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These Three Amigos Can Save The Monarch: An Appeal From Margaret Atwood, Laura Esquivel, Junot Diaz And Others

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PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA
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On Feb. 19, Mexican President Enrique Pena-Nieto, U.S. President Barack Obama and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper are meeting in Toluca, Mexico, to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). The following is an appeal from 150 prominent scientists and intellectuals to the three leaders asking them to take urgent steps to stem the collapsing population of Monarch butterflies that migrate annually across North America.

President Barack Obama
President Enrique Peña Nieto
Prime Minister Stephen Harper

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Honorable Gentlemen:

Among the countless organisms that have evolved during the history of life on earth, monarch butterflies are among the most extraordinary. Sadly, their unique multigenerational migration across our large continent, their spectacular overwintering aggregations on the volcanic mountains in central Mexico, and their educational value to children in Canada, the United States, and Mexico are all threatened.

Monitoring of the butterfly population over the past two decades indicates a grim situation. Following a long-term decline, the total area occupied by the overwintering butterflies plunged from the 20-year average of 6.7 hectares to a record low of 0.67 hectares in the current season, a 90% decrease. This winter, only seven of twelve traditional sites had any butterflies at all, and only one of those (El Rosario, 0.5 hectares) was substantial in size.

The decline has two main causes:

1. Loss of breeding habitat. The major summer breeding area of the monarch butterfly is in the floristically rich grasslands of central North America, where the monarch’s milkweed food plants grow in abundance.

However, over the past decade the planting of corn and soybean varieties that have been genetically modified to be herbicide resistant has risen to 90%. Shortly after the corn or soy seeds germinate, the fields are sprayed with herbicides that kill all other plant life including the milkweeds, the only plants that monarch caterpillars can eat.

Furthermore, with economic incentives for producing corn ethanol, the planting of corn in the U.S. has expanded from 78 million acres in 2006 to 97 million acres in 2013. Fallow fields, row crops and roadsides that used to support the growth of milkweeds and substantial acreage of land previously set aside in the U.S. Conservation Reserve Program have been converted to monoculture crops. Further loss of habitat has resulted from urban sprawl and development. More generally, the current chemical-intensive agriculture is threatening monarchs and other native pollinators and unraveling the fabric of our ecosystems.

2. Degradation of overwintering habitat. Overwintering monarchs depend on the protective cover of undisturbed oyamel fir forest canopy in Mexico. While the Mexican government has largely stopped the major illegal logging that threatened the forests used by the wintering monarch butterflies, damaging small scale illegal logging continues.

What can be done? If the monarch butterfly migration and overwintering phenomenon is to persist in eastern North America, mitigation of breeding habitat loss must be initiated.

As Mexico is addressing the logging issues, so now must the United States and Canada address the effects of our current agricultural policies. Managing roadsides for native plants, including milkweeds, could be a significant tool to partially offset the loss of habitat.

There are 3.2 million miles of roads east of the Rocky Mountains. If 25-foot roadside strips and medians were managed to support the growth of milkweeds, then eastern U.S. roadsides could contribute more than 19 million acres of milkweed habitat. If two monarchs were produced per acre of habitat, then these roadsides could produce nearly 40 million monarchs, i.e., about one tenth of the 20 year average number of monarch butterflies overwintering in Mexico.

Within the agricultural heartland, a second mitigation effort should promote more extensive buffers of native plant communities at field margins. Collaborative exclusion of field margins in cooperation with farming communities could add substantially and help assure the continuation of the world's most revered butterfly. An incentive program to pay farmers to set aside toxin-free areas for milkweeds and pollinators could be a move in the right direction.

A milkweed corridor stretching along the entire migratory route of the monarch butterfly through our three countries must be established. This will show the political will of our governments to save the living symbol of the North American Free Trade Agreement. We the undersigned hope that you will discuss the future of the monarch butterfly during the North American leaders’ Summit that will take place on February 19-20, 2014 in Toluca, state of Mexico.

Sincerely yours,

Homero Aridjis Dr. Lincoln P. Brower
President, Grupo de los Cien Sweet Briar College, USA

Dr. Gary Paul Nabhan
Co-Facilitator, Make Way for Monarchs

SIGNED BY:

INTERNATIONAL MONARCH BUTTERFLY SCIENTISTS

Dr. Alfonso Alonso, Smithsonian Institution, USA
Dr. Sonia M. Altizer, University of Georgia, USA
Dr. Michael Boppre, University of Freiburg, Germany
Dr. Lincoln P. Brower, Sweet Briar College, USA
Dr. Linda S, Fink, Sweet Briar College, USA
Dr. Barrie Frost, Queens University, Ontario, Canada
Dr. Jordi Honey-Roses, University of British Columbia, Canada
Dr. Pablo F. Jaramillo-López, UNAM, Michoacán, Mexico
Dr. Stephen B. Malcolm, Western Michigan University, USA
Dr. Karen Oberhauser, University of Minnesota, USA
Dr. Robert M. Pyle, Grays River, Washington, USA
Dr. Isabel Ramirez, UNAM, Michoacan, Mexico
Dr. Daniel Slayback, Science Systems & Applications, Inc., MD, USA Dr. Orley R. Taylor, University of Kansas, USA
Dr. Stuart B. Weiss, Creekside Center for Earth Observations, CA, USA
Dr. Ernest H. Williams, Hamilton College, USA
Dr. Dick Vane-Wright, the Natural History Museum, London, UK
Dr. Myron P. Zalucki, University of Queensland, Australia

WRITERS AND ARTISTS

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA:

