Environment
 Mexico
Project #15982

Protecting Wild Cat Habitat

by Grupo Ecologico Sierra Gorda I.A.P
Vetted

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.

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!

Links:

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Quarterly Forest Ranger Reports from the Field

The private nature reserves established across 5,242 hectares (12953 acres) have had adequate conservation management to assure habitat protection for biodiversity.

The forest rangers we work with have a constant presence in the reserves they steward, to assure there is no livestock, illegal logging and poaching.

The four park rangers we employ (Leonel Espino, Abel Reséndiz, , Javier Aguillón, Emiliano Cárdenas) and their supervisor, Miguel Flores, make weekly site visits and were accompanied to the field by the program leader, Roberto Pedraza Muñoz, at random four times in the last 3 months.  Thanks to the park rangers presence, all of the reserves are free of activities that would otherwise damage the biodiversity. 

Leonel Espino, located in Rancho Nuevo, does a weekly surveillance check throughout the  combined reserves: San Francisco - Arenitas – San José; Abel Reséndiz, located inValle Verde, does surveillance in the Cañón del Fresno and la Joya Verde; Javier Aguillón makes rounds in the reserves Cerro La Luz – Cerro Prieto – El Guayamé; and Emiliano Cárdenas is vigilant of the reserves Hoya del Hielo and Cueva El Tigre. Thanks to their combined experience and the training they receive, they help monitor the passage of wild cats: jaguars, mountain lions, ocelots; in addition to the presence and movements of small mammals (peccarie, armadillo, coatimundi, etc.) and other species like macaws, parrots, chivizcoyos and the orchids that flower in the forests.

Within the bio-corridor where the private reserves are located, we dedicate resources to the surveillance and monitoring of the lands that surround the reserves, because the neighboring property owners are part of the payment for environmental services which means they are dedicated exclusively to wildlife conservation.

The support and accompaniment by the program assistant, Miguel Flores, whose periodical visits are both to verify the reports fromt he field and to take management decisions such as the restoration of waterholes for wildlife or trail maintenance.

In these last three months, Sierra Gorda suffered the harshest part of the dry season, and we participated in the control of two forest fires and the coordination with the agencies of the sector.  The forest fire that occurred in between the Hoya Verde and El Jagueycito reserves consumed almost 2000 hectares of temperate forest.  The strong winds incited a canopy fire which devastated a portion of the forest.  We made reconnaissance of the leading edge of the forest fires and alerted residents as needed and cleaned fire breaks with five additional day workers and finally it was extinguished with the rains of the cold front #62 to cross the country.

 

The second forest fire threatened the eastern reaches of Hoja del Hielo reserve and Abel and Miguel again participated in the firefighting and once again, thanks to a seasonal storm with 15mm of rain came to put the fire out. 

Fortunately no other forest fires were reported.  The on-going environmental education in the local communities and the weekly radio program reinforce the message to prevent forest fires.

Among the responsabilities of the forest rangers on patrol is to assure the functional capacity. Recently, Leonel took care of a small dam that provides water to wildlife in the Arenitas Reserve. Occassionally we hire additional day workers and three were required in this case to remove a considerable section of a huge oak tree that had fallen over the water hole. While working, the crew reported seeing green parrots in two sinkholes located nearby, nesting in the sides of the caves.

Javier Aguillón, the ranger in charge of Cerro Prieto has been monitoring trails with a camera trap and finally had the luck to capture images of diverse small mammals that congregate at the spring nearby.  Some shots are attached below.

The naturalist who is the point person with the World Land Trust UK, Roberto Pedraza Ruiz, participated in the liberation of a female margay. Mr. Juan Fonseca from a ranch community, El Madroño, had reported his chickens being eaten by a wild cat and taking things into his own hands, discreetly captured the culprit with a soft blanket and called Grupo Ecológico Sierra Gorda´s offices to request help in liberating her and he accompanied Roberto to a similar forest away from his livestock.

 

--
Laura P. B. Pérez-Arce
Grupo Ecológico Sierra Gorda IAP

                              
     
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Entrance to the Cerro Prieto reserve
Entrance to the Cerro Prieto reserve

Thanks to the donors to this campaign, Grupo Ecológico Sierra Gorda (GESG) is able to articulate the expansion and protection of a biocorridor of vital habitat within the Sierra Gorda Biosphere Reserve. The ecosystems of the Sierra Gorda are suffering from ever-increasing pressure due to human population growth and demand for resources. Illegal logging for construction and mercury mining, two particularly dangerous threats to the area's biodiversity, continue in spite of the Sierra Gorda’s status as a protected area.

As a result, it has become ever more important for us to maintain and expand the network of private natural reserves that we steward. These reserves have become true sanctuaries, places where we can completely restrict extractive activities. We are able to do this only by maintaining an on-going presence in the reserves and cultivating respect among the local people for the work that we do. Local communities understand that once we have established a parcel of land as a reserve, from that point forward the land will be utilized only for the protection of biodiversity.

In recent years, one of these protected plots measuring almost 3000 acres - the Cerro Prieto reserve, situated on a high mountain ridge and comprised of temperate and cloud forests - had become completely surrounded by illegal logging activity. Thus, expanding it to protect more forests was a high priority for us at GESG. With this goal in mind, we partnered with our long-time ally from the United Kingdom, the World Land Trust, to purchase two adjacent parcels where, several months before, loggers had begun to cut down ancient cedars. We were also fortunate to protect an additional adjacent parcel through the generous support of the Gulf Coast Bird Observatory, an ally from Texas that collaborated in the past on the establishment of two other reserves. This expansion of the Cerro Prieto reserve is certainly a good beginning to 2016, allowing us to repel the advance of chainsaws and other human activities on these valuable forests.

In other happenings, as part of our efforts to increase the economic value assigned to the region's ecosystems and strengthen our Payments for Ecosystem Services programs, we achieved the registration of our NAMA (Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Action) proposal with the federal Secretariat of the Environment and Natural Resources (SEMARNAT). Our NAMA is an innovative strategy for capturing carbon in forests and soils through a strengthening of the Querétaro State Mechanism for Carbon Compensations (developed by the state government under our guidance), which has sufficient resources to protect forests within Querétaro state as well as to replicate soil management best practices in other Mexican states.

In more good news, word of the discovery of two new magnolia species in one of our reserves made headlines in several well-known international publications, including the BBC, Smithsonian, ARKive, Maptia, and the Daily Mail among others.  

Finally, as a way of celebrating the ecosystem diversity of the Sierra Gorda and honoring some of its species, we are excited to share two new videos:

Sierra Gorda, Arca de Vida (on the Sierra Gorda's biological diversity)

Ajolotes, Señores de las Pozas (on threatened salamanders in Mexico)

The biodiverse forests of Cerro Prieto
The biodiverse forests of Cerro Prieto

Links:

A tree frog in the Sierra Gorda
A tree frog in the Sierra Gorda

Although I looked for them every chance I had, amphibians were most noticeable for their absence by the end of the rainy season in the Sierra Gorda. This should not be such a surprise when, at the global level, 41% of amphibian species is at risk of extinction. More are disappearing every day, and the factors leading to their disappearance continue unabated.

As a child, I remember tree frogs and toads showing up in the potted plants and patio of my mother's house, the night-time mating choruses of frogs in the Jalpan River, and colorful Bell's salamanders adorning forest paths. Today, these sights and sounds have become sadly rare.

As a group, amphibians managed to resist other massive extinctions of life on Earth. However, this sixth massive wave of extinction, which humans have brought on with our hubris and delirious greed for natural resources, is turning out to be more rapid, vicious, and deadly than the others, and the future is looking bleak for amphibians.

For the moment, as we continue to grow unsustainably - polluting, monopolizing, and destroying our planet's natural resources - we are all looking for good news. That is why, when a tree frog showed up in the kitchen sink a couple of days ago, for me it was a cause for celebration.

This chance encounter gives me hope for the future of amphibians in the Sierra Gorda. It also means that your support for our conservation efforts, which has allowed us to keep the chainsaws out of our forests, is providing a refuge for this threatened group of animals.

 

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Organization Information

Grupo Ecologico Sierra Gorda I.A.P

Location: Queretaro - Mexico
Website: http:/​/​www.sierragorda.net
Project Leader:
Martha "Pati" Ruiz Corzo
Jalpan de Serra, Queretaro Mexico
$5,392 raised of $6,000 goal
 
106 donations
$608 to go
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