Protecting Wild Cat Habitat

by Grupo Ecologico Sierra Gorda I.A.P
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Protecting Wild Cat Habitat
Protecting Wild Cat Habitat
Protecting Wild Cat Habitat
Protecting Wild Cat Habitat
Protecting Wild Cat Habitat
Protecting Wild Cat Habitat
Protecting Wild Cat Habitat
Protecting Wild Cat Habitat
Protecting Wild Cat Habitat
Protecting Wild Cat Habitat
Protecting Wild Cat Habitat
Protecting Wild Cat Habitat
Protecting Wild Cat Habitat
Press Conference in the Senate of the Republic
Press Conference in the Senate of the Republic

With the arrival of the rain, the danger of forest fires has been diminished and animals once again have an abundance of water.

Our rangers have maintained continuous presence in the private reserves, with the help of neighbors to do surveillance to prevent forest fires, hunting and illegal logging. El Socavón Cave where a colony of green parakeets (Aratinga holochlora) resides is within one of the private reserves and we were able to confirm the presence of at least three active nests. Roberto Pedraza Ruiz, Head of the Land Conservation Program and our wildlife photographer planned to spend a full day photographing them in early July. However, he retired after only two hours since the chicks were in the nests and their parents did not seem to be feeding them in the same way as usual. Yet, he was able to obtain good photographs and an HD video of them.

During a surveillance tour of the Joya del Hielo private reserve, we entered an previously unknown area and found a very old and corpulent specimen of white cedar (Cupressus lusitanica). We were also able to see the abundant regeneration and more specimens of the two species of Magnolia (Magnolia rzedowskiana and M. pedrazae) that are new to science and whose description was made based on the type of specimens that grow in our reserve.

We also purchased the property with the help of the World Land Trust that covers 200 hectares and is part of the third highest summit located in the eastern extension of the Sierra Gorda (2,650 MASL) in Queretaro State.

During the past three months, the activity that consumed the most time was defending the forests located in the municipality of Xilitla, San Luis Potosí that are adjacent to one of our private reserves, Cerro Prieto and therefore to the Sierra Gorda Biosphere Reserve. There the state delegation of the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources (SEMARNAT) authorized a Forest Management Program that plans to log 2,000 hectares of mostly primary cloud and temperate forests.

This area is known for its authenticity and extraordinary biodiversity. Decades of brutal deforestation have left little of what its forests used to be. However, in the heights of its mountain range one can still find a magnificent forest that extends over several ‘ejidos’. Mexico’s cloud forests cover less than 1% of the country’s surface area and are estimated to house 12% of the country’s flora, with about 30% of species being endemic. As we know, these forests are home to Jaguars and Margays, and their rich biodiversity always surprises us.

The document is poor in its content, has weak technical component, and avoids mentioning and minimizes the presence of significant number of flora and fauna species with the status of endemic and protected according to the national endangered species list listed in the NOM ECOL 059 SEMARNAT 2010. The threat demanded we defend this forest sanctuary. First, we sent letters with data and technical information to the President of the Republic and the Delegate of SEMARNAT in San Luis Potosí State who authorized the process, requesting the revocation to the logging authorization. After the Delegate refused to revoke the permit, we contacted the media and the local society, and actively defend these forests.

Invited by the Senator Marcela Torres, invaluable ally of the Grupo Ecológico Sierra Gorda I.A.P., Roberto Pedraza Ruiz participated in a press conference in the Senate of the Republic to denounce the SEMARNAT Delegation’s logging authorization plagued with irregularities. Pedraza Ruiz was accompanied by Senators Sonia Mendoza Diaz, Silvia Garza Galván, President of the Climate Change Commission, and Jesús Santana. Their support made the SEMARNAT reconsider their authorization.

The response from the media and society was excellent: more than 25 articles and interviews in local, regional, and national media were published, including a petition on In less than two weeks SEMARNAT temporarily suspended the authorization and announced that it would review the process to determine irregularities and missing elements. We know that this is a partial triumph and we are ready to resume our fight if the logging authorization is reactivated. However, for now we managed to expose the officials and impede the logging operation.

