The deaths of two Mexican activists are tragic, and a huge loss to us all

Conservationists across the world learned with horror this week that two of our Mexican colleagues were found dead near the El Rosario monarch butterfly sanctuary in Michoacán, Mexico.

The two men — Homero Gómez González and Raúl Hernández Romero — dedicated their lives to protecting the monarch, which has become an international symbol of hope and resilience.

Gómez González was the manager of the El Rosario reserve, a former logger who became one of the most prominent advocates for protection of the oyamel fir forests that monarchs visit each winter after the long migration from the U.S. and Canada.

Hernández Romero served as a guide in the butterfly sanctuary, one of many local residents who provided expert testimony to the reserve’s visitors about the unique life cycle of the monarch.

I am devastated by this loss. And I take it personally, because as these two men have been working to preserve the monarch’s only remaining and vital overwintering habitat in Mexico, I’ve been working alongside fellow conservationists, farmers and ranchers to protect and restore the monarch’s habitat on the northern side of the U.S.-Mexico border.

Never did I imagine protecting butterflies would be life threatening.

The violence against wildlife defenders must be stopped

The loss of Gómez González and Hernández Romero is a great loss, not only to their grieving families, to whom we offer our sincerest condolences, but to the world — to all wildlife defenders who put their lives on the line, and to those of us who have experienced and treasure the awe, wonder and magic of the monarch.

As local law enforcement investigates the deaths, conservation groups in Mexico and internationally are uniting to call for an end to the violence against wildlife defenders worldwide.

Gómez González and Hernández Romero are not the only conservationists that have given their lives for their work. Senseless violence against environmental leaders continues in other parts of the world, including in the Amazon where the death toll of forest defenders is in the thousands.

They died protecting nature’s treasures

This kind of violence is truly deplorable, for the human loss as well as the cost to precious ecosystems from the Amazon rainforest to Mexico’s oyamel fir forest. These ecosystems serve as some of the world’s last remaining ecological treasures — rich in biodiversity and spurring vibrant tourist economies.

I was fortunate to visit the El Rosario biosphere reserve last winter and witness firsthand the passion of local guides as they described the globally unique phenomenon of the monarch migration. The visit reinforced for me that monarch conservation is a true North American collaboration, providing a model for how the U.S., Canada and Mexico can work together to solve conservation and other problems.

As I mourn the loss of these two Mexican conservation heroes, my thoughts are with their families and the Mexican conservation community. My colleagues and I stand ready to support efforts to bring an end to this horror — in Mexico and beyond — and to ensure that the world’s environmental protectors are themselves protected.

I’ll also take solace in the legacy that these two activists are leaving Mexico and the world, knowing that their life’s work will be carried on by others, and that monarch butterflies will continue to return to El Rosario to visit Gómez González and Hernández Romero at their place of rest for generations to come.