact with Smith about butterflies and the filmmaking process.
“Kim’s film is an example of one where we work with schools as well,” Azevedo said.
Smith hasn’t just helped the environment on-screen. Kim Smith Designs was launched in 1985, and Smith has designed and maintained gardens in locations such as Gloucester, Cambridge, and Andover.
The award-winning landscape designer now brings her talents to the screen, and said she appreciates the Boston International Kids Film Festival for highlighting her findings.
“It’s grown and grown and grown over the past eight years,” Smith said. “Filmmakers are provided an opportunity to showcase their work.”
Her film will be during block #3 of the festival on Saturday, Nov. 21 at noon. To purchase tickets to the festival, visit this link: https://bikff.org/schedule/
“Filmmaking is one of the best ways in the world to communicate,” Smith said.
Joseph Barrett is a senior communication student at Endicott College.
Sheltering At Home, Families Get Creative With Entries For Boston International Kids Film Festival
November 17, 2020
By Erin Trahan
The Boston International Kids Film Festival (BIKFF) typically celebrates films made by, for, or about kids with an annual in-person festival. But this year, as with so much else, the festival had to pivot to a virtual presentation. The mostly short films can introduce kids to nature, help them think critically about race, or see what remote learning looks like in other parts of the world. Some are educational, some have a message, and plenty are just plain funny.
The festival was started eight years ago by the Filmmakers Collaborative, a Melrose-based organization that provides support to media makers. Executive director Laura Azevedo says that a lot of members made documentaries “with hopes of getting into schools or libraries and hoping young people would see them and discuss them.” BIKFF gave them, and youth filmmakers, an outlet for their work. The youth-made films quickly became the most popular, she says, because kids bring lots of friends and families into the theater.
Though this year the festivities will happen entirely online from Nov. 20-22, Azevedo still expects great attendance over the 10 blocks of film screenings. Since independent films are not rated, BIKFF breaks down viewing in various ways — by suggested viewer age, movie form and language. All of the films with English subtitles stream together, for example, as do all of the student-made films. At press time, each block will stream once, at a scheduled time, and is followed by a live Q&A.
…On Saturday, Nov. 21, in Block #3, the fest showcases an excellent pick for nature lovers. Screening at noon, Beauty on the Wing: Life Story of the Monarch Butterfly, gets up close and personal with the remarkable molting, migrating insect. With footage gathered over more than 10 years, some from her own back yard, Gloucester’s Kim Smith has become not just a nearly one-woman documentary crew but also a vocal Monarch expert and advocate.
Beauty on the Wing especially excels in patient, extreme close-ups of the caterpillar releasing its exoskeleton, as well as the butterflies sleeping and mating. In addition to its scheduled screening, schools can sign up to stream this documentary Nov. 16-Nov. 20 and also participate in a Q&A with the director.
So looking forward to tonight’s opening of the Boston International Kids Film Festival! The show’s opener is the outstanding film, The Biggest Little Farm, and there is a full lineup of over 65 films scheduled from now through Sunday. See the schedule and how to purchase tickets here.
Beauty on the Wing is playing during Block #3 at noon on Saturday, November 21st, followed by a Q and A.
Who doesn’t love The Cranberries “Dreams,” and one of my favorite covers of this beautiful song is by Mandy Lee and MisterWives. I edited a rough cut of Monarch Dreams this afternoon, with clips from Beauty on the Wing and set to “Dreams.” That my film is at last finding an audience is a dream come true for me.
I dream about Monarchs and other creatures nightly and am thinking about ways to make Monarch Dreams more dream-like, but in the meantime, I hope you enjoy this cut <3
In case you missed previous posts and emails, if you would like to see my Monarch Butterfly film documentary, please consider watching Saturday, November 21st, from the comfort and safety of your own home, via the Boston International Kids Film Festival and WGBH. 100 percent of the ticket sales goes to support this outstanding festival! There will be a Q and A following the screening, with me in the role of director, and hosted by WGBH and Filmmakers Collaborative.
With beautiful music by Jesse Cook and filmed on Cape Ann, Cape May, Santa Barbara, and the butterfly sanctuaries at Cerro Pelon and Angangueo, Mexico. Please share with friends and click the link below to learn more.