As for the region’s forests, Roberto Pedraza Ruiz was fortunate enough to find and photograph a salamander species that was independently identified by three experts as Big-footed Salamander (Chiropterotriton magnipes), a species that is micro-endemic and is, according to the IUCN’s Red List, “Critically Endangered (Possibly Extinct).” This was a very fortunate finding since it helped us to defend the forests, emphasizing the value of the biodiversity that they house. Furthermore, we are certain that the species is present in the forests of the Cerro Prieto reserve.

Below you can find links to some of the articles that were published and the letter sent to the Delegate of SEMARNAT in which we request the revocation of the logging permit:

The place where we found the ancient cedar
The place where we found the ancient cedar
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Endangered orchids flowering in two reserves
Endangered orchids flowering in two reserves

The past three months were marked by the dry season in the Sierra Gorda: the winter rains cease and do not return until the summer. Forest fires of varying intensity have been constant in the region and they affected various areas.

One fire in particular put at risk Las Arenitas reserve that protects 800 hectares of lowland oak forests and is quite rich in tropical tree species. It is home to margays, great curassows, pacas and jaguars. The fire was particularly virulent and in one of the areas affected tree crowns, leaving the forest reduced to ashes. Fortunately, rapid intervention of our park rangers, as well as assistance from additional workers were able to slow down the advance of the fire and clean the litter off the access paths.

To complement surveillance, we visited the Mesa Colorada reserve and on horseback completed the circuit to the Joya Verde reserve, the largest protected area that we administer. This reserve is particularly untamed, with no human presence. During the visit, we were able to observe 14 fresh puma’s scrapes, an extraordinary number. They were accompanied by tracks and scent marks, which confirmed the value of the reserve as a biodiversity refuge, in particular for felines such as pumas (Puma concolor), jaguars (Panthera onca), ocelots (Leopardus pardalis), and margays (Leopardus wiedii) that live there. We were also able to spot a young fer-de-lance (Bothrops asper) resting on the path. While known to be aggressive, this venomous snake can actually be kind and patient. However, it is frequently attacked and sacrificed by humans. At no point did the snake attempt to attack us and we were able to pass by simply by circling it.

We also visited Hierbabuena, Joya del Hielo, and Canyon del Fresno reserves, as well as the Cueva del Tigre. Thankfully, we were not able to find evidence of logging activities in any of them. Furthermore, we took advantage of the visit to Joya del Hielo to take additional photos of the Magnolia pedrazae’s flower that was needed for the publication in the Dr. José Antonio Vázquez’s next book, which will explore the magnolias of Mexico.

After our search for an appropriate property, we proposed to the World Land Trust to finance acquisition of land that would enable us to expand the south-west end of the Cerro Prieto reserve. The area covers 200 hectares and is of particular value since it covers an almost 600-meter altitudinal gradient of temperate forests, meaning that it would reach the third highest summit east of the Sierra Gorda (2,650 meters). With exception of the property in the middle, the reserve would border on the Cerro del Cedral reserve, which is part of the Cerro Prieto reserve. Its white cedar forests are in good condition and are no longer endangered by clandestine logging that was degrading them. Eventually, we hope to join both properties.

Immediately outside the property limits of the Cerro Prieto, clandestine logging continues to affect cedars and pines and has severe environmental impact while providing minimal economic return. Therefore, we hope to share the good news regarding the expansion of the reserve in the next quarter.

The glasswinged butterfly
The glasswinged butterfly
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Judith Schwartz and Pavan Sukhdev in Joya de Hielo
Judith Schwartz and Pavan Sukhdev in Joya de Hielo

Since publishing our last report, we were able to expand our network of private reserves, adding 100 hectares in the Cerro Prieto located at the far north of the Sierra Gorda Biosphere Reserve. This wouldn’t be possible without your support and that of the World Land Trust (UK). The added surface area used to be one of the two farms that are located within the reserve with logging and cattle grazing activities, making its acquisition was important to terminate activities that destroy the forest. We purchased the farm from Mr. César González Rubio, legal owner who delivered and signed documents that satisfied both parties.

Furthermore, Roberto Pedraza Ruiz, Head of the Conservation Land Program and Nature Photographer, was once again contacted by Dr. José Antonio Vázquez, a taxonomist and botanist from the University of Guadalajara. Roberto sent him more photos as requested and after careful revision, Dr. Vázquez confirmed that this magnolia is indeed a third new species that has only be found in two canyons of the Joya Verde Reserve. Its protection depends on effective management, made possible by donations through Global Giving.

