Who We Are

The Moreno Rojas family: grandparents, parents and ten offspring.


Who We Are

The Moreno Rojas family: grandparents, parents and ten offspring.


Our family has been blessed. When the monarchs’ overwintering roosts were first discovered on Cerro Pelon, three men from our village, Macheros, were hired on as forest rangers to protect the butterfly sanctuary. One of them was Melquiades Moreno de Jesus. For 35 years, Melquiades and his fellow CEPANAF rangers patrolled the State of Mexico side of the sanctuary, where the forest remains visibly more intact than the Michoacán side.

While the rangers’ ongoing presence had a positive impact on forest health, a steady paycheck pulled Melquiades’ family out of poverty. He and his wife raised ten children, and four of them became the village’s first college graduates. Fourth-born Joel started a thriving ecotourism business with his American-born wife. Sixth-born Patricio took over his dad’s job as a forest ranger.

Meanwhile, our neighbors continue to log the butterfly forest. They cut one tree at a time with an axe and drag it down by horse, pecking away at the protective forest canopy that attracts the monarchs to our mountain in the first place. We don’t judge them; we know that if it weren’t for the opportunities our parents gave us, we too would be doing whatever we needed to do to feed our families.

So many people around the world care deeply about preserving the natural wonder of the monarch migration. Joel and Patricio  started the non-profit Butterflies & Their People to connect the isolated, impoverished people who live next to the butterfly sanctuary with the international conservation community. We have based our approach on the CEPANAF model of full-time, fairly-compensated forest work and expanded upon it.

For decades, only three rangers guarded this 8,000-plus acre park. With the support of the Monarch Butterfly Fund, we were able to hire three full-time forest arborists in November 2017, thus doubling the number of paid personnel in the forest. In the spring of 2018, a sucessful Go Fund Me campaign enabled us to hire a fourth arborist. Now we’re  up to six. Since the arborists started work in  2017, illegal logging has declined dramatically. The arborists have also kept the forest clean of garbage, made trails safer and documented the arrival and activities of the migrating monarchs, such as how often they fly and which flowers they nectar upon.

The six arborists hail from three different communities that border the Cerro Pelon sanctuary. The three CEPANAF rangers are all from Macheros, a village that also benefits from butterfly tourism from November to March every year. Other adjacent communities do not have sanctuary entries, and it is their residents who do most of the logging of trees that the monarchs use for their roosts. For that reason, we hired arborists from each of the communities within the sanctuary boundaries. Jose Carmen hails from Ejido Nicolas Romero, Oswaldo and Leonel live in Comunidad Indigena Nicolas Romero, and Francisco is from Macheros. Emilio is from Macheros. Joaquin is from Macheros. Now all of the communities that share Cerro Pelon have a stake in protecting the monarch migration.


Jose Carmen is from Ejido Nicolas Romero on the Michoacán side of the sanctuary. He has no formal education, but years of observation while herding cattle on Cerro Pelon has given him prodigious knowledge of local avian species. Since starting work in November of 2018, he has been able to build a second floor on his house to better house his growing family.

Leonel is from Comunidad Indigena Nicolas Romero in Michoacán. He started work in April of 2018 after our first successful Go Fund Me campaign made it possible to hire a fourth arborist. He says he’s happy to have the job because now he doesn’t have to migrate for work; he can be with his young family every evening. Before this job, his family slept in a one room wooden shack that doubled as their kitchen. Now he’s building a second room that will serve as a separte bedroom.

Francisco is from Macheros on the State of Mexico side of the sanctuary. He and his wife were only able to complete primary school. After a year of steady employment, they were able to enroll their oldest daughter at university, where she plans on studying tourism.

Emilio Velazquez is from the community of Macheros He and his wife only attended  elementary school. Before Emilio became one of the Guardians, he was a logger out of necessity. Since he started working for the non-profit, he now has a stable income, which allows him to send his daughter to the University.

Oswaldo hails from Comunidad Indigena Nicolas Romero in Michoacán. He and fellow community member Leonel have the longest work commute to the core protected area of Cerro Pelon; they travel two hours by horse each way. Since Oswaldo started working in November of 2017, he’s been able to invest in buying and maintaining a herd of sheep for extra income for his family.

Joaquin is from the community of Macheros, and was the sixth arborist hired. He has three children. And his hiring was possible in 2020 thanks to a two-year donation from a family.