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Community Based Conservation and ECOLIFE’s Mexico Monarch Trip

Monarch butterflies flying around oyamel fir branches in the sunshine.

This February, we had the opportunity to take our annual trip to the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve in Michoacán, Mexico, to witness the monarch butterfly migration. We take this trip to allow donors to experience the magical wonder of seeing thousands of monarchs congregate in the oyamel fir forest, providing the direct opportunity to see what our community based conservation efforts help protect.

Every year, the eastern population of North America’s monarch butterflies migrates to Michoacán’s oyamel fir forest to overwinter. In addition to witnessing this migration, we enjoyed regional Mexican cuisine, experienced the wealth of history and culture Michoacan offers, and visited local artisans, with the help of a local guide personally familiar with the culture and traditions of Central Mexico. 

About the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve

Monarch butterflies settling on oyamel fir branches in the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve.Mexico’s Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve (MBBR) is located in the Sierra Madre Mountains of Mexico. Established by the Mexican government in 1986, the MBBR is made up of 139,019 acres of forest and is a UNESCO world heritage site home to four separate monarch sanctuaries. 

In these mountains, the cover of the oyamel forest provides monarchs with a perfect microclimate where the temperature ranges from 32 to 59 degrees. This provides protection against winter weather, creating the perfect overwintering habitat for the Monarch Butterfly. Any colder, and these butterflies would be forced to use their fat reserves, or freeze. The humidity of the forest also prevents them from drying out, which allows them to preserve energy.

Unfortunately, illegal logging continues to threaten this habitat. A report from the World Wildlife Fund showed that the area of the forest affected by deforestation had increased from 12.35 acres in March 2019 to 50.06 acres in 2020. 

Protecting the MBBR With a Focus on Community Based Conservation

Over the years, the number of monarchs overwintering in the MBBR has consistently declined. With forest infrastructure weakened by wood harvests more than half of the population of eastern monarchs died during a cold storm. It appears that the population of butterflies overwintering in 2022/2023 is significantly higher than in recent years.

“Twenty years of work done here by ECOLIFE cannot yet claim credit for this, but we do know we’re making the forest safer and look forward to the fact that for many, many more years, people will be able to come see this amazing phenomenon of the migrating monarch,” says Bill Toone, ECOLIFE’s founder.

Thanks to the efforts of ECOLIFE’s Patsari stove project, the communities around the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve and the reserve itself are receiving the support they need to one day thrive. We have been able to help people and nature support each other through not just our stoves, but environmental education and job security. ECOLIFE understands that humans are part of the equation, and their needs must be met if we want conservation efforts to work. The Patsari stove project empowers locals to live healthier lives while reducing their impact on natural resources and their local environment.

Our Mexico trip has allowed donors to see the product of our community based conservation efforts firsthand, witnessing the impact our stoves and educational efforts have had on real people in real communities. Bill Toone shares, “There is no question the butterflies and seeing people react is gratifying to me, and visiting the families who are recipients of our stoves fills my heart.”

Finally, of the importance of our Mexico trip, Bill Toone has this to say: “One of the biggest challenges to raising funds for international work is making it relevant to US-based donors. Visiting the butterflies, seeing the forests, meeting families, and seeing the fuel-efficient, life-saving stoves work to knit the story together – it assures donors that their money is well spent. They have the experience firsthand… They become more dedicated in their support and they inspire others to get involved.”

Help ECOLIFE Continue our Mission of Community Based Conservation

Mexico monarch trip group member with her hand hand open toward the camera, with a monarch butterfly settled on it.ECOLIFE’s definition of conservation includes human communities. Although some conservation groups see humans as part of the problem, placing their focus solely on wildlife and habitats, we see people as critical to the solution, and just as worthy of our support. This is why we’ve chosen to focus our conservation efforts on community based conservation, addressing the needs of local communities while providing them with solutions to help reduce local deforestation. 

Your support allows us to build more stoves, improve more lives, and continue to expand our protection of Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve. Learn more about how our stoves support our focus on community based conservation.