Kwame Anthony Appiah
John Ashbery
Paul Auster
Deirdre Bair
Russell Banks
Rick Bass
Magda Bogin
Sarah Browning
Christopher Cokinos
Robert Darnton
Alison Hawthorne Deming
Junot Diaz
Rita Dove
Lawrence Ferlinghetti
Alexandra Fuller
Ross Gelbspan
Sue Halpern
Sam Hamill
Robert Hass
Tom Hayden
Edward Hirsch
Siri Hustvedt
Jewell James (Lummi Tribe)
Robert Kennedy, Jr.
George Kovach
Nicole Krauss
Peter Matthiessen
Michael McClure
Bill McKibben
Askold Melnyczuk
Michael Palmer
Janisse Ray
Jerome Rothenberg
Dick Russell
Michael Scammell
Grace Schulman
Alex Shoumatoff
A. E. Stallings
Judith Thurman
Melissa Tuckey
Chase Twichell
Rosanna Warren
Eliot Weinberger
Alan Weisman
Terry Tempest Williams
Michael Wood
City Lights Books

MEXICO:

Homero Aridjis
Lucia Alvarez
Juan Domingo Arguelles
Chloe Aridjis
Eva Aridjis
Alberto Blanco
Coral Bracho
Federico Campbell
Marco Antonio Campos
Ana Cervantes
Jennifer Clement
Elsa Cross
María José Cuevas
Ximena Cuevas
Pablo Elizondo
Laura Esquivel
Manuel Felguérez
Betty Ferber
Paz Alicia Garciadiego
Emiliano Gironella
Jose Gordon
Hugo Gutiérrez Vega
Barbara Jacobs
Daniel Krauze
León Krauze
Mario Lavista
Paulina Lavista
Silvia Lemus de Fuentes
Soledad Loaeza
Pura López Colomé
Jean Meyer
Sergio Mondragon
Angelina Muñiz-Huberman
Carmen Mutis
Gabriel Orozco
Carmen Parra
Fernando del Paso
Marie-José Paz
Elena Poniatoswka
Arturo Ripstein
Vicente Rojo
Cristina Rubalcava
Juan Carlos Rulfo
Pablo Rulfo
Alberto Ruy Sánchez
Isabel Turrent
Juan Villoro
Roger Von Gunten

CANADA:

Katherine Ashenburg
Margaret Atwood
Wade Davis
Gary Geddes
Graeme Gibson
Terence Gower
Emile Martel
Jann Martel
George McWhirter
Michael Ondaatje
Nicole Perron
Linda Spalding
John Ralston Saul

OTHER COUNTRIES:

Pierre Alechinsky (Belgium)
Ivan Alechine (Belgium)
Gioconda Belli (Nicaragua)
Yves Bonnefoy (France)
Breyten Breytenbach (South Africa)
André Brink (South Africa)
Kjell Espmark (Sweden)
Maneka Sanjay Gandhi (Member of Parliament, India)
Gloria Guardia (Panama)
Alejandro Jodorowsky (France/Chile)
Nicholas Jose (Australia)
Dr. Helga von Kügelgen (Germany)
Prof. Dr. Klaus Kropfinger (Germany)
Norman Manea (USA/Rumania)
Hasna Moudud (Bangladesh)
Orhan Pamuk (Nobel Prize, Turkey)
Jonathon Porritt (United Kingdom)
Sergio Ramírez (Nicaragua)
Lélia Wanick Salgado (Brazil)
Sebastião Salgado (Brazil)
Simon Schama (United Kingdom)
Ali Smith (United Kingdom)
Lasse Soderberg (Sweden)
Hugh Thomas (Lord Thomas, United Kingdom)
Tomas Transtromer (Nobel Prize, Sweden)
Lucy Vines (France)
Per Wästberg, (Sweden)
Fred Viebahn (Germany)

SCIENTISTS AND ENVIRONMENTALISTS

Dr. Gary Paul Nabhan (Make Way for Monarchs, U. of Arizona, USA)
Dr. José Sarukhan K. (Mexico)
Lester Brown (Earth Policy Institute, USA)
Ina Warren, (Make Way for Monarchs, USA)
Scott Hoffman Black, (Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation and IUCN Butterfly Specialist Group, USA)
Laura Lopez Hoffman (University of Arizona, USA)
Elizabeth Howard, (Journey North, USA)
Don Davis, (Monarch Butterfly Fund, Toronto, Canada)
Claudio Lomnitz (Center for Mexican Studies, Columbia University, USA)
Amory B. Lovins (USA)
Gail Morris (Southwest Monarch Study, USA)
Serge Dedina (Wildcoast, USA)
Eduardo Nájera Hillman (Costasalvaje, Mexico)
Wallace J. Nichols (California Academy of Sciences, USA)
Arturo Gómez-Pompa (University of California Riverside, Mexico/USA)
Scott Slovic, (Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and Environment,University of Idaho, USA)
Garrison Sposito (University of California at Berkeley, USA)
Georgita Ruiz (Tierra de Aves A.C., Mexico)
Manuel Grosselet (Tierra de Aves A.C., Mexico)
Diana Liverman (Institute of the Environment, University of Arizona, USA)
Valeria Souza (UNAM, Mexico)
Eduardo Farah (EspejoRed, Mexico)
Daniel Gershenson (Mexico)
Joaquín Bohigas Bosch (Instituto de Astronomia, UNAM, Mexico)
Jo Ann Baumgartner, (Wild Farm Alliance, USA)
Jack Woody(Regional Dr,Int.Programs,US Fish & Wildlife Service, Retired)
Lummi Tribe
Native American Land Conservancy (includes the following participating tribal communities: Chemehuevi, Kumeyaay, Cahuilla, Navajo, Paiute).
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CORRECTION: A previous version of this article misidentified Harper as "premier" of Canada; he is prime minister.