THE BLOG
06/17/2016 11:50 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Dear Obama, Trudeau and Peña Nieto: Act Now to Save the Monarch Butterfly

ASSOCIATED PRESS

MEXICO CITY -- More than 200 scientists, writers and artists have signed a letter addressed to Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, U.S. President Barack Obama and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, in advance of the North American Leaders' Summit in Ottawa later this month.

The signers urge that swift and energetic actions be taken to save the monarch butterfly from the threats that endanger its survival. All three countries must work together to mitigate the loss of the butterflies' breeding habitat and to terminate all logging and mining in the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve in Michoacan, Mexico.

Among the many signers are Margaret Atwood, Robert F. Kennedy, J.M.G. Le Clézio (Nobel Prize), Bill McKibben, Michael Ondaatje, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, John Ashbery, Yann Martel and Simon Schama. The letter is reproduced in full below.

monarch butterfly

A guide holds up a damaged and dying butterfly at the monarch butterfly reserve in Piedra Herrada, Mexico, on Nov. 12, 2015. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)

President Barack Obama
President Enrique Peña Nieto
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau

Honorable Gentlemen:

At the North American Leaders' Summit held in Toluca, Mexico, on February 19, 2014, President Barack Obama, President Enrique Peña Nieto and Prime Minister Stephen Harper made the following commitment in their joint closing statement:

"Our governments will establish a working group to ensure the conservation of the Monarch butterfly, a species that symbolizes our association."

The three heads of state were responding to the deep concern expressed in a letter signed by several hundred international monarch experts, scientists, writers and artists; the letter urged these leaders to address the future of the monarch butterfly and recommended the creation of a recognized breeding corridor along the monarch's migratory route through Canada, the United States and Mexico. High Level Monarch Working Groups were then established in each country; national and trinational meetings are being held; and research and monitoring of monarchs have continued.

The need for effective action has become even more critical.

Conservation activities to protect the monarch butterfly are underway in all three countries, but the need for effective action has become even more critical. Earlier this year, a group of scientists predicted that "the Eastern migratory population has a substantial probability of quasi-extinction," warning that this population must increase to at least 225 million to reduce the risk of extinction by half and to prevent the loss of a viable migratory population. The overwintering abundance of monarchs has shown a 20-year decline from 900 million in 1996-97 to 33 million in 2013-14. Although optimal weather conditions on the migratory route enabled the population to recover to 140 million during the winter of 2015-16, a severe and unusually late March storm reduced this winter's abundance by up to 50 percent, illustrating the risk to survival of a diminished monarch migratory phenomenon.

Conservation and Threats

In the U.S., a June, 2014, Presidential Memorandum established a Pollinator Health Task Force, and the Task Force launched the National Strategy to Promote the Health of Honey Bees and Other Pollinators on May 19, 2015. One of the stated goals of the Strategy is to "increase the Eastern population of the monarch butterfly to 225 million butterflies occupying an area of 6 hectares in the overwintering grounds in Mexico, through domestic/international actions and public-private partnerships, by 2020."

A principal cause of the 90 percent plunge in monarch numbers over the last 20 years is the massive use of glyphosate herbicides on land in the U.S. corn belt planted with genetically modified herbicide-resistant soybean and corn crops. Extensive spraying of these crops in the major summer breeding area of these butterflies has decimated milkweed, which is the only foodplant that monarch caterpillars can eat. New generation crops are being developed to resist additional herbicides, so the threat to milkweeds is increasing.

Concern about declining milkweed habitat led to a petition being submitted to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on August 26, 2014, requesting that the monarch butterfly be listed as threatened under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. The petition described the urgent need for federal protection; consideration of the petition is underway.

anonymousss

This shows the logging that took place in the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve after the March storms. For safety reasons, the photographer wishes to remain anonymous.

In April, 2015, Mexican (Grupo de los Cien, Alternare, Danaidas, Conservación y Desarrollo Sustentable, Costasalvaje and Telar Social México), American (Natural Resources Defense Council) and Canadian (David Suzuki Foundation) groups formally petitioned UNESCO's World Heritage Committee to list the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve World Heritage Site on the List of World Heritage Sites in Danger. In a letter to the World Heritage Centre, pollinator and monarch scientists endorsed the petition and asked that Mexico, the United States and Canada strengthen collaborative efforts to protect and restore monarch habitat.

In Mexico, degradation of the overwintering sites continues despite official assurances that illegal logging is under control. Recently, scientists have confirmed that 10 hectares of mature forest on land belonging to the state of Michoacan were severely logged in 2015. Observers have also found small-scale logging in the Reserve, with both forms of logging damaging the protective forest canopy.