Block #3 Beauty on the Wing: Life Story of the Monarch Butterfly
Tonight I am presenting a Zoom screening/presentation of Beauty on the Wing to a private group. The screening was scheduled a year ago, before covid, and was planed to be live. The organizers have been super throughout the planning changes. This is the first time doing a screening not through a film festival and I am on pins and needles. I hope they love the film and that there are no technical glitches! If all goes well, I would love to do more of these and will let you know. <3
Although not the gala premiere event we had envisioned pre-covid, if you would like to see my Monarch Butterfly film documentary, please consider watching Saturday, November 21st, from the comfort and safety of your own home, via the Boston International Kids Film Festival and WGBH. 100 percent of the ticket sales goes to support this outstanding festival. I hope you can come! With music by Jesse Cook. Filmed on Cape Ann, Santa Barbara, Cape May, and the butterfly sanctuaries at Cerro Pelon and Angangueo, Mexico. Please share and click the link below to learn more.
Block #3 Beauty on the Wing: Life Story of the Monarch Butterfly
The Monarch Butterfly migration is at tremendous risk. Herbicides such as Bayer’s/Monsanto’s Roundup and Roundup Ready crops have already had a profoundly negative on the Monarch population as well as myriad spices of bees and other butterflies.
The current administration’s EPA is recklessly promoting use of some of the world’s most dangerous pesticides and has approved over 100 products with pesticides banned in multiple countries or slated for US phase out.
For example, and just the tip of the iceberg, the current administration gave a green light to Chlorpyrifos an insecticide with origins in Nazi Germany, which was set to be banned by the EPA over health and environmental concerns. The current administration reversed the decision after Dow Chemicals, a manufacturer of the chemical, donated one million dollars to his inauguration fund.
Vote for the Monarch Migration!
For all our winged wonders,
For the birds, the butterflies, the bees,
For the future of the littlest human wonders that we so cherish.
Excerpt from Beauty on the Wing: Life Story of the Monarch Butterfly
Thank you, thank you, thank you to Joann Mackenzie, Andrea Holbrook, and the Gloucester Times for the beautifully written story“Butterfly Film Takes Flight”.
Ten years in the making, Kim Smith’s butterfly film takes flight
Kim Smith’s monarch movie 10 years in the making
GLOUCESTER TIMES OCTOBER 28, 2020
By Joann Mackenzie Staff Writer
Every story has a back story, and Kim Smith’s back story began in her backyard.
In the mid 1990s, Smith — an award-winning landscape designer — filled her Gloucester garden with native and pollinator plantings that attract all manner of winged creatures. These, thanks to lots of milkweed, included lots of magnificent monarch butterflies. “I just loved them,” says Smith, “I wanted more and more of them.”
There began a tale that this year saw Smith complete a 10-year project, the making of the 56-minute documentary “Beauty on the Wing — Life Story of the Monarch Butterfly.” In a few short months, and despite the pandemic canceling its local premiere, the film has seen its way to six film festivals, all virtual, the latest of which — the Boston International Kids Film Festival — runs Nov. 20 to 22.
American Public TV Worldwide —the world’s largest distributor of educational television has just signed the documentary for global distribution.
Armed with a handheld digital camera, an artist’s eye, and a love of her subject, Smith has captured the life, work and world of what she calls “this charismatic little creature,” beginning with its metamorphosis from a tiny egg, to its amazing annual journey from the summer shores of its Gloucester habitats to its winter habitats in the Mexican mountains and forests of Michoacán, where the monarchs annual arrival has long been regarded as something of a miracle: the returning of the souls of the dead descending from the sky in fluttering orange clouds, to roost by the millions in the trees.
When she began the project in 2006, Smith knew nothing about filmmaking. Photographing the monarchs, first as “a record,” she was urged on by family and friends. One of them, Gloucester’s late historian Joe Garland, was particularly encouraging. “Oh, I thought, I have to learn to make a film,” she recalls, of her early days learning the basics with Andrew Love and Lisa Smith at Cape Ann TV (now Studio 1623).
Investing in a hand-held HD Canon video camera, Smith began shooting digital. “It was small and so easy to use that I could crouch down, or lie down to capture extreme close-ups,” she says. Supported by community fundraising that covered the $35,000 production budget, she shot “tons of footage over the years,” wrote and recorded the narrative script, and saved on post production costs by teaching herself to digitally edit her film.
