President Felipe Calderón pledged 4.6 million U.S. dollars toward advertising and equipment for the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve, which covers a 124,000-acre (50,000-hectare) swathe of trees and mountains that for thousands of years has served as the winter nesting ground to millions of orange-and-black-winged monarch butterflies.
Calderón said the plan would encourage tourism to an impoverished area where illegal logging has been rampant.
(Related Story: In the Midst of Monarchs: Mexico's Butterfly Oasis [June 10, 2003])
Protecting the Monarch
The new initiative is part of continuing efforts to protect the butterflies, which are a tourist attraction and a source of national pride.
While the monarch butterfly does not appear on any endangered species lists, experts say illegal logging in Mexico threatens its existence in North America because it removes the foliage that protects the delicate insects from the cold and rain.
"By even taking a single tree out near the butterfly colony, you allow heat to escape from the forest, and that then jeopardizes the butterflies," said Lincoln Brower, professor emeritus of zoology at the University of Florida.
Brower, who has studied the insects for 52 years, described the Mexican nesting grounds as "the Mecca of the whole insect world."
The reserve already receives some 36.4 million U.S. dollars in government funding, and its staff includes a team of park rangers who patrol the area equipped with assault rifles and body armor, searching for armed gangs of lumber thieves.
The World Wildlife Fund and the Mexican Fund for Nature Conservation say the efforts are paying off. They say this year saw a 48 percent drop in illegal logging, compared to a year ago.
"We're gaining ground in the fight against illegal logging," Calderón said.