El Pinacate Biosphere Reserve's towering sand dunes, rugged volcanic mountains, expansive craters, and the surrounding desert floor harbor species that can only survive in a climate of intense sun, rare rains and soaring temperatures. In a place often thought to be devoid of life, more than 540 species of vascular plants, 40 species of mammals, 200 species of birds, 40 species of reptiles and amphibians, and four species of freshwater fish are found. Many of these species are endemic and endangered or threatened.
As in most of Mexico's protected areas, local people depend on El Pinacate's natural resources. Although the reserve is mostly uninhabited, mining for sand and cinder has been a past source of revenue. Cattle ranching is a marginal, unsustainable resource use and where practiced, it leaves denuded, impacted soil and contaminated water sources. Associated fencing has hindered the movement of wildlife, particularly the pronghorn antelope, which unlike deer, cannot leap over fences. Uncontrolled off-road vehicle traffic has eroded dunes and cut permanent tracks into the fragile desert. The most significant long-term threats to the fragile area have been the introduction of invasive weeds along the roads and in the dunes and non-native fish into the scarce water sources.
A Strategy of Success
When PiP began at El Pinacate, the reserve was without staff, field equipment, vehicles, or a visitor center. Dirt roads and tracks cut through the fragile dunes and volcanic features and the only conservation activities taking place were antelope and big horn sheep monitoring. With PiP support, a full staff was hired, basic infrastructure was established, and fundamental conservation programs like environmental education and community outreach were initiated.
PiP worked with the partner organization Instituto de Medio Ambiente y Desarrollo Sustenable del Estado de Sonora (IMADES) to carry out conservation activities that led to site consolidation in 1999. Negotiations were quickly made with the Mexican government, mining companies, and reserve staff to end illegal mining activities in the area until proper regulations were put in place. Today, mining is controlled and in some places eliminated. Private and ejidal (communal) landowners participated in drafting a management plan and helped define appropriate economic activities.
Updated land tenure information has enabled the reserve staff to consider purchasing the few inholdings in the most sensitive region of the reserve--the active dunes. Negotiations were carried out with the ejidal land owners and a proposal has been presented to government officials.
Read more about El Pinacate/Gran Desierto del Altar...
Comisión de Ecología y Desarrollo Sustentable del Estado de Sonora (CEDES)
The Nature Conservancy in the Sonoran Desert
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Mexico Partner Organizations
The Nature Conservancy in Mexico