Her goal, she says, was not just to celebrate the monarch, but to educate viewers about the plight of this creature that is loved around the world. Indigenous to North America, these light, bright orange butterflies have through the centuries been blown by wind and weather to other continents, including England, where, in the late 17th century, they were named in honor of King William III of England, also known as the Prince of Orange.
In the last 20 years, however, the butterflies’ numbers have plummeted worldwide from a billion to 30 million, as the excessive use of herbicides has killed off much of their main food source —milkweed— while climate change has confused their flight patterns. And in Mexico, the logging of trees has sabotaged the delicate ecosystem of their annual return.
Smith’s film joins a growing body of environmental activism on behalf of the monarch butterfly. Gardeners across the nation have, like Smith, filled flower beds with milkweed to feed their numbers. The Obama administration, concerned by its alarming decline, allocated $3.2 million to protect it.
In making her documentary, Smith traveled to Mexico twice to film, and learned firsthand just how endangered the monarchs have become. Over time, she says, she came to see monarchs as “little gateway creatures that can open the way to for people to learn about other endangered creatures.”
At Good Harbor Beach, a favorite early morning photographic haunt, Smith began to turn her camera to another local endangered species, piping plovers. Like the monarchs, the little shore birds rely on a fragile ecosystem that Smith began to take an active role in protecting, while filming them. With her monarch documentary now in worldwide release, the piping plovers are on their way to star billing in a new documentary, now in production.
Meanwhile, the Boston International Kids Film Festival, a program of Filmmakers Collaborative, will screen Smith’s documentary as “one of best that the world of independent filmmaking has to offer.” Shown for one week to schoolchildren across the city, the festival, which describes her documentary as “illuminating how two regions, separated by thousands of miles, are ecologically interconnected,” will then host a Zoom author event in which the students can engage in a Q&A which Smith herself.
Smith, by the way, doesn’t just train her talents on winged creatures. In yet another ongoing film project, she captures the aerial antics of Gloucester’s falling Greasy Pole walkers. That documentary, which celebrates the spirit of the city’s annual St Peters Fiesta, is well underway.
Gloucester resident Kim Smith is a documentary filmmaker, environmental conservationist, photojournalist, author, illustrator and award-winning landscape designer.
Her documentary “Beauty on the Wing: Life Story of the Monarch Butterfly” was released in February. It has been chosen as an official selection at New Haven Documentary, Nature Without Borders International, Flickers’ Rhode Island International , Docs Without Borders , WRPN Women’s International, and Conservation Wildlife film festivals.
It next shows at the Boston International Kids Film Festival (https://bikff.org/schedule/) on Nov. 20 to 22; tickets start at $20. Links to view the film will be provided upon ticket purchase.
Last spring my husband Tom and I traveled to the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve at Cerro Pelón to continue filming Beauty on the Wing: Life Story of the Monarch Butterfly. We stayed in the magically beautiful tiny rustic town of Macheros at the equally as beautiful JM Butterflies Bed and Breakfast. The hotel is owned and operated by a visionary husband and wife team, Joel Moreno Rojas and Ellen Sharp. In five short years, the dynamic duo turned a four room home into a wonderfully accommodating 14 room inn, replete with a new restaurant, swimming pool, ensuite bathrooms, internet, mountain view roof top cocktail area, yoga studio, with many more amenities.
Macheros is located at the base of Cerro Pelón, the location where the butterflies overwintering grounds were first documented by Mexican citizen scientist Catalina Aguado Trail, working with Canadian and US scientists (1975). The trail leading up to the sanctuary is mere footsteps from JM Butterflies B and B..
Cerro Pelón is the most pristine of all the reserves. The beautiful natural state in which the sanctuary is kept is only made possible by a group of highly dedicated arborists. The arborists daily patrol the forest to prevent illegal logging and provide information to the guides on the butterfly’s current location (Monarchs move around the mountains during their winter stay). The arborists are working to protect the existing forest. Some organizations focus on replanting trees after they have been logged, but it can take 30 to 40 years for a tree to become a special “butterfly tree,” one on which the butterflies roost during the winter.
Monarchs and Snakeroot, Cerro Pelon
The arborists are paid through the forest conservation non-profit organization created by Ellen and Joel appropriately called Butterflies and Their People. The mission of Butterflies and Their People is to support the Monarchs while also providing livelihoods for members of the community. Much of the village of Macheros depends on visitors to the sanctuary. Additionally, the Inn provides well paying jobs including restaurant work, trail guides, drivers, and inn keeping.
