Ejidos, Monarchs, and sustainability: forest management and conservation in the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve of Mexico
Monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus) depend on the fir-dominated forest ecosystem in the states of Michoacán and Mexico for shelter during their winter hibernation. Since 1980, the Mexican government has sought to protect this natural phenomenon by designating their overwintering habitat as the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve (MBBR). According to the 2000 census, the MBBR has a human population of over 500,000. Of the more than 56,000-hectare reserve, the majority of the land is owned by ejidos, a communal form of land ownership unique to Mexico. Besides this region's importance to its butterfly and human populations, 26% of the greater Mexico City area's water supply comes from the Monarch Region. The objective of my research was to identify and assess the socio-economic, cultural, and institutional issues that facilitate or constrain the sustainable forest management of the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve. The methodology of this investigation consisted of qualitative interviews, forest visits, attending meetings and workshops, and literature review. In the MBBR, social issues such as poor ejidal organization, lack of communication between the government and the public, landowners' distrust in the government, overpopulation, and low levels of education combine to impede social sustainability. Issues that restrain the economic sustainability within the MBBR are lack of employment, underdevelopment of alternative income sources, lack of value-added timber products, and misallocation of funding and aid. The main issues preventing ecological sustainability are uncontrolled illegal harvesting and processing, conversion of forestland to agriculture and residential expansion, and restrictive, non-scientifically based harvesting regulations. All of these issues combine to threaten the future of the monarch region.