How conservation works south of the border

  • A sidewinder rattler traverses the dunes of El Pinacate.

    Patricio Robles Gil/Minden Pictures
  • Snowy egret, a Colorado River Delta dweller.

    Ted Lee Eubanks
  • Looking at tracks on the Rancho El Aribabi.

    Raechel Running
  • Rancho Los Fresnos is a 10,000-acre project of Naturalia and The Nature Conservancy.

    Wild Sonora
  • Valer Austin in the restored grassland of one of the Cuenca los Ojos ranches.

    Bill Steen
  • Jaguar on the Northern Jaguar Reserve.

    Northern Jaguar Project
  • Bison on the range in Chihuahua.

    Fernando del Real, cc via Flickr
  • Cascada de Basaseachic, Mexico's second-tallest waterfall, is among many dramatic features of the Copper Canyon region.

    Patrick Alexander, cc via Flickr
  • A Mexican gray wolf, one of five released last October in Mexico’s Sierra San Luis. Within a few weeks, all but one had been killed with poison.

    Jordi Mendoza /CONANP Archive
 

Note: This is an expanded version of a sidebar published in the High Country News magazine, accompanying a main story profiling Sonoran rancher Carlos Robles Elías and an editor's note providing more perspective. The first nine items here correspond to numbered locations on the sidebar map of Northwest Mexico; below those nine, there's a list of conservation groups and additional conservation areas. Most of the conservation areas are shown on the map, but only the first nine are numbered on the map.

(1) Mexico's conservation system begins with six kinds of federally protected areas, including national parks and reservas de la biosfera (biosphere reserves). Miguel Ángel de Quevedo, known as el apóstol del árbol (the apostle of the tree), and President Lázaro Cárdenas - Mexico's rough counterparts to John Muir and Teddy Roosevelt in the U.S. -- helped create the nation's park system and forest reserves in the early 1900s. The second big wave of conservation began in the 1970s -- amid crises such as deforestation and notorious air pollution in the capital city -- and accelerated under presidents Carlos Salinas, Ernesto Zedillo and Felipe Calderón, who is still in office. During this period, the number of Mexican conservation groups has increased more than tenfold and U.S. groups have become more active in Mexico. Also, the Mexican government has established new environmental agencies, designated new protected areas, and created programs to address pollution and threats to biodiversity. For the first time, an environmental agency holds cabinet-level status -- el Secretaría de Medio Ambiente y Recursos Naturales, or SEMARNAT. An arm of that agency -- El Comisión Nacional de Áreas Naturales Protegidas, or CONANP -- runs hundreds of conservation areas totaling more than 60 million acres, or 12 percent of the country's land. Northwest Mexico's federally protected areas are shown in green on this map, and include islands in the Sea of Cortez, marine habitat for vaquitas (a rare species of porpoise), mountains rising above 10,000 feet in Baja California, and the 1.76-million-acre Reserva de la Biosfera El Pinacate y Gran Desierto de Altar, #1 on the map, home to massive dunes, volcanic craters and pockets of lush desert vegetation.

(2) Only about 28 percent of the land within Mexico's conservation areas is federally owned; most land within their boundaries is owned by ranchers, or managed as collectives for two kinds of rural communities (ejidos and comunidades). And the government and the rural communities are short of funds for conservation. In rough numbers, over the past 20 years, the annual budget for CONANP, which runs all the federal conservation areas, has been increased from an almost invisible $1 million to about $100 million -- still only a few dollars per acre. So Mexico's system has to emphasize private enterprise, trying to steer local economies into sustainable logging, sales of trophy hunting and other activities that don't trash the land. Meanwhile, conservation groups based in both countries are buying key habitat in Northwest Mexico and using financial incentives to battle various threats including fragmentation of wildlife migration corridors, deforestation and proposed coastal resort development. ProNatura Noroeste, a Sonoran branch of Mexico's oldest conservation group, has bought 76 conservation easements covering about 212,500 acres -- paying individual landowners and ejidos $20 to $80 per acre to keep land and water rights from being used for subdivisions, logging and grazing. WiLDCOAST, based in San Diego, has purchased land and easements to protect 24 miles of Baja coastline. In the remnants of the Colorado River Delta (#2 on the map) -- habitat for 300,000 migratory birds and part of a 1.9-million-acre biosphere reserve -- the Tucson-based Sonoran Institute has partnered with ProNatura and Environmental Defense to raise money to create "Mexico's first water trust," buying irrigation water to restore about 50,000 acres of wetlands. However, another 110,000 acres of delta wetlands still need restoration, according to the Institute.

(3) Carlos Robles Elías -- the subject of our magazine's cover story -- is trying to protect habitat along Río Cocóspera on his 10,000-acre portion of Rancho El Aribabi. Among other strategies, he secured government approval to manage wildlife as one of Mexico's UMAs -- short for Unidades para la Conservación, Manejo y Aprovechamiento Sustentable de la Vida Silvestre. The UMA program began in the 1990s as another private-enterprise conservation method: Ranchers and ejidos develop plans to make money on maintaining populations of deer, bighorn sheep and other wildlife -- mostly by selling trophy hunts -- and then apply for approval. (Hunting can only be done on UMAs now.) About 900 ranchers have UMAs in Sonora alone, covering more than 30 percent of its land area. The concept is widely praised, but there are many problems with how it's carried out. The government provides funding to help some of the UMAs, but the program's total funding averages out to a few cents per acre. There's a great deal of looseness in how UMA plans are done and little or no monitoring of the results. UMAs tend to emphasize profitable species, and some of their actions -- such as fencing to contain wildlife and planting buffelgrass, an invasive species -- undermine conservation. With so many UMAs scattered around, there's also little or no opportunity for landscape-scale conservation.