To provide Dr. Vázquez with more photos of the trees in their habitat, as well as with cones and fruits of magnolia that would enable him and his team to complete the scientific description and publish the article, a reconnaissance tour was organized with our park ranger, Abel Reséndiz. Traces of pumas, temazate deer, and armadillos were found on the trail, which filled us with joy since confirming we acted correctly when we acquired the estates that make up the Private Reserve, which would have otherwise been degraded by illegal logging. The new species of magnolia was named Magnolia sierragordaensis.

On the more negative note, a dry and abnormally warm winter brought with it forest fires that resulted from the old practice of burning the waste from harests rather than reintegrating the organic material into their soils. Two fires that took place one after the other, threatened the reserve of the Arenitas. Thankfully, our ranger Leonel Espino and his team were able to extinguish them before they gained strength and a light rain helped.

Finally, during the first week of March we were honored to host two distinguished visitors in the Sierra Gorda. Pavan Sukhdev, environmental economist and Study Leader of TEEB, and Judith D. Schwartz, author of the book Cows Save the Planet. We took them to the Joya de Hielo Reserve that houses an ancient and well-preserved cloud forest. The hike was a testimony to the diversity of species in Sierra Gorda´s forests. They observed the benefits of livestock removal from such a delicate ecosystem, including the abundant regeneration of magnolias such as Magnolia rzedowskyana and Magnolia pedrazae that are threatened and micro-endemic.

Thank you for your donations and interest in our on-going conservation activities. 

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As described in our last report, several months ago we identified two potential properties to further expand the Cerro Prieto reserve in collaboration with the World Land Trust. These properties extend over Piedra de la Cruz Mountain, which at 2,780 meters is one of the highest peaks of the Eastern Sierra Gorda. We have now acquired these two plots comprising 50.4 hectares and 92.6 hectares, called El Jonotal and Joya Escondida, respectively. Both were suffering from the effects of illegal logging, with ancient Mexican white cedars being felled to make wooden shingles transported out of this remote area by pack animals. Now, the cloud forests that cover these properties and serve as habitat for pumas, jaguars, ocelots, and margays will no longer be subjected to this harmful activity. In both cases, the acquisitions were conducted under the best circumstances, with signed contracts and receipts, digital maps created, and property boundaries accepted by neighbors.

With these transactions finished, we have returned to the work of searching for new properties to acquire and have a list of plots interesting for their conservation status as well as the threats they face. We hope to submit a new proposal in January to the World Land Trust for further expansion of the reserves.

Meanwhile, since our last report, all of our reserves have had the constant presence of our rangers (Leonel Espino, Abel Reséndiz, Emiliano Cárdenas, Javier Aguillón) and their supervisor – Miguel Flores – along with occasional inspections by Roberto Pedraza. In this time period, we served as host for the World Land Trust’s Symposium, which was an excellent experience. It was wonderful to have the opportunity to meet with peers who are fighting the same fight to do common sense conservation by acquiring and managing refuges for wildlife and slowing the wave of extinction that is threatening our planet. To share experiences with these peers, learn from them how they manage reserves, and get closer to the work and team members of the World Land Trust was an incredibly enriching experience and an honor for the Sierra Gorda.

During the Symposium, we visited the Cañón del Fresno reserves with World Land Trust personnel (such as Nina Seale and Dan Bradbury) along with other partners, including Bibiana Sucre of Venezuela, Isabelle Lakhman of Malaysia, Marc Hoogeslag of the IUCN’s Netherlands National Committee, Ruben Kachatryan of Armenia, Marco Cerezo of Guatemala, Ryan Lynch of Ecuador, and Nicola Davies of the United Kingdom.

