The Flight of the Monarchs

By ABCTechProd

Nov 9, 2005 9:23am

I was on the phone at 2:30 in the afternoon when the other line rang. There was some beautiful video, shot by a documentary producer from Mexico, about a man who had taken up the cause of Monarch Butterflies. To make his point, he had raised some money from the World Wildlife Fund, and used it to fly 4,000 miles in an ultralight plane, following the butterflies’ yearly migration, all the way from Quebec to southern Mexico.

It seemed a lovely, colorful, perplexing story. The pilot, Francisco Gutierrez, seems a charming, caring man, who said in broken English, "We have to fall in love with this planet. We have just one planet, we don’t have two planets." But why fly all that distance? He was quite up front: it would make for a great film.

So my afternoon ended with a bang. We did an interview by satellite with Gutierrez, I slammed together a script, and stood back. Producer Judy Isikow and editor Tom Gubar, both of whom are old friends and very talented, put the pictures to the words. (In cases such as this, when I’m working with colleagues I trust, I find it best to give them room. They don’t need another person in the room, pacing back and forth, whining, "Why don’t you take that shot about half a second earlier?")

But in the case of a crash story like this, I don’t exactly have the time to count Monarch Butterflies from year to year. It quickly turned out that other ABC reporters have done stories about their decline. They’re threatened by illegal logging in the Mexican forests where they winter, by pesticides in the U.S., and by climate changes, say our past pieces. Profepa, Mexico’s Environmental Protection Agency, said the butterfly population actually seems to have risen this year — they said the forest climate has been milder, though they cautioned that the butterflies’ numbers can be very erratic from one year to the next. Still, they add, the trend has been down.

In the end, I suppose, we had a piece more memorable for its images than its content. Several friends emailed (from within ABC and outside) that they liked my writing. I was surprised. What I’ll remember of the piece is the image of Gutierrez, soaring over the mountains in his ultralight.

– Ned

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