tentree is working with locals to plant in areas that protect the Monarch Migration known as the “buffer zone”.
Every fall, the Monarch butterfly population travels up to 3000 miles to spend the winter in forests located on the tops of 12 mountains in central Mexico. The monarch migration is one of the most incredible natural phenomenons known today. Amazingly, they fly en masse to the same place every year, and often to the exact same trees. Unfortunately, the trees in their migration zones are being cut down by illegal loggers, putting the entire population of monarchs at risk. We are working with the Monarch Butterfly Foundation and UNAM to ensure the monarch population is protected by planting trees around the core zone.
Waiting to be planted
Planting Trees in Mexico
Year after year, millions of monarch butterflies make a journey of epic proportions — sometimes up to 5,000 kilometres — towards the Oyamel fir forests of Mexico. Nestled within the Sierra Madres of Michoacán, Central Mexico, these ancient forests are the winter nesting grounds for the butterflies, and are designated as the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve (MBBR). Each year, however, 100,000 trees within and around the MBBR are cut down for fuel. This widespread deforestation has resulted in a dramatic decrease in temperature within the butterfly’s habitat during winter, resulting in the freezing death of half of the monarchs. It is estimated that up to 90% of all monarchs have died within the past two decades, the causes being a combination of the cooler temperatures and the use of herbicides throughout North America.
Conservation of the MBBR has proven difficult in the past for Mexican authorities due to a history of generations of locals in the area relying on the surrounding forest for their livelihood, clearing areas to make room for agricultural land as well as using the trees as a source of fuel. This environmental degradation is proving to be a major threat for the ecosystem and, while large-scale extraction of forest products (timber and non-timber) has slowed over the past few years, small-scale extraction by communities and individuals still occurs.
tentree is working together with the Monarch Butterfly Fund, an amalgamation of non-profits Michoacán Reforestation Fund and the Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary Fund, to plant on previously farmed privately owned land within the ejido (state-supported communal lands) along the buffer zones of the MBBR. By doing so, we will reduce human pressure on the old growth forests found within the core-zone of the reserve, and will revitalize and protect the habitat of the monarch butterflies. This reforestation is an investment, not only for the future generations of butterflies that will winter in the area, but for the surrounding communities as well. Together, we will educate locals on the importance of sustainable forest management, instil a sense of stewardship and pride for the forests within the MBBR, and ensure a prosperous future for the monarch butterfly population.
We focus our planting efforts on native pine trees. These trees are planted 2 meters apart along the mountainside in a triangular fashion. The reason for illegal logging is because Pine wood is used in high-value carpentry items such as furniture, window frames, panelling, floors and roofing. Lastly, being that this site is at almost 10,000 feet of elevation, pine is one of few trees that will perform well at this high of elevation (where the monarchs reside).
Pinus pseudostrobus, which translates to the “smooth-bark Mexican pine”, is a tree that is endemic to Mexico. They can grow up to 25m (82 feet) in height and are very dense and round near the top. It grows at elevations of 1300–3250m (4265ft - 10662.73ft).
Oyamel Fir Trees
We also plant Oyamel Fir Trees -- the trees which monarchs fly to during the winter months. Sometimes called sacred firs, their scientific name is Abies religiosa (note the second word looks like "religious"). The trees have a religious significance for the local inhabitants - many of whom believe that the returning butterflies are the souls of their dearly departed which arrive each year on the Day of the Dead.
The first step is to either grow our own seedlings (which we did for some) and for additional trees, we go and purchase them from local growers.
Transporting to the Field
In Mexico because it is often so hot and dry -- it is important to be very careful when transporting the trees to ensure the base doesn’t dry out and die. In order to do this we cover the trees and insulate them while driving them to the site. Because this is at such a high elevation, we get help from horses to carry up the trees and the fertilizer we use to ensure a higher survival rate.
Planting trees in Mexico is a communal event. Most planters will bring out their whole family to help.