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Each autumn, millions of monarch butterflies fly up to 3,200 killometres from North America to gather in a tiny patch of forest in Michoacán, Mexico. But their numbers are falling fast.
“As recently as 1993, more than a billion butterflies would overwinter in Mexico,” says Daniel Ashe, director of the US Fish and Wildlife Services. “In 2013, there were just 33 million. That’s a 97 percent drop.” The reason: increasingly efficient agricultural practices eradicating the milkweed that is the monarch caterpillar’s sole food source.
To combat this, in May 2015, the White House announced the creation of a 2,400 kilometres monarch migration highway that will follow the route of Interstate 35 from the top of Minnesota to the bottom of Texas.
“We’re going to enlist transportation departments, utility companies, farms, school groups and homeowners to plant milkweed along the route,” says Ashe. “Whether it’s in back yards or a national park.”
The goal is to restore the overwintering population to 225 million by 2020 — and inspire future environmentalists.
“They will learn that their little bit can add up,” Ashe explains. “When it comes to dealing with something like climate change, they will remember this.”