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Experts say deforestation in Mexico down, rebound expected for monarch butterflies

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MEXICO CITY — Deforestation is down in the Mexican forest that is the winter home of Monarch butterflies, and scientists also hope to see a rebound in the annual migration after it fell to historic lows last year, an expert said Thursday.

Omar Vidal of the World Wildlife Fund said two to three times more Monarchs may arrive this year, compared to last year.

"The data from the United States indicates a light recovery," Vidal said. "They are calculating that we can expect at least double the number and perhaps triple."

Last year, the Monarch population dropped to the lowest level since record-keeping began in 1993, covering just two-thirds of a hectare (1.65 acres) in the pine and fir forests west of Mexico City.

But even if the number of butterflies triples, they would cover only about 2 hectares (5 acres). That would be just over one-tenth of the record high of 18.2 hectares (45 acres) in 1996-97.

Millions of the black-and-orange butterflies return to a reserve area each winter, clustering in trees in numbers so great that they are counted not as individuals, but by the amount of acreage they cover.

PHOTO: In this Sept. 10, 2014 photo, a male monarch butterfly is seen through the container of Sycamore, Ill., resident Janet Giesen is keeping him in after he emerged from the chrysalis in her garage. Giesen hopes her raising and releasing of 17 monarch butterflies makes some sort of impact on the world around her. (AP Photo/Daily Chronicle, Danielle Guerra)  MANDATORY CREDIT
In this Sept. 10, 2014 photo, a male monarch butterfly is seen through the container of Sycamore, Ill., resident Janet Giesen is keeping him in after he emerged from the chrysalis in her garage. Giesen hopes her raising and releasing of 17 monarch butterflies makes some sort of impact on the world around her. (AP Photo/Daily Chronicle, Danielle Guerra) MANDATORY CREDIT

The same generation never lives to make the round trip to summer habitats in the United States and Canada.

More good news came from the annual survey experts perform using satellite photos and on-the-ground reconnaissance to check on tree cutting in the reserve.

Logging threatens the butterflies because it pokes holes in the canopy of fir trees that protect them from cold weather and freezing rains.

This year, Vidal said the reserve's 13,550-hectare (33,482-acre) core zone had no small-scale logging, the kind that happens when Indian communal farmers cut trees for their own use.

The communal farms own most of the property in the reserve.

"This demonstrates the commitment of the land owners," Vidal said. The Indian communities receive government support to conserve the forests, and they make some money from reforestation projects and tourists who come to see the butterflies.

However, Vidal noted there had been an outbreak of commercial logging in one mountain community, where about 5.2 hectares (13 acres) of trees were cut. Drought killed off nearly 3 hectares (7.41 acres) of trees, for a total loss of forest cover of about 8 hectares (20 acres) in the reserve. That is down from 16.6 hectares (41 acres) of tree loss last year.

Vidal said concerns remain about the destruction of milkweed — the plant on which the butterflies lay their eggs — in the United States and Canada. The three countries formed working groups this year to confront problems facing the butterflies, but Vidal said that "in reality, we have not seen concrete actions in the United States and Canada."

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PHOTO: In this undated photo made available by Sonia Altizer via the journal Nature on Tuesday, Sept. 30, 2014, monarch butterflies fill the air at a site in Mexico. The butterflies are famous for migrating from the U.S. and Canada to Mexico for the winter. A study by researcher Marcus Kronforst of the University of Chicago released in the journal Nature on Wednesday, Oct. 1, 2014 suggests the species itself also started out in North America some 2 million years ago, instead of South or Central America. (AP Photo/Nature, Sonia Altizer)
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