Don’t Let Mexico Destroy the Monarch Migration

Climate change and habitat loss already put the monarch migration at risk. Opening a copper mine in the middle of the monarchs overwintering grounds stands to do even more damage to this endangered phenomenon.

The magnificent annual migration of monarch butterflies from Canada to Mexico is in peril. The number of monarchs making the 3,000-mile trip each fall has plummeted by more than 90% over the past two decades. Despite the migration’s vulnerability, the Mexican government is moving forward with plans to open a highly polluting copper mine in the middle of the monarchs’ overwintering grounds. The Endangered Species Coalition has started a petition to oppose the mine. Here are five reasons why you should sign and share this petition widely.

  1. The monarch migration is a thing of incredible beauty that deserves our protection. Monarchs have been pulling off their fantastic migration for the last 20,000 years. They can fly up to 80 miles a day during their annual journey from Ontario to Central Mexico. Every autumn they return to the same forest groves, even though they have never seen them before; 3–4 generations have passed over the course of the year since they last occupied these trees. While monarchs weigh less than a gram apiece, sometimes so many of them gather on a single fir tree that the whole tree topples over with their combined weight, sending thousands of monarchs into the air at once in a magnificent explosion.

    Cluster in Cerro Pelon Sanctuary. Photo by Paul Proulx.

  2. There is no such thing as clean, low-impact copper mining. Copper mining is the messiest, most polluting kind of mining around, which is saying a lot. New extraction methods that allow for the exploitation of lower grade ore have amped up the environmental risk. Ore is ripped from the Earth, laid out in fields and doused with sulfuric acid to separate out the copper from the slag. The sulfuric acid used in this process inevitably seeps from the surface into aquifers, contaminating area groundwater.

    Watering monarchs at El Rosario Sanctuary. Photo by Joel Moreno Rojas. 
    Most residents of the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve make their living by combining butterfly tourism and agriculture. Humans, monarchs, corn and avocados all need clean water to survive. Opening a copper mine in the middle of the Biosphere Reserve puts all of these life forms in jeopardy.

  3. Grupo México, the corporation behind the mine, has an abysmal environmental safety record. They are responsible for the worst environmental accident in Mexican history: they dumped 40,000 cubic meters of poison in the Sonora River, leaving 24,000 people without access to potable water. Then the corporation, despite a banner year in profits, nickle and dimed the Mexican government on paying for the clean-up. This kind of behavior helped earn Grupo México CEO German Larrea the title of “Mexico’s stingiest billionaire.”

    Copper mine polluted water. Photo by Gustavo Verissimo.
  4. Grupo México also has an egregious worker safety record. Their miners are poorly paid and subjected to unnecessarily dangerous working conditions. For example, in Cananea the corporation refused to fix the mine’s broken ventilation system. When unionized workers went on strike to protest the intolerable air quality, the company sicced the police on them, fired the workers and replaced them with lower-paid contract workers. Meanwhile in the Pasta de Conchos mine, management continued to send miners into the tunnels despite dangerously high levels of methane gas. When an explosion trapped 65 workers, the company didn’t even bother to dig them out.

    Image from the Museum of the Valenciana Mine, Guanajuato, Mexico.

    Supporters of the Grupo México’s mining project in Angangueo (a town located between El Rosario and Sierra Chincua, two of Mexico’s four monarch sanctuaries) argue that local people need jobs. People do indeed need jobs, but they need jobs that do not destroy their health and that of their community.

  5. Opposition to the mine has to come from outside of Mexico. There’s been a lot of discussion of the rise of authoritarianism in the U.S. in this election cycle. Watch out! We here in Mexico are already living it. The current administration deals with dissent by throwing protesters in jail on trumped up charges or by consigning them to unmarked graves. While President Peña Nieto claims to be committed to protecting “the emblematic species that connects our nations,” in practice he seems more interested in selling off Mexico’s “protected areas” for development. As things now stand, international intervention is necessary if there is to be effective conservation (or rule of law or human rights…) in Mexico.
Mass of monarchs, Cerro Pelon Sanctuary. Photo by Paul Proulx.

There is no experience akin to standing in a mountain glade filled with fir trees turned orange by millions of monarchs. It’s as if the vibration of their wings recalibrates the heart. In Mexico, our leaders and their business cronies are very much in need of a heart recalibration. Until then, please take a moment to sign the anti-mining petition. Don’t let corporate greed destroy one of the world’s remaining natural wonders in our lifetime.

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