Missing monarch butterfly activist found dead in Mexico

MEXICO CITY (AP) — Authorities have found the body of a missing farm leader who was active in protecting the wintering grounds of the monarch butterfly in Mexico, prosecutors said Wednesday.

Investigators in Michoacan state said the body had been identified as Homero Gómez González, who had not been seen since Jan. 14.

Last week, prosecutors called in 53 local police officers for questioning in the disappearance of Gómez González,who was head of the management council of the El Rosario butterfly reserve.

Officials did not give any information on the cause of death.

Activists said his death could be related to disputes over illegal logging, water or income from visitors’ fees. Authorities did not immediately speculate on a motive in the apparent killing.

Homero Aridjis, an environmentalist and poet who is a longtime defender of the butterfly reserve, called the death of Gómez “worrisome.”

“If they can kidnap and kill the people who work for the reserves, who is going to defend the environment in Mexico?” Aridjis said.

Gómez González was a former communal land officer who led efforts to preserve the pine and fir mountaintop forests where the butterflies spend the winter.

Millions of monarchs come to the forests of Michoacan and other areas after making the 3,400-mile (5,500-kilometer) migration from the United States and Canada. They need healthy tree cover to protect them from rain and cold weather.

Mexico has clamped down on illegal logging, which was once a major threat to the reserves but which has fallen to about one-third last year’s level. But there have been reports of increased “salvage” logging of supposedly sick trees.

Disputes over water from mountain springs have also occurred in the region, and avocado planters have long coveted the area, which has near-ideal growing conditions for the valuable fruit.