As you can imagine, a tiny town such as Macheros has been devastated by the pandemic. Gratefully so, no one in Macheros has caught the disease however, the local town officials have closed the sanctuary to the public for fear that someone may contract Covid from visitors to the sanctuary. Cerro Pelón will be shuttered for the entire year, a devastating blow to the tiny township and all her citizens. As has happened to so many in the US and around the world, overnight the people of Macheros lost their livelihoods.
A fundraiser has been organized by Carlotta James and the Monarch Ultra Team. So far, they have raised $1,900.00, nearly two thirds of the $3,000.00 goal.
Please consider donating to the 50km pop-up fundraiser at:
IT’S NOT JUST MEXICO’S FORESTS THAT NEED PROTECTING FOR BUTTERFLY MIGRATION
THEIR ROUTE FROM CANADA IS THREATENED BY OVERUSE OF HERBICIDES AND CLIMATE CHANGE, AMONG OTHER FACTORS
Monarch and Marsh Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata)
MEXICO NEWS DAILY
PUBLISHED ON WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 26, 2020
Mexico, the United States and Canada must share responsibility for the conservation of the monarch butterfly, according to a biologist who warns that the insect’s North American migratory path is at risk of becoming a thing of the past.
Víctor Sánchez-Cordero, a researcher at the National Autonomous University’s Institute of Biology and Mexico’s lead representative on a tri-national scientific committee that studies the monarch, said that the butterflies’ route from southeastern Canada to the fir tree forests of Michoacán and México state is under threat.
He blames the excessive use of herbicides, changes in the way land is used, climate change and a reduction in the availability of nectar and pollen.
“The commitment to conserve this migratory phenomenon not only focuses on Mexico; it’s a shared responsibility between our country, Canada and the United States,” Sánchez-Cordero said.
The researcher, who along with his team developed a system to monitor the migration of the monarch, said that there is a misconception that the most important – almost exclusive – factor in ensuring the continuation of the phenomenon is the conservation of forests in the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve (RBMM), located about 100 kilometers northwest of Mexico City.
That idea “has placed great international pressure on Mexico,” Sánchez-Cordero said before adding that he and his team published an article in the journal Frontiers in Environmental Science that shows that the decline in the number of monarch butterflies migrating to Mexico is not due to deforestation in the RBMM.
Deforestation has been drastically reduced in the past 10 years but butterfly numbers have continued to decline, he said.
“The dramatic reduction in the density of monarch butterflies that arrive at overwintering sites in Mexico doesn’t correlate with the loss of forest coverage, which shows that this factor is not responsible for the population reduction. … Other hypotheses to explain the decrease must be sought,” Sánchez-Cordero said.
One possible cause for the decline, he explained, is that the excessive use of herbicides is killing milkweed, a plant that is a main food source for monarch butterflies and on which females lay their eggs. Less nectar and pollen in the United States and Canada as a result of deforestation is another possible cause, Sánchez-Cordero said.
He added that large numbers of migrating butterflies have perished in Texas and the northeast of Mexico due to drought linked to climate change.
To conserve the migratory phenomenon of the monarch – butterflies fly some 4,500 kilometers to reach Mexican forests from Canada over the course of three to four generations – a network of conservation areas along their migration routes needs to be developed, Sánchez-Cordero said. He also said that the routes followed by the butterflies should be declared protected areas.
“A new conservation paradigm is needed. … It’s something that we [Mexico, the United States and Canada] should build together,” the researcher said.
In March I had the tremendous joy of interviewing Ellen Sharp and Joel Moreno Rojas, founders of the nonprofit organization “The Butterflies and Their People Project.” We filmed the interview from the rooftop of their hotel, JM Butterfly B&B, which is located at the base of Cerro Pelon Monarch Butterfly Reserve in Macheros, Mexico. Cerro Pelon is the old volcanic mountain where the Monarchs wintering home was first located by Mexican citizen scientist Catalina Aguado Trail, on January 2, 1975. Trail was at the time working under the direction of zoologist Doctor Fred Urquhart of the University of Toronto.
