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The Monarch Butterfly has attracted much interest because it is unique not only among insects, but among all living things. The largest Monarch population emerges in the central and northeastern United States and Canada and flutters its way south several thousand kilometers to remote fir forests in the central mountains of Mexico. There they overwinter in about twenty compact colonies—sometimes numbering in the tens of millions—often within a stone’s throw of local subsistence farms sustaining Mexican campesinos (small-scale farmers) and indigenous peoples. In the spring, the northward trek begins, often with an additional generation being required to reach the northern U.S. and Canadian countryside to complete the migratory cycle.
Meanwhile, the Monarch population West of the Rocky Mountains, of a few hundred thousand, overwinters in more than 200 colonies along the coast of California. These overwintering sites increasingly are found in areas threatened by real estate development.
In November 1997, the North American Conference on the Monarch Butterfly was held in Morelia, Michoacán, Mexico, to address various conservation issues regarding the Monarch Butterfly. The conference, which produced recommendations for action, summarized in this document, builds upon two previous meetings on the same theme: The Symposium on the Biology and Conservation of Monarch Butterflies (Morelos, Mexico, 1981) and The Second International Conference on the Monarch Butterfly (Los Angeles, CA, 1986).
Although the first two conferences were successful in attracting wide attention to the Monarch Butterfly, their content focused primarily on its biology. Organizers of the Morelia conference felt that more could be achieved if other important, yet often overlooked stakeholders could be involved. The proximity to the Mexican overwintering sites offered the unique opportunity to invite the landowners who reside in and around the Monarch overwintering sites in the states of Mexico and Michoacán. While it can be argued that Monarch Butterfly conservation efforts are needed everywhere along its migratory route, since 1983 the International Union for the Conservation of Nature has deemed conservation efforts in the overwintering habitats in both Mexico and the US to be crucial. Millions of monarchs, concentrated in small patches of ever-dwindling forest, make these areas a top priority of all parties interested in the long-term protection and conservation of this regal insect’s unique migratory phenomenon.
To ensure participation of the people directly affected by the presence of overwintering Monarch Butterflies, representatives from communities located in and around the Special Biosphere Reserve for the Monarch Butterfly were extended special invitations to attend the conference. Their participation for the first time at such a gathering brought socio-cultural and economic issues into a dialogue that had previously focused largely on the scientific and technical questions related to the Monarch Butterfly.