WHY WE WORK IN SONORA
Sonora has the largest expanse of tropical deciduous forest – 44,912 square kilometers (17,340 square miles) – in Mexico. Even though TDF is globally endangered, only one federal area has been designated to protect a mere .02% of this ecosystem in Sonora. The tropical deciduous forest in Sonora is in limbo. The good news is that these forests are sequestered along the spine of the Sierra Madre Occidental – a landscape too remote and rugged to be clear-cut for agribusiness. Production of biofuels poses the biggest threat to TDF in other parts of Mexico and around the world. But Sonora’s TDF faces other threats that are impacting this landscape in more subtle but nevertheless insidious ways, such as traditional cattle management practices, clearing forest for planting pastures of non-native buffel grass, harvesting threatened endemic palms, and global climate change. Fortunately, these are threats with positive solutions, as long as people work together to bring about change.
In 2004, with the help of Stephanie Meyer (see below), Nature and Culture International saw the opportunity to begin this collaborative process of change. It began acquiring a strategic series of ranches along the Río Cuchujaqui, the last free-flowing river in northwestern Mexico. These ranches lie within the heart of the federal reserve alluded to above – the 93,000-hectare (230,000-acre) Área de Protección de Flora y Fauna Sierra de Alamos-Río Cuchujaqui (APFF-SARC). In Mexico, federally designated conservation areas are more conceptual than real, and often, as is the case in Sonora, much of the land within these reserves remains in private ownership. The ranches, which constitute the 14,000-acre Reserva Monte Mojino, were purchased because they contain the very best examples of tropical deciduous forest as well as magnificent sabino (bald-cypress) forests along the Río Cuchujaqui and several large tributaries. By acquiring land within the federal reserve, NCI is building a partnership with the Comisión Nacional de Áreas Naturales Protegidas (CONANP) and working to demonstrate the benefits of sustainable land management. This is a very positive development that serves as an example of private-public partnership and as a replicable model of land and watershed conservation. NCI purchased the ranches from willing sellers and will acquire other strategic properties (with a target of about 25,000 acres) as these lands and funds become available. While ranching is a definite cultural imperative in Sonora – and a culture NCI respects – it is an iffy economic endeavor in this rugged landscape and punishing climate (picture extreme heat and humidity in summer, a bone-dry period of little or no rain for 8 months, and potential for monsoon floods from late June through September).
Ironically, this landscape and harsh climate, while not very hospitable for people and cattle, are the evolutionary forces that have given rise to the species-rich tropical deciduous forest (36 families of tropical trees, 48 species of orchids) that supports a diverse web of life (approximately 330 species of birds, including 6 species of parrots, jaguar and 4 other cat species, and 79 species of amphibians). It is this web of life Reserva Monte Mojino is dedicated to protecting.
We want to recognize the efforts of Stephanie Meyer, who had the original vision for this project. Stephanie began coming to Alamos in the 1980s with Dr. Paul Martin of the University of Arizona and other scientists who were studying of the trees, plants, birds, mammals, and reptiles of the TDF. She immediately saw the need to call attention to the forest and to build bi‐national support for its protection. Stephanie soon moved to Alamos full‐time, and the protection of the tropical deciduous forest became an essential element of her life’s work. In 2004, Stephanie enlisted advice and institutional support from Nature and Culture International, and with her leadership, NCI began acquiring lands in the Río Cuchujaqui watershed to form the private conservation reserve within the federal area now called Reserva Monte Mojino. Stephanie stepped down from her position in 2012. Of Stephanie’s many achievements during her years in Alamos, her most important legacy will be her work to conserve the area’s threatened tropical deciduous forests, establishing Reserva Monte Mojino, and mentoring the team of guardians who now care for it.