Joel and Ellen are simply an amazing dynamic duo. They have built a beautiful and welcoming bed and breakfast at Cerro Pelon, the most pristine and least trafficked of Monarch sanctuaries. Largely through the conservation efforts of The Butterflies and Their People Project they have helped provide economic opportunities that have in turn dramatically reduced illegal logging and deforestation of the core protected areas of the forest.
The mission of The Butterflies and Their People Project is to “preserve the butterfly sanctuary by creating jobs for local people in forest and monarch butterfly conservation. The Butterflies & Their People Project is an Asociación Civil (non-profit organization) registered and located in the village of Macheros in the State of Mexico.”
I hope you’ll watch and will be equally as enamored of Joel and Ellen as were we. You’ll learn more about how The Butterflies and Their People Project came to be, the importance of protecting the existing Monarch Butterfly forest sanctuaries, and how jobs and economic growth go hand and hand with protecting the vitally important temperate forests of the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve. And a bit about how this extraordinary couple met and began their journey in Monarch conservation.
Many friends have written with questions about the death of Homero Gómez González, and now a second Monarch Butterfly conservationist Raúl Hernández Romero, has also been found murdered. The deaths have been widely reported by the BBC, NYTimes, Washington Post, and many other news media. These are tragic events taking place in the desperately poor state of Michoacán, where the people who commit these crimes have nothing much to lose. The problems in these districts are many-layered and complex.
Homero Gómez González
I can only speak to our own experience traveling to the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserves in Michoacán and the State of Mexico. On our trip last March, Tom and I stayed at the beautiful inn, JM Monarch Butterfly Bed and Breakfast, located in sleepy Macheros. JM Butterfly is owned and operated by husband and wife team Joel Rojas Moreno and Ellen Sharp. Macheros is a rural hamlet, called a ‘ranchita,’ with a population of more horses to people. Macheros is sited at the base of an old volcanic mountain, Cerro Pelon, which is located in the State of Mexico.
Cerro Pelon is the mountain where the butterflies were first located by outsiders. The villagers knew of the Monarchs annual return, but it was a mystery to the rest of the world where the Monarchs wintered over.
We felt safe every moment of our time at Cerro Pelon and JM Butterfly B and B. So safe that I went for long walks through the town filming and taking photos, on my own, and often left my handbag unattended when socializing with fellow guests at dinner and in the common areas of the Inn .
Later this month I am posting a video interview with Ellen and Joel where we discuss safety issues, but it is well worth noting the following at this point in time when so much attention has been drawn to the region. Some states, cities, and towns in Mexico are more prone to violence than other areas, just as we find in different regions of the US. Basing a decision to travel to Cerro Pelon on what happens in Michoacán is like saying I am not going to travel to Beverly Hills because of the gang violence that takes place in Emeryville.
I absolutely love Cerro Pelon and JM Butterfly B and B and hope to return very soon. We also can’t wait until our granddaughter is just a wee bit older so we can take a family trip there. I write older only for the reason that she will remember how memorable an experience.
Conversely, the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve at El Rosario is located in the state of Michoacán, where gang violence poses a greater threat. Homero Gómez González was a manager at El Rosario, a former logger himself, and he campaigned to protect the reserve. Raúl Hernández Romero was also an environmentalist and tour guide. It is tragic that the defense of the exquisite and productive forest habitats of the Monarch Biosphere Reserves turns activists into victims of threats and persecution and that Monarch protectors González and Romero have paid the ultimate price for their bravery.
I traveled to El Rosario, in 2014, and again in March of 2019. This last trip we were with a small group sponsored by JM Butterfly and both trips, the one taken in 2014 and the one in 2019, we were perfectly safe and well looked after by our guides. The majority of the visitors to El Rosario are international tourists and Mexican families, respectively, making first time visits and annual pilgrimages. You will see the very youngest babies being strolled along the paths to the very oldest grannies hobbling along with walking sticks, and everyone in between.
El Rosario Monarch Butterfly Biosphere
Rural communities throughout Mexico are developing, some more rapidly than others. We can do a great deal to help the local economy by continuing to visit these beautiful but impoverished areas and the wonderful people you will meet there, to treasure the unspoiled habitats and wildlife you will find there, and to spend our tourist dollars generously. We live in a time with growing environmental awareness, but also a time with increasing anti-environment animus, largely generated by the current US federal government’s devastating anti-environment policies.
