Our mission is to bring economic development to the monarchs’ Mexican neighbors. There is a lot of funding for the conservation the monarch migration, but very little of it reaches the impoverished people who live next to the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve. Many resort to illegal logging to get by. Cutting trees destroys the protective canopy that draws the monarchs to these cool, moist forests in the first place, putting the monarch migration at risk.
In response, we have started two projects aimed at creating more economic inclusion and benefits for local communities. One is our hotel and ecotourism service, JM Butterfly B&B. The other is The Butterflies and Their People Project, our non-profit for forest conservation. When you take a butterfly tour with us, your payment does more than provide a job for local people for one day: your support allows us to provide fairly-compensated employment for many more people throughout the year.
Our Ecotourism Business
Traditionally outside operators took tourists to see Mexico’s butterfly sanctuaries on day trips. This organizational structure offers minimal benefits to the rural communities that surround the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve. Our village, Macheros, is located at the entry of the Cerro Pelón sanctuary, the site where citizen scientists first encountered the monarch colonies in 1975. But forty years after this discovery, the village still lacked phone service, internet access and tourism infrastructure.
In 2012, cultural anthropologist Ellen Sharp joined forces with Macheros-native Joel Moreno Rojas to build JM Butterfly B&B on his property at the center of town. The business quickly turned little-known Macheros into a popular butterfly tourist destination. We have expanded from four to fourteen rooms over the course of four seasons. Additionally, we built and maintain a four-tower relay to bring the internet to Macheros. In the process, we directly employ more than a dozen people as guides, translators, cooks, servers, drivers and housekeepers during the butterfly season, as well as 5-6 construction and maintenance workers year-round.
Cerro Pelón, the most remote and least visited of all the sanctuaries, now receives more visitors, which means that our neighbors have regular work as guides and horse handlers during the butterfly season. More guests are staying for longer in our scenic village, where they pay people for cooking classes, tours of local cottage industries and guided hikes of the surrounding mountains.
While we fill up quickly when the butterflies are with us from November to March, the rest of the year is much sleepier. It is our hope that someday we will be able to attract city dwellers in search of peace and quiet throughout the entire year. Doing so will help us in our efforts to convince our neighbors that the forest is more valuable when it’s intact.
Our Forest Conservation Non-Profit
While our village has become more prosperous, other communities that share Cerro Pelón with the monarchs have not. When we take people up the mountain to see the colonies, we’re continually stepping over illegally logged trees on the path. The ongoing devastation of the forest inspired us to start Butterflies and Their People, AC, in order to bring economic development to Cerro Pelón’s neighbors the form of long-term, full-time forest arborist jobs.
Project goals include:
- Protecting the forest of Cerro Pelón by increasing the presence of paid personnel.
- Providing three locals with stable, full-time employment as forest arborists.
- Training arborists to participate in citizen science projects, including monitoring natural regeneration and observing the timing and location of flora and fauna.
- Sharing the information collected by arborists with the transnational monarch community.
As of September 2017, we employ three full-time arborists, one from each of the three communities that share the Cerro Pelón sanctuary. We have been able to offer them year-long contracts monitoring and protecting the core protected area. This work is being carried out in partnership with the Monarch Butterfly Fund.