The annual migration to Mexico of millions of orange-and-black monarch butterflies is one of the nation's cherished rituals. But it could come to a virtual halt if the insect's natural habitat is not urgently salvaged.
That is the conclusion of a long list of scientists, artists and environmentalists who are calling on the leaders of Mexico, the United States and Canada to act swiftly to protect butterfly breeding grounds. President Barack Obama, Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper are to meet in Mexico on Wednesday to discuss economic, trade and other issues.
Though the number of butterflies that travel thousands of miles across North America to Mexico has been declining fairly steadily for years, the migration has never been in more danger than now, the activists say.
They blame two developments: rampant illegal logging in Mexico that destroys the oyamel fir forests where the insects alight and spend the winter, and eradication of the milkweed plants in the United States where the butterflies lay their eggs and where monarch caterpillars eat. The milkweed is being destroyed by insecticides in the planting of corn.
"It is ecological genocide," Homero Aridjis, a prominent Mexican poet and advocate for the butterfly, said in an interview.
In a letter to the North American leaders written by Aridjis and signed by more than 100 well-known academics and others, several solutions are proposed, including the planting of milkweed on the sides and medians of the vast network of U.S. roads that generally follow the migration.