Wildlife officials in Mexico, the United States and Canada have agreed to work together to protect the Monarch butterfly, which makes a spectacular migration every year from Canada to Mexico.
Officials from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Park Service, Canada's Wildlife Service and Parks Agency and Mexico's Secretariat of the Environment and Natural Resources have designated 13 wildlife preserves as protected areas, the Fish and Wildlife Service said on Wednesday.
The "Trilateral Monarch Butterfly Sister Protected Area Network" will develop international projects to preserve and restore breeding, migration and winter habitat for the orange and black butterflies.
Every autumn, millions of monarchs leave eastern Canada and the United States and fly distances of 2,800 miles (4,500 kilometers) and more to the oyamel fir forests of Mexico's Sierra Madre Mountains for the winter. Monarchs west of the Rocky Mountains migrate south to eucalyptus groves in southern California.
The informal agreement will include sharing information about ways to preserve the habitat and migratory pathways of the butterflies, said Donita Cotter, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
It will not require any legislation.
"I think it's wonderful," Monarch researcher and ecologist Dr. Lincoln Brower of Sweet Briar College in Virginia said in a telephone interview.
"I think it will make a good symbolic statement."
But Brower said the agreement will do little to preserve the butterflies unless stronger action is also taken to stop logging in Mexico and to change farming practices in the United States that are destroying the plants the butterflies rely on.
"We are going to lose the whole thing if they don't stop this silly illegal logging in Mexico," Brower said.
Illegal loggers have been destroying the trees in Mexico's Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve, while development is threatening the California eucalyptus groves. Brower said there is evidence that heavy use of weedkillers is wiping out the milkweed plant, which is the only thing that Monarch caterpillars will eat.
This agreement brings attention to the threats, Brower said. "It is important that the countries keep up pressure on each other," he said.