(4) Rancho Los Fresnos is 10,000 acres of grasslands in the Upper San Pedro River watershed, bought by The Nature Conservancy in 2005 and handed off to Naturalia, a group based in Mexico City. It's important habitat for grassland birds, and Naturalia hopes to transplant endangered prairie dogs to it. A local group -- Biodiversidad y Desarrollo Armónico (or BIDA) -- is also involved in conserving this ranch.

Return to:

A Mexican rancher struggles to shift from cattle to conservation
High Country News Classifieds
  • COMMUNICATIONS & DEVELOPMENT COORDINATOR
    Position Type: Full time, exempt Location: Bozeman, MT Compensation: $42,000 - $47,000 Benefits: Major Medical Insurance, up to 5% match on a 401k, PTO, flexible...
  • PARTNERSHIP & COLLABORATION DIRECTOR
    WEST REGION WILDFIRE COUNCIL- RIDGWAY, CO The partnership & collaboration director will provide leadership and/or assistance with all initiatives that create and enhance connections between...
  • 2 FIELD PROJECT SPECIALISTS (POSITION FORMERLY TITLED TRAIL CREW TECHNICAL ADVISOR)
    Are you passionate about environmental conservation and connecting people to the outdoors? The Pacific Crest Trail Association (PCTA) is looking for someone with outdoor leadership...
  • WATER STEWARD
    The Blackfoot Challenge is seeking a full-time Water Steward to coordinate and deliver a variety of partnerships and projects aimed at conserving and enhancing water...
  • SMALL FARM AT BASE OF MOUNT SHASTA, CALIF.
    Fruit/berry/veggie/flower farm in the mountain town of Mount Shasta. Small home, 2 barns (one with apartment), and more. Famously pure air and water.
  • CUSTOMER SERVICE ASSISTANT - (PART-TIME)
    High Country News, an award-winning media organization covering the communities and environment of the Western United States, seeks a part-time Customer Service Assistant, based at...
  • POLICY & PLANNING SPECIALIST
    Position Type: Full time, exempt Location: Bozeman, MT highly preferred, remote negotiable Compensation: $50,000-54,000 Benefits: Major Medical Insurance, up to 5% match on a 401k,...
  • CONSERVATION PROGRAM MANAGER
    Illinois Valley SWCD is offering an incredible career opportunity in beautiful SW Oregon. .8+ FTE, plus benefits. Visit our website for full details.
  • DEVELOPMENT MANAGER
    Formed in 1980, Western Colorado Alliance for Community Action brings people together to build grassroots power through community organizing and leadership development. The Alliance works...
  • LITIGATION ASSISTANT, NORTHERN ROCKIES OFFICE - FULL-TIME BOZEMAN | REMOTE OPTION
    Visit our website to apply: earthjustice.org/about/jobs
  • BUFFALO NATIONS GRASSLANDS ALLIANCE SEEKING AN ASSESSMENT CONSULTANT
    ASSESSMENT OF THE SCOPE OF CONSERVATION PLANNING AND ACTIVITIES IN NATIVE NATIONS IN THE NORTHERN GREAT PLAINS Buffalo Nations Grasslands Alliance Buffalo Nations Grasslands Alliance...
  • CHIEF FINANCIAL OFFICER
    Rural Community Assistance Corporation seeks experienced CFO.
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Friends of Arches and Canyonlands Parks, the official philanthropic non-profit partner with the National Park Service Southeast Utah Group, is seeking an Executive Director....
  • GRAND CANYON MANAGER
    Application deadline: May 9, 2022 Anticipated start date: June 15, 2022 About the position Are you passionate about building authentic relationships, supporting tribally led initiatives,...
  • LAND CONSERVATION PROGRAM DIRECTOR
    Eastern Sierra Land Trust (ESLT) is seeking a Land Conservation Program Director to join our nationally accredited land trust. This is a full-time position based...
  • OUTREACH AND COMMUNICATIONS COORDINATOR
    Reports to: Communications and Outreach Director Location: Ashton, Idaho (partial remote schedule possible) Status: Full-time, 40 hours per week Timing and Duration: Position open until...
  • CHIEF OPERATING OFFICER
    The Western Landowners Alliance (WLA) was founded in 2012 by landowners and managers to increase the wellbeing of working lands in the American West and...
  • WILDERNESS STEWARDSHIP CREW MEMBER
    The San Juan Mountains Association (SJMA) wilderness crew members work in partnership with the U.S. Forest Service to monitor wilderness characteristics, conduct trail work, and...
  • OUTDOOR PROGRAM - ASSISTANT DIRECTOR (TEMPORARY, FULL-TIME POSITION)
    St. Lawrence University seeks to fill a temporary, full time, Assistant Director position in the Outdoor Program. The Outdoor Program provides professional outdoor recreational and...
  • ENVIRONMENTAL GEOPHYSICS
    We find groundwater, reduce excavation costs and determine your IBC site class for a fraction of drilling costs.