© Paul Bettings, WWF-Canada

A recent survey found that monarch butterflies only occupied 7 acres of forest during the 2019-2020 winter season, a 53% decrease from the 15 acres that were occupied only one year ago.

Every year, hordes of these butterflies migrate for thousands of miles from northeastern United States and southeastern Canada to the volcanic mountains of central Mexico. Drawn by instincts, the journey lasts throughout multiple generations and is a remarkable feat of nature. Every winter, travelers from across the globe visit the verdant mountains of Mexico to witness the incredible sight of hundreds of thousands of tiny orange butterflies.

Because assessing the large number of individual butterflies would be impossible, scientists estimate the populations of the butterflies based off the amount of forest they occupy. This annual survey is led by WWF-Mexico along with the National Commission of Protected Natural Areas of Mexico, and the WWF Alliance-Telmex Telcel Foundation, along with local communities.

Despite this troubling news, scientists and conservationists continue to move forward. “Conservation is a long-term job,” said Jorge Rickards, Managing Director of WWF-Mexico. The 2018-2019 survey was promising, demonstrating low illegal logging rates and healthy habitat for hibernation.

© WWF-US, Clay Bolt

Monarch populations can fluctuate in response to habitat loss and climate change. In 2019, there were lower temperatures in Southern Texas which hampered egg laying of the Monarchs and, therefore, a smaller population of butterflies to make the migration back to Mexico in the fall.

WWF has been studying Monarch populations since the early 1990’s and continues to work with the Mexican government, local communities, and other partners to preserve Monarch habitat. WWF has led community-based conservation to help empower local populations to find sustainable means of income that benefit both the communities and the surrounding forests. Tourism, for example, has become a major economy that directly benefits the local population and supports the protection of the butterflies.

© WWF-US, Clay Bolt