Loggers Invade Monarch Butterfly Haven

By Andrew C. Revkin
ILLEGAL LOGGERS have chopped their way deep into unique forest reserves in a mountain range in central Mexico where millions of monarch butterflies from eastern North America roost for the winter, according to researchers who posted satellite photographs of the area on a NASA Web site last week.

Forests of oyamel fir trees in Michoacán and Mexico States have for thousands of years been a winter haven for the resplendent orange and black butterflies, the most famous “charismatic megafauna” of the insect world, said Lincoln P. Brower, a professor emeritus of biology at Sweet Briar College in Virginia, who has studied the butterflies and their shrinking winter habitat for decades.

The images, posted online at earthobservatory.nasa.gov, show fresh clear-cutting in an area that held large butterfly colonies last year, as seen in aerial surveys, said Daniel Slayback, a geographer based at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, MD, who has been tracking the butterfly wintering grounds with Dr. Brower. The images were taken by the commercial Ikonos satellite for the Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary Foundation, a group with which Dr. Brower is associated.

“There are a number of sawmills around the area that are busy eating away at the forest,” Dr. Slayback said. “These are organized groups that go in armed sometimes. This is wholesale clear-cutting.”

The photographs show that cutting is taking place inside a protected “core zone” established by presidential decree in November 2000, according to the NASA Web page.

The migration of the butterflies, and their choice of this region as a winter habitat, remains a mystery, although the forests are thought to offer the right balance of coolness and humidity to keep them alive through the winter without their exhausting fat reserves. Each March, they return north. –-New York Times