González was missing for two weeks before his body was recovered at the bottom of a holding pond in an agricultural area. Prosecutors in Michoacán say an autopsy found that the cause of death was “mechanical asphyxiation by drowning of a person with head trauma.”
Raúl Hernández Romero, who had worked as a tour guide in the preserve went missing last Monday. His body was found bruised, his head showing trauma from a sharp object.
Mourners lower the coffin of community activist Homero Gómez González into a grave at a hillside cemetery in Ocampo, Mexico, on Friday. PHOTO: Rebecca Blackwell/AP
The World Wildlife Fund Mexico and Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve (MBBR) announced on January 30th that this year the Monarch Butterfly population has increased significantly.
Each year the orange and black winged beauties return to the oyamel fir and pine tree forests, which are located in the heart of Mexico’s trans volcanic mountain belt. In December and January, Lepidoptera population specialists and citizen scientists measure the area the Monarch colonies cover at their over wintering sites. This year (2018-2019) the butterflies are blanketing 6.05 hectares (approximately 15 acres), up from an all-time low of only 0.67 hectares (1.65 acres) during the winter of 2013-2014.
Not since 2006-2007 has this great an area been covered by the butterflies, although the numbers are still quite low when compared to the numbers recorded in the late 1970s when the butterfly’s winter roosts were first discovered by Dr. Fred Urquhart.
I have been following the butterfly counts around the US as they were reported. The Monarch population has been decimated in California. This year only about 30,000 butterflies were counted, down from several million just two decades ago. There is the very real possibility that the Monarch butterfly will become extirpated (extinct from an area) on the West coast. The winter count is down drastically in Florida as well.
It was clear though that east of the Rockies–the Midwest and Northeast regions of the US, as well as southern provinces of Canada–there were many more Monarchs in gardens and on the wing than in recent previous summers.
Leading Monarch scientists are reluctant to become excited about the increase, and justifiably so. Last spring the weather was slightly cooler in Texas, which allowed more Monarch eggs to hatch, which in turn allowed more caterpillars to mature. A greater number of butterflies emerged and set the stage for a strong breeding season throughout the summer. That scenario, along with the overall good weather during the summer of 2018, also helped create ideal conditions. It was a true “goldilocks” summer, not too hot, not too cold, but just right.
In autumn of 2018, the Monarchs arrived to Mexico about a week later than usual, but once they began to arrive, a kaleidoscope of butterflies poured into their winter roosting grounds.
The 2018-2019 Eastern population count is a reprieve from the past ten years of heartbreaking news, but one good year does not change what the butterflies need most, which is protection for the Monarchs under the Endangered Species Act.
Monarch and Mexican Sunflower (Tithonia)
There is disagreement among scientists whether planting milkweed has any bearing on the health of the Monarch butterfly population. Does creating corridors of Monarch habitat help mitigate the death and destruction caused by climate change, modern agricultural practices, the devastating use of pesticides and herbicides, and the planting of GMO crops (corn, sorghum, and soybeans, for example) that were engineered to withstand the deadly poisons, but which wildflowers and caterpillars cannot?
Monarch Butterflies and New England Aster, Gloucester, 2018
I think the answer to that question is a resounding yes. Monarchs are a bellwether species. The love for this one butterfly has helped to shape a consciousness towards all species at risk. An uncomplicated stand of milkweed and asters can make every public walkway, park, community center, church, school, and backyard a haven for Monarchs and together we can bring about a conservation victory for the pollinators.
Horses neigh, bugs crawl across the lens, and Monarchs flutter in the background —interview on the mountaintop and it was all beautiful! Video includes footage from my forthcoming film, Beauty on the Wing ~ Life Story of the Monarch Butterfly.
Monarch Migration Interview with Tom Emmel, filmed at the summit of the Sierra Chincua Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve, Angangueo, Mexico.
This was Tom’s 40th trip to Angangueo to study the Monarchs. In this interview, he provides some historical perspective from those very first trips to the remote Oyamel fir forests atop the Trans-Mexican Volcanic Mountains. We learn how scientists count millions of Monarchs. Tom discusses the state of the Monarch migration today and why it is in crisis.
Tom Emmel is the Director of the McGuire Center for Lepidoptera and Biodiversity at the Museum of Natural History of the University of Florida, Gainesville. Additional footage shot at El Rosario Monarch Butterfly Reserve and at the base of Sierra Chincua.