Furthermore, an unusually severe snow and rain storm in March, 2016, blew down numerous oyamel fir and pine trees. A week later, the Reserve's acting director authorized salvage logging; subsequent photographs have shown that salvage logging has seriously degraded the forest floor. In contrast, allowing protected areas to regenerate naturally is a preferable management option to salvage logging for this rich oyamel fir-pine ecosystem. Continuing logging activities underscore the need for enforcing year-round protection of the forest throughout the Reserve.

monarch butterfly

A monarch butterfly in the snow in Michoacan state, Mexico, on March 11, after a strong winter storm. (ENRIQUE CASTRO/AFP/Getty Images)

Monarchs are facing a new potentially lethal threat to their overwintering habitat. In 2007, the Secretariat of Environment and Natural Resources awarded Grupo Mexico, Mexico's largest mining corporation, a concession to reopen an old mine in Angangueo, to mine copper, zinc, lead, silver and gold beneath the core zone of the Reserve. The mining process will extract large volumes of water from the subsoil and expel it outside the area being worked, but water is vital for overwintering monarchs and for maintaining the surrounding forest ecosystem. There is no precedent for exposing overwintering monarch butterflies to a major mining operation, and the Environmental Impact Assessment does not address the inevitable harmful consequences to the butterflies, which are the reason for existence of the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve.

Need for Action

The three North American heads of state will meet on June 29, 2016, in Ottawa, their first joint meeting since 2014. We, the undersigned scientists, writers, artists and concerned citizens, call upon President Enrique Peña Nieto, President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to take swift and energetic actions to preserve the monarch's migratory phenomenon. Success will require activity within all three countries: mitigation of the loss of breeding habitat due to milkweed-killing herbicide usage by protecting parcels of land with milkweeds and native nectar sources; termination of all logging in the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve; and a prohibition of mining in the Reserve. Leadership responding to these challenges is crucial; monarch butterflies are among the most extraordinary and iconic creatures on the planet, beloved by many, and they represent a fundamental connection of our three countries.

Sincerely yours,

Homero Aridjis -- Writer; President, Grupo de los Cien; Former Mexican Ambassador to Switzerland, The Netherlands and UNESCO; President Emeritus, PEN International; Member, High Level Monarch Working Group (Mexico)

Professor Lincoln P. Brower -- Research Professor of Biology, Sweet Briar College; Distinguished Service Professor of Zoology Emeritus, University of Florida

Professor Ernest H. Williams -- William R. Kenan Professor Emeritus of Biology, Dept. of Biology, Hamilton College

Signers:

INTERNATIONAL MONARCH BUTTERFLY SCIENTISTS

Dr. John Alcock. Arizona State University, Dr. Alfonso Alonso, Smithsonian Institution, Dr. Sonia M. Altizer, University of Georgia, Dr. Michael Boppre, University of Freiburg, Germany, Dr. Lincoln P. Brower, Sweet Briar College, Dr. Linda S. Fink, Sweet Briar College, 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, Dr. Karen Oberhauser, University of Minnesota, Dr, John Pleasants, Iowa State University, Dr. Robert M. Pyle, Grays River, Washington, Dr. Isabel Ramirez, UNAM, Michoacán, Mexico, Dr. Daniel Slayback, Science Systems & Applications, Inc., Maryland, Dr. Stuart B. Weiss, Creekside Center for Earth Observations, California, 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

U.S.:

Nova Ami, Kwame Anthony Appiah, John Ashbery, Paul Auster, Deirdre Bair, Russell Banks, Magda Bogin, Christopher Cokinos, Robert Darnton, Alison Hawthorne Deming, Rita Dove, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Patrick Flanery, Francisco Goldman, Mimi Gross, Jessica Hagedorn, Sue Halpern, Sam Hamill, Robert Hass, Tom Hayden, Brenda Hillman, Edward Hirsch, Siri Hustvedt, Ilya Kaminsky, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., Nicole Krauss, Jonathan Levi, Roberto Lovato, Amy Evans McClure, Michael McClure, Bill McKibben, Jeff McMillan, Molly Moore, David Rieff, Velcrow Ripper, Diane Rothenberg, Jerome Rothenberg, Dick Russell, Michael Scammell, Alex Shoumatoff, A. E. Stallings, Judith Thurman, Melissa Tuckey, Chase Twichell, Gwynedd Vetter-Drusch (Moving for Monarchs), Chuck Wachtel, Rosanna Warren, Alan Weisman, Terry Tempest Williams, City Lights Books.

