In defense of the Monarch butterfly: A letter to three nations from poets, writers, scientists, & artists



                                                                        14 February 2014


President Barack Obama

President Enrique Peña Nieto

Prime Minister Stephen Harper


Honorable Gentlemen:


 Decline of the Monarch Butterfly Migration in Eastern North America.


     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 foodplants 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





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





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



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



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




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)



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).




Delivered February 14, 2014 by Homero Aridjis to the Mexican Secretary of the Environment and the U.S. and Canadian Embassies in Mexico, D.F., as initiated by the Grupo de los Cien under the directorship of  Homero and Betty Aridjis.  The posting of the letter on Poems and poetics is a recognition too of Homero Aridjis’s extraordinary & very specific work as a poet-activist on behalf of a range of endangered species & habitats (grey whales, sea turtles, monarch butterflies, & Lacandón rainforest).  Or to quote him further: "The task of poets, and of holy men, is to tell this planet's stories - and to articulate an ecological cosmology that does not separate nature from humanity." The letter coincides with the meeting of the three American heads-of-state in TolucaMexico.  (J.R.)