Controversy over funds doesn’t diminish butterflies’ — or tourists’ — record numbers
EL ROSARIO, Michoacán — Monarch butterflies have arrived in the Michoacán and Estado de México sanctuaries by the millions, numbers that far exceed those recorded in 2014-2015, according to estimates by federal authorities and universities.
But while communities in the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve are happy about that, they’re not too keen about what they see as the pillaging of preservation funds donated to non-governmental organizations, or NGOs.
A month after the first monarch arrivals were recorded, the butterflies’ presence now covers more than four hectares, a sharp increase from last year’s 1.3 hectares. In numbers, it is estimated that 160 million monarchs have arrived in the annual migration from the U.S. and Canada.
With the monarchs come the tourists, an important source of income for residents of El Rosario. So far this season, which runs from November through March, they’ve recorded 12,000, according to ejido commissioner Homero Gómez González, who anticipates 115,000 in total, a record.
Those tourism numbers have contributed to a growing interest in preserving the forests and guaranteeing optimal over-wintering conditions for the monarchs in the last 15 years. But residents see two threats to their goals: climate change and how forest preservation funds are allocated.
“Elitist non-governmental organizations make use of alarming data in order to collect more donations, of which we see just a tiny portion,” claimed Gómez González.
“[NGOs like] the World Wildlife Fund, Alternar, Biocenosis and Pronatura keep all the resources from donations, and we see only a meager proportion of 2 or 3% applied to the preservation of the sanctuary.”
Another concern is the difference in how much each state pays communities for preservation. In Estado de México they receive 1,500 pesos (US $83) for every hectare of forest preserved; in Michoacán the figure is only 360 pesos.
The residents of El Rosario have demanded an equalization of the amounts every sanctuary town receives, “because the forests are all the same, they belong to the monarchs.”
However, not hopeful that their plea will be heard, they have decided to take matters into their own hands, relinquishing their maize and oats crops to create pine and oyamel fir forests and preserve not just butterflies but the only source of income for some of the 97 families.
The community depends on about 100,000 domestic and foreign visitors a year to the sanctuary, who represent an economic benefit of just 4 million pesos (USD $234,000).
The vice-president of the state chapter of the National Association of Travel Agencies acknowledged the work done by the people of El Rosario, and concurred with their notion that NGOs’ actions can be to the detriment of conservation.
Roberto Molina Garduño accused NGO leaders of minding only their own “petty interests,” and creating “unreal and catastrophic disinformation campaigns about the conditions of the forests in order to get more donations, which the conservation workers never see.”
These actions, continued Molina, also affect the tourist industry, as visitor numbers and hotel occupancy rates in the region drop as a result of the “black campaigns.”