The Roar of the Monarchs

Bill Toone, founder of EcoLife Conservation, is in a race to save the Monarch Butterfly. While they face many challenges to their survival, the most significant one they face, according to Toone, is climate change. Monarchs feed exclusively on milkweed plants, of which there are many species. Until recently, many Monarch fans and supporters planted tropical, non-native milkweed plants, which can undermine the health of Monarchs. Monarchs are known to select plants with higher levels of toxicity (such as the tropical milkweed) because it gives them more protection from predators. According to Toone, a good strategy is to plant just a few of the tropical non-native milkweeds because Monarchs will be drawn to them, along with ten to fifteen of the native species which will be better for their health.

As the weather gets warmer and warmer, this impacts the butterflies’ overwintering, requiring them to expend more energy. It takes three generations of butterflies to fly south to Mexico but only one generation that lives longer flys north, according to Toone. Unfortunately, agriculture is a leading contributor to climate change due to antiquated techniques in farming and the continued use of harmful fertilizers and pesticides.

Tracking the Monarchs can be a challenge, as it is necessary to adhere a tag to them and these tags can easily fall off. The Eastern Monarch butterfly has a long migration, from the Northeastern U.S. and Southeastern Canada to central Mexico. About 550 tons of Monarchs fly to the mountains of Michoacán every year, and have become a prominent feature of Day of the Dead celebrations as indigenous peoples believe that the butterflies represent the souls of the dead. In Michoacán, the butterflies congregate on Oyamel fir trees, where they stay until March when they leave in search of water and nectar. Because of the butterflies, the Oyamel forest is a biosphere reserve and a UNESCO World Heritage site, which unfortunately has not provided enough protection for the butterflies. 

Over time, the forests were being thinned both by indigenous peoples and drug cartels, which were engaged in illegal logging. Because more than 90% of the forest was technically ejido land to be used by the indigenous peoples in the area, the Mexican government has made it legal for them to remove deadwood, which has done significant damage to the Monarch’s habitat.

EcoLife Conservation, which is based in Carlsbad, works to protect wildlife and the natural resources indigenous peoples depend on by creating sustainable food and agricultural systems. In addition, EcoLife Conservation has been building fuel-efficient stoves that reduce deforestation. The traditional mode of cooking for indigenous peoples is very inefficient and unhealthy—the smoke from this indoor cooking is the equivalent of smoking 400 cigarettes a day. To date, EcoLife Conservation has built more than 11,000 indoor stoves to significantly reduce smoke and carbon emissions and decrease wood cutting in the forest.

For more information about EcoLife Conservation and their various programs to save ecosystems and support wildlife  and indigenous peoples in Mexico, the U.S., and Uganda, please visit: