A family affair

Forest in Sierra Gorda, Queretaro Province, Mexico. © Robin Moore
Last week, CI scientist Robin Moore spent two days traveling in the Sierra Gorda Biosphere Reserve, one of Mexico’s most ecologically diverse regions. This is what he found.

Bolitoglossa salamander in Sierra Gorda, Queretaro Province, Mexico. © Robin Moore
Bolitoglossa salamander in the Sierra Gorda. © Robin Moore

I am not sure what it is that makes the Sierra Gorda feel so magical; whether it is the golden sunlight that filters through fern-laden trees to a carpet of soft moss on the forest floor; the knowledge that jaguars slink silently and invisibly through the dappled light, or uncovering cryptic salamanders lurking in the bromeliads that drip from the trees.

 

Whatever it is, I would challenge anyone to enter these forests and not feel moved.

Guided by local conservationists Roberto Pedraza and his wife Marina, I spent two days exploring the Sierra Gorda Biosphere Reserve, and was treated to the sight of an elusive brocket deer, a docile rattlesnake, flowering orchids, salamanders concealed under logs and in bromeliads, and fresh jaguar tracks.

As we hiked higher into the reserve and further from the concrete jungle, magnificent oaks laden with epiphytes hinted at the age of the forest like the wrinkles on an elderly face weathered by many years. By the end of the second day my muscles ached, my fingernails were blackened from turning logs, and my neck was stiff from craning to see the canopy. I have never felt better.

Orchid in Sierra Gorda, Queretaro Province, Mexico. © Robin Moore
Orchid in Sierra Gorda, Queretaro Province, Mexico. © Robin Moore

The amazing thing to me is that the very existence of these forests can be attributed to one family. Since the 1980s, starting with Roberto’s father, the Pedraza family has fought to preserve the forests that they call home. The Sierra Gorda Biosphere Reserve emerged from a presidential decree granted on May 19, 1997, planting a seed of forest protection that continues to grow.

Today, some 40,000 hectares (almost 100,000 acres) are protected, hundreds of landowners are earning their living through payments for ecosystem services, and proposals for devastating road expansion have been thwarted time and time again.

The success of Roberto and his family stems from their savvy approach to conservation, combining strategic land acquisition with payments for ecosystem services, trading of carbon credits and ecotourism to generate a revenue stream from standing forests that exceeds the value of cutting them down. However, while the family has effectively employed economics as a powerful tool for conservation, their motivation for preserving these forests has been far from financial.

Forest in Sierra Gorda, Queretaro Province, Mexico. © Robin Moore
Forest in Sierra Gorda, Queretaro Province, Mexico. © Robin Moore

Roberto and family are driven by a pure, unadulterated love of the mystical forests that cloak these mountains. They have devoted their lives to fight for the survival of something to which they feel intimately connected.

I left Sierra Gorda feeling inspired not just by the place, but also by the people responsible for its existence. I look forward to partnering with Roberto and his family to support their efforts in securing a sustainable future and quality of life for Sierra Gorda and all its inhabitants; human and otherwise.

See more photos after the jump!

Robin Moore is the Amphibian Conservation Officer at Conservation International.

Turtle in Sierra Gorda, Queretaro Province, Mexico. © Robin Moore Salamander in Sierra Gorda, Queretaro Province, Mexico. © Robin Moore
Turtle in Sierra Gorda, Queretaro Province, Mexico. © Robin Moore Bolitoglossa salamander in Sierra Gorda, Queretaro Province, Mexico. © Robin Moore
Bromeliad-laden tree in Sierra Gorda, Queretaro Province, Mexico. © Robin Moore Forest in Sierra Gorda, Queretaro Province, Mexico. © Robin Moore
Bromeliad-laden tree in Sierra Gorda, Queretaro Province, Mexico. © Robin Moore Forest in Sierra Gorda, Queretaro Province, Mexico. © Robin Moore

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