Nina Seale stayed on for an additional week, allowing us to introduce her to several more reserves - la Hoya del Hielo, Arenitas, Cerro Prieto, and Guayamé – along with other interesting sites in the Sierra Gorda. During the trip to the Guayamé reserve, we managed to find a salamander, after several fruitless attempts, which turned out to be an individual of the species Pseudoerycea leprosa, a new finding for the Sierra Gorda which has threatened status in Mexico. Meanwhile, during the trip to the Hoya del Hielo reserve, we were lucky enough to find signs of a puma, recent enough to still have fresh urine. Later, we did a horseback trip to the isolated western section of the Hoya Verde reserve where we recently acquired a property called La Hoyita. In total, the trip involved eight hours riding through wild and empty landscapes, with the only signs of humans being a ranch that borders the property. It was a pleasure to confirm the excellent conservation status of this large wild area.

We are pleased to announce that during the previous quarter, we found no evidence of illegal activities in the reserves. Additionally, after spreading the word and encouraging the authorities, action was finally taken to stop the illegal logging we reported in the previous report. Actions taken included inspections, interception of vehicles transporting illegal timber, and the application of fines. We held a number of meetings with agencies and authorities to ensure this situation was resolved in a timely and effective manner and stop the damage to such high-priority conservation areas. Other happenings from this quarter included maintenance work to the principal trail in the Las Arenitas reserve done by Leonel Espino and the exciting news that Abel Reséndiz managed to photograph a juvenile puma in the Cañón del Fresno using a game camera. As always, Miguel Flores and Roberto Pedraza provided excellent on-the-ground leadership in the protection of the reserves.

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We have had a busy past three months, putting your donations to use to patrol our network of private nature reserves and ensure adequate habitat for the Sierra Gorda’s threatened species.

Since sending our last report, we received some exciting news!  With the support of our invaluable British ally – the World Land Trust - we were able to acquire two new properties in our ongoing efforts to expand the reserves. One, a 252-hectare property, was purchased to increase the size of the Hoya Verde reserve, and the other, a 56-hectare property, will expand the Cerro Prieto reserve.  In both cases, the transactions occurred under the best circumstances, with signed purchasing contracts, receipts and neighbors that accept the boundaries. 

After concluding these purchases, we had the opportunity to identify other properties for sale adjacent to our reserves and found two of particular interest.  Not only did they stand out for their potential value to conservation, but also because they are currently threatened by logging activity.  Due to the remote locations of the properties, the timber is most likely used for the fabrication of wooden roofing shingles to be transported out using donkey or mules.  The environmental impact of this logging, including the eroded trails caused by donkey or mule traffic, can already be seen in some areas of these properties. The properties are adjacent to the extreme southwest of the Cerro Prieto reserve. They reach altitudes of 2,780 meters and are covered by diverse cloud forests dominated by Mexican white cedars.  We are in the process of finalizing the purchase of both of these biologically valuable properties.

Unfortunately, not all the news has been good news. Illegal logging was discovered by forest ranger supervisor, Miguel Flores, and program director, Roberto Pedraza, in Hoya del Hielo, one of the Biosphere Reserve’s core areas. The Federal Agency for Environmental Protection (PROFEPA) was immediately notified of the transgressions, and we are doing everything possible to ensure that appropriate measures are taken to prevent further destruction of the Sierra Gorda’s invaluable forests.

In more positive news, our team of forest rangers (Leonel Espino, Abel Reséndiz, Emiliano Cárdenas, and Javier Aguillón) has been hard at work protecting the network of private reserves. Leonel Espino has carried out extra duties on his patrols, including maintaining the trails to Las Arenitas (San Francisco) and La Hierbabuena reserve, which were long due for clearing.  On his latest trip he found peccary tracks. Javier Arguillón, who is in charge of the Cerro Prieto reserve, has maintained a constant presence and everything remains in order.  Abel Reséndiz has continued his patrols monitoring the reserves Cañón del Fresno, Hoya Verde, Socabón, and Canalitas y La Tinaja and encountered no problems.

On behalf of the ecosystems, flora, and fauna who have benefitted from these activities, we would like to thank you, our donors, for supporting us. Your generosity is more important now than ever as we continue fighting for the conservation of the Sierra Gorda!


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Organization Information

Grupo Ecologico Sierra Gorda I.A.P

Location: Queretaro - Mexico
Facebook: Facebook Page
Twitter: @SierraGorda
Project Leader:
Martha "Pati" Ruiz Corzo
Jalpan de Serra, Queretaro Mexico
$38,455 raised of $75,000 goal
571 donations
$36,545 to go
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