Mexico:

Homero Aridjis, Lucia Alvarez, Juan Domingo Arguelles, Chloe Aridjis, Eva Aridjis, Alberto Blanco, Miguel Calderón, Marco Antonio Campos, Jennifer Clement, Elsa Cross, María José Cuevas, Ximena Cuevas, Laura Esquivel, Manuel Felguérez, Betty Ferber, Rubén Gallo, Emiliano Gironella, Jose Gordon, Roger von Gunten, Barbara Jacobs, Gabriela Jauregui, Daniel Krauze, León Krauze, Pura López Colomé, Jean Meyer, Marina Meyer, Matias Meyer, Pablo Meyer, Humberto Musacchio, Margarita de Orellana, Carmen Parra, Fernado del Paso, Paulina del Paso, Elena Poniatowska, Vicente Rojo, Betsabée Romero, Cristina Rubalcava, Juan Carlos Rulfo, Pablo Rulfo, Alberto Ruy Sánchez, Francisco Segovia, Isabel Turrent.

Canada:

Margaret Atwood, Ann Eriksson, Gary Geddes, Graeme Gibson, Terence Gower, Emile Martel, Yann Martel, George McWhirter, Michael Ondaatje, John Ralston Saul, Linda Spalding, Alison Wearing, Barbara Williams.

Other countries:

J. M. G. Le Clézio (Nobel Prize, France), Giuseppe Bellini (Italy), Breyten Breytenbach (South Africa), Vicente Cervera (Spain), Claudia Comes (Spain), Fabrizio Dall'Aglio (Italy), Kjell Espmark (Sweden), Ruth Fainlight (United Kingdom), Francisco de Asís Fernández (Nicaragua), Maneka Sanjay Gandhi (Minister for Women and Child Welfare, Government of India), Gloria Guardia (Panama), Antony Gormley (United Kingdom), Stratis Haviaras (Greece), Philip Hoare (United Kingdom), Laurens van Krevelen (Netherlands), Klaus Kropfinger (Germany), Darian Leader (United Kingdom), Norman Manea (USA/Rumania), Annick Le Scoëzec Masson (France), Jean-Claude Masson (Belgium), Lily Michaelides (Cyprus), Ruth Padel (United Kingdom), Cornelia Parker (United Kingdom), Vicken Parsons (United Kingdom), Alan Riding (United Kingdom), Aníbal Salazar Anglada (Spain), Fernando Savater (Spain), Simon Schama (United Kingdom), Eugene Schoulgin (Norway), Dino Siotis (Greece), Ángela García (Colombia), Lasse Soderberg (Sweden), Ali Smith (United Kingdom), Patrizia Spinato (Italy), Adam Thirlwell (United Kingdom), Luisa Valenzuela (Argentina), Helga von Kügelgen (Germany), Valerio Grutt (Italy), Zinovy Zinik (Russia/United Kingdom), Fred Viebahn (Germany), Frederic Amat (Spain), Neel Mukherjee (United Kingdom), Viktor Wynd (United Kingdom), Devorah Baum (United Kingdom), Josh Appignanesi (United Kingdom), Giuliano Ladolfi (Italy).

SCIENTISTS AND ENVIRONMENTALISTS

Dr. Gary Paul Nabhan (Make Way for Monarchs, University of Arizona), Scott Hoffman Black, (Executive Director, Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, Chair, IUCN Butterfly Specialist Group, USA), Sarina Jepson (Director of Endangered Species Program, Xerces Society), Serge Dedina (Executive Director, Wildcoast, USA), Eduardo Najera Hillman (Director, Costasalvaje, Mexico), Tierra Curry (Senior Scientist, Center for Biological Diversity, USA), Scott Slovic (Editor, ISLE Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and Environment, USA), Miguel Valencia Mulkay (Ecocomunidades, Mexico), Adriana Matalonga Rodríguez-Beltrán (Red Ecologista Autónoma de la Cuenca de México), Fernando Ortiz Monasterio (Director General, Corpambiental S.C., Mexico), Jonathon Porritt (Founder Director, Forum for the Future, United Kingdom), Tiahoga Ruge, Presidente, Amigos de la Biosfera, AC, México), Garrison Sposito (University of California at Berkeley), Simon Retallack (United Kingdom), Dr. Steven L. Swartz (Director, Laguna San Ignacio Ecosystem Science Program, USA/Mexico), Mary Lou Jones (San Ignacio Ecosystem Science Program, USA/Mexico), Todd Steiner (Executive Director, Turtle Island Restoration Network, USA), Diana Liverman (Institute of the Environment, University of Arizona), Eduardo Farah (EspejoRed, Mexico), Jewell James, Lummi Indian Tribe (USA), Kurt Russo, Executive Director, Native American Land Conservancy (USA), Dr. Alberto Darszón Israel (UNAM, México), Elideth Fernández (Mexico).

Also on WorldPost:

PHOTO GALLERY
Monarch Butterflies