Mexico cuts down trees to save monarch butterflies
Many fir trees in Mexico that provide winter homes for monarch butterflies are being killed by bark beetles.
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The infestation so far has affected 100 of the 33,482 acres in the reserve's core mountaintop wintering grounds.Skip to next paragraph
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But experts are concerned because the outbreak is occurring in patches, indicating that the infestation is spreading.
And a Mexican government report on climate change predicts more late or delayed summer rains, with a 15 percent decline in overall rainfall between now and 2080.
If the bark beetle attacks become a regular occurrence and more trees are felled, monarch butterfly expert Lincoln Brower worries there could be more "holes in the blanket" of the tree canopy that protects the butterflies.
Diana Six, a professor of forest entomology and pathology at the University of Montana, says the best way to protect trees is to spray their bases with the pesticide carbaryl (Sevin), but "you can't use it if you've got monarchs coming in, because it's a general pesticide; it kills everything as far as insects."
So Mexican officials face the time-consuming task of cutting down each infested tree, removing the bark, burying it under soil, and then taking away the wood to prevent the beetles from spreading. Once the butterflies are back, the work must stop.
Mr. Caro says he thinks authorities have caught the problem in time this year.
The die-off comes just as authorities were making headway against illegal logging. Since 2006, armed police have patrolled to combat logging gangs and aid for the mountain villages that dot the reserve has helped reduce tree loss.
A report by the World Wildlife Fund and Mexican environmentalists found that deforestation in the reserve declined by about 44 percent, falling from about 460 hectares (1,136 acres) in 2005-2006, to 260 hectares between 2007 and 2008. Mexican officials say they would like to curb it even further, but the problem is mainly confined to one small area.
Still, the prospect of reserve officials cutting down trees worries some longtime defenders of the oyamel fir forest, like Mr. Brower.
"There is a frequent ploy to justify cutting oyamels and pines by claiming bark beetle infestation," he noted.
Felipe Martinez, a biologist working on the anti-beetle effort, says "not a single piece of wood" will be moved out of the reserve unless environmental authorities authorize it.