THE national tourism agency calls the Mexican mountain town of Angangueo a “Pueblo Mágico.” If so, it is a dark magic.
In recent years, Angangueo’s 5,000 inhabitants have been cursed by calamities natural and manufactured. Snowstorms, mudslides and flash floods have terrorized the town. Hulking piles of mine tailings line the main road, barren reminders of the silver, gold and copper mining that petered out a quarter-century ago after defining the community for 200 years.
Even the monarch butterflies that are the focus of the “magic town” tourism campaign are suffering. Millions still roost on nearby mountains, a wintertime spectacle that attracts the visitors from “El Norte” who are the town’s economic lifeline. But the overwintering population of monarchs has fallen by almost two-thirds over the past dozen years, and this year’s better-than-usual aggregation was abruptly devastated in March by another freak snowstorm, the worst in years.
Now those monarchs are facing another potential calamity. One of Mexico’s largest corporations is close to winning government approval to reopen a sprawling mine in Angangueo, right next to the most important winter habitat of North America’s most iconic insect. In a region where butterfly tourism isn’t doing much to ease pervasive poverty, the mining proposal has plenty of local support, even as it alarms biologists.
I spent a few days recently in Angangueo, about 75 miles west of Mexico City, doing research for a book about monarchs. Many people know the outlines of their plight: Monarchs are under extreme pressure from climate change, deforestation in Mexico and the elimination of milkweed — almost the only food monarch caterpillars will eat — from Midwestern farm fields (hastened by the use of genetically modified corn and soybeans).
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