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

During this period the park rangers carried out cleaning and maintenance of several main roads and trails in the private reserves known as Joya Verde, Cañón del Fresno, and Las Arenitas, located within the area that is known for the high risk of forest fires, which are caused by the negligence of the neighboring cattle ranchers. The trails require cleaning and maintenance as preventive measures since the dry season is coming upon us in the Sierra Gorda. The affected area can now be more easily reached by personnel carrying tools, food, and other supplies. The trails can also serve as a gap and, if necessary, can be expanded to contain the fire. This activity has proved to be extremely useful in the previous years and has enabled to control the fires once they start, when it is easier to do so.

The park rangers have also continued to monitor and survey the reserves. The highlight of the period is a presence of a jaguar in Las Arenitas reserve. More specifically, he was heard during three days by one of the park rangers and his assistant that were cleaning a path in the area. The dogs that accompanied them also felt the presence of the feline and did not leave the side of their owners, seeking their protection. Jaguars are well known for their fondness of dog meat, and dogs feel and know it.

Likewise, in a nearby livestock estate, located west of the Joya Verde reserve, a jaguar killed two calves and a mule. The case of the mule was particularly dramatic, since the attack took place in broad daylight and less than 300 meters from its owner, who heard the jaguar attacking his animal. Although he tried to defend it, he was not able to help. The jaguar was already consuming it and human presence did not halt it. The owner prudently retired.

In addition, on various occasions our park rangers were able to observe and protect a group of approximately 80 green macaws that was temporary present in the communities of the area, feeding on the seeds of paradise. It is a pleasure to know that a species as threatened as the green macaw is benefiting.

The park ranger of the Cerro de la Luz reserve worked with a brigade to control the mistletoe plague that infested the trees. This task is necessary given the wide dissemination of the plant, which, if not removed, ends up drying out the trees that it parasitizes.

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Abel Resendiz, World Land Trust Keeper of the Wild
Abel Resendiz, World Land Trust Keeper of the Wild

We are pleased to report that private nature reserves are in excellent condition for several reasons: after a shabby start, the rains became abundant and reduced the lack of moisture in the soils from previous years. This led to runoff and numerous streams woke up, especially in the Cerro Prieto reserve where springs sprouted up at several points. Furthermore, park rangers were continuously present in all the reserves and did not detect any illegality or any activity that would compromise the integrity of the private protected areas.

During the last days of October and the first week of November we hosted a production team from the Blue Ant Media in Canada. They came to film an entire chapter about the Sierra Gorda for a new television production on Mexican nature. Roberto Pedraza Ruiz was collaborating with them as a guide and knowledgeable expert of the area, and was able to accommodate the long list of species and ecosystems to be filmed. The crew traveled from the ancient semi-desert to the temperate forests of the highlands, riparian forests, and cloud forests that make-up our reserves. Moreover, it dedicated a whole day to a spectacular and pristine cave that has been visited only by few people.

The team worked in two of the reserves: Hoya del Hielo and the reserve of Fresno Canyon. In the Hoya del Hielo’s primary cloud forest, the team focused on filming magnolias, ancient trees, and epiphyte plant communities. The group was also impressed to find nine fresh territory markings of a puma. In the reserve of Fresno Canyon, the team looked for the great acorns of the Mexican Royal Oak (Quercus germana), Strangler Figs, and flowering orchids (Laelia speciosa). They were lucky to find all the necessary actors. Both protected areas will shine in the series that are scheduled to premiere in August 2018 in Canada and will be subsequently broadcasted in several countries. This will position the Sierra Gorda internationally.

We were also able to acquire a new camera trap, which we installed near a wild avocado due to the abundance of fruits and the subsequent activity of the fauna. After a few weeks the results left us very happy and we learned that wild boars, squirrels, a skunk, and a wandering margay love to eat wild avocados. We also obtained the first record of a kinkajou in that area, which is a surprise, given the high altitude (2,000 MASL) and the chilly temperatures of the forest. The camera also took photos of arborescent species taking a walk in the understory.

To close the year in the best way, we acquired a 220-hectare property of temperate and cloud forests with the support of the World Land Trust. This acquisition will allow us to expand the Hoya Verde reserve and eliminate livestock grazing that has been taking place in the area. In this way, the wild area will be finally returned to wildlife.

As in the case of Xilitla in August, we had to intervene yet again, this time to defend temperate forests of La Pingüica located at the highest point of the Sierra Gorda against the greedy forest management program and the engineer who designed it. The 3,400 hectares that the program refers to are vital for hydrological recharge since they constitute the headwaters of the Escanela river basin.

This forest management program represents one more case where biodiversity has been ignored and thus it was easy to make a long list of observations and points that need improvement. They were discussed during a meeting that took place on November 15, 2017 at our facilities, with the representatives of the federal environmental sector in the State of Querétaro, SEMARNAT, CONANP, and CONAFOR. The following preliminary agreements were made:

  • 40,000 m3 of abies will not be logged, since they represent a relict species with a reduced distribution.
  • 80,000 m3 of arbutus wood will not be logged, since new species for science might exist in that area.
  • Ancient trees and trees with cavities, vital for nesting, resting, and feeding of more than 30 vertebrate species will not be demolished.
  • Logging will not take place on the steepest slopes.
  • The technician must reduce the volume of pine that will be logged during ten years.
  • Logging of oaks will be reviewed since the forestry engineer intended to burn them to obtain charcoal (the activity also emits CO2).
  • Before authorizing the revised forest management program, the SEMARNAT Delegation of the State of Querétaro will share it for further revision.

Direct intervention of the civil society, which slowed down greedy loggers and their extractive activities and substantially improved environmental standards and biodiversity, represents an important advance for conservation.

Acorns (Quercus germana) from the cloud forest
Acorns (Quercus germana) from the cloud forest
Sweet-gums at sunrise
Sweet-gums at sunrise
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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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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
$42,536 raised of $75,000 goal
624 donations
$32,464 to go
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