A Solution Takes Wing

Conserving the oyamel forests in Michoacán, Mexico, is crucial to the survival of the monarch butterfly. Without this special tree, there is no habitat for the butterflies when they end their long journey from the United States. Over the past 30 years, there has been a 60 percent degradation of the forest canopy in and around the Michoacán area, resulting in the loss of a great number of monarchs. It may seem like an easy task: Don't destroy the forest, and the butterflies will remain. But few things are as simple as they first appear.

The area near the butterfly preserves is also home to some of the poorest people in Mexico.

They use the wood from the forest to cook, and also sell it for income to survive. If the local residents don't have the basic necessities for survival, how can they be interested in higher objectives such as conserving the butterfly habitat?

Clearly, any solution has to benefit both the butterflies and the people.

Several organizations have found such a plan. They have donated time and money to help reforest the area. Locals plant new trees and are allowed to use some of the wood from them. The trees grow quickly enough to provide resting spots for the monarchs. Villagers become proprietors of the land and take a special pride in knowing that they are helping the butterflies, while they maintain a basic living standard for themselves. Cleaner air and water are additional benefits of the newly planted trees.

One program administered by the Michoacán Reforestation Fund realizes the importance of involving a local person, who understands the needs of fellow farmers and offers assistance, encouragement, and education. The program started with just a few people and a few seedlings, but has now grown immensely. In 2002, 300,000 healthy tree seedlings were planted by local communities and schools in and around Michoacán's monarch sanctuaries, bringing the total number of trees planted since 1997 to 850,000. Even young children are learning the importance of maintaining the butterfly habitat.

Local women pick pine needles from the forest floor and weave them into decorative objects that they sell to tourists. This additional source of income destroys nothing. In fact, it contributes to the protection of the forest…and the butterflies.


The place where an animal or plant naturally lives and grows.

Someone who has the right to use or care for something but who does not have ownership of that thing.

An area where animals and birds are protected.

Back to Top


  1. What had been happening to the monarch butterfly habitat in Michoacán, Mexico, over the past 30 years? Write a few sentences explaining your answer.
  2. How has the local community in Michoacán, Mexico, adapted to live with the migrating monarch butterflies? How does this adaptation benefit the villagers?