martes, 9 de enero de 2007

NGO works to protect biodiversity

BY ANDREA ABEL/Special to The Herald Mexico
El Universal

Sábado 06 de enero de 2007.

Since the early 1990s, Mexico has made great strides in protecting its natural resources and improving its environment. The National Commission for Protected Areas (CONANP) now counts over 18 million hectares in national parks, biosphere reserves, wildlife preserves, and other protected areas.

However, population growth and destructive land management practices have led many of this country´s delicate ecosystems to the brink, creating great challenges for environmental conservationists.

One person lobbying to attain state and federal protected status for his project is César Arias, director and chairman of the board of the conservation project El Charco del Ingenio in San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato. Arias accepts the current challenges and works tirelessly to tip the scales in favor of the environment.

This nation is rich in biodiversity and is ranked fourth worldwide in its number of species many of which are endemic meaning they live only in Mexico. The country is recognized as having the highest number of cactus and succulent species worldwide.

According to Arias, San Miguel de Allende and the surrounding areas in Guanajuato are home to a number of different bioregions including small mountain ranges with oak and pine forests, tropical deciduous forests, and semi-desert uplands. These fragile regions provide habitats for deer, bobcats, foxes, lizards, snakes, as well as numerous migratory and resident birds, especially waterfowl.

El Charco del Ingenio, founded in 1989 by the non-profit organization Cante, A.C., includes 67 hectares of botanical gardens with a plant conservatory and nature and recreational parks on the outskirts of San Miguel de Allende. Adjacent to El Charco is Parque Landeta, a 33 hectare park owned by the city but managed by the non-profit. In addition, the group also owns and manages La Cañada de los Pajaritos a 90 hectare forest preserve in Los Picachos.

The non-profit organization focuses on conservation and education. Mexico´s rich number of cacti and succulents are threatened by changes in land use and illegal collecting and trafficking of plants for collectors. With its collection from throughout Mexico, El Charco understands the urgency to conserve the genetic diversity of plants so important to the country´s natural heritage, working with rural communities, scientists and the federal government.

The garden and conservatory have received the National Environment Secretariat´s certification as a legal botanical garden repository for its extensive collection of Mexico´s "at risk" cacti and succulents. They also offer plants grown on-site for sale to the general public to generate funding and raise awareness.

Targeting San Miguel´s elementary school age children, since 2002 El Charco has collaborated with the non-profit FAI/Save the Children to conduct environmental education activities. The program is "done through workshops part in the schools and part at El Charco, where children share experiences with the garden staff and open minds and souls to natural life," said Arias.
El Charco also serves as a multicultural gathering place for workshops, astronomical observations, concerts and traditional ceremonies like the monthly temascal, a ritual, indigenous, curative sweat-lodge ceremony.

Working together with other non-profits Audubon, FAI/Save the Children, CASA, and Save the Laja, El Charco began creation of constructed wetlands in Parque Landeta. The groups spent nearly six years pushing the project with municipal and state authorities. By imitating nature, the wetlands will treat discharge from neighborhoods west of the park and will produce improved habitat for waterfowl and cleaner water used for irrigating Parque Landeta and the botanical gardens.

Arias and the staff and volunteers of El Charco del Ingenio face an uphill battle. The biggest threats to biodiversity in the region surrounding San Miguel and for the state of Guanajuato, according to Arias, are unplanned urban sprawl and harmful agricultural practices.

Housing subdivisions, many with gated communities and large houses, are popping up in open spaces around San Miguel. Explaining further, Arias also attributes environmental degradation in the region to an agricultural system aimed at quick benefits that "destroys and depletes natural resources and ecosystems, by saturation of agrochemicals, unlimited underwater extraction, elimination of vegetated coverings, etc.," adding, "it may be high tech, but it´s not sustainable."

Andrea Abel is a freelance writer living in Austin, Texas.

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