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24 January 2000
After two years of delicate negotiations, an agreement was signed to protect the most important nesting area known for the Thick-billed Parrot, Rhynchopsitta pachyrhyncha. The Thick-billed Parrot is an endangered species endemic to the Sierra Madre Occidental of Mexico and the sky-islands that extend into the southwest US in New Mexico and Arizona.
Work conducted over the last five years in a collaborative project between Wildlife Preservation Trust International (WPTI) and Monterrey Tech (ITESM), with support from a number of institutions, had identified this area as the most important nesting site with over 100 nests possibly representing around 10% of the total breeding population of the species. The site, comprising over 4000 acres of a very diverse and beautiful forest and although not strictly old growth, had remained relatively undisturbed, unlike 98.5% of the Sierra Madre which has been logged. It was targeted for logging in 2002.
The agreement calls for a 15-year moratorium on any cutting of timber in the area, Bisaloachic (or Cebadillas) which represents 10% of the timber potential of the 40,000 acre Ejido Tutuaca, a rural forest cooperative. To offset in part the losses in timber potential a number of organizations notably The Wildlands Project, Pronatura (Noreste) and Naturalia will provide the community with a number of incentives including a "rent payment" representing over time 50% of the net value of timber that will not be harvested. These organizations, together with WPTI and ITESM, will continue monitoring and provide community services including consultants to obtain forest certification in their remaining forest, promotion of ecotourism and participatory rural development. The importance of this strategy lies in making the pristine forest worth much more in the long run to the ejido than timber such that once the 15-year agreement expires they will continue protection based on self-interest and pride.
It is important to consider that the community is composed primarily of very poor foresters/peasants who in the short term have to give up about 6% of their expected annual income to make the deal happen. They do this on the hope that the offer of conservationist for a better future will come true and will shortly offset this short term sacrifice. Over the life of the binding agreement they will make sure that conservation values on the land area maintained and participate with conservationists in all necessary work to achieve this.
The negotiation itself that day was quite intense. The turning point was when the most important community leader, a man in his thirties who opposed our offer, noted: "If you want a deal give us more money and give it quick, I won t be around in fifteen years to see what happened". To this, one of the elderly community members, a woman in her seventies responded: "Look I am quite older that you and will certainly not be around here in fifteen years but my children and grand children will. They will benefit from this and we want it to happen. "The crowd cheered. Another women noted, "give him what he wants, he can take it from our part and lets agree on conservation of Bisaloachic". On the way back to Chihuahua City the forester that supervises the ejido told me that in all his years, over 20, working with Tutuaca and many assembly meetings he had never seen women participate until that day. I never thought you could convince them, he said. In the end everyone but one agreed on the plan, including the young leader.
Now, even before the first material results of the agreement reach Tutuaca, they are already different because they have hope for the future in alliance with conservation. This will be formally announced at a "fiesta" in the summer. When the sun set on 22 January, 2000 the horizon looked brighter for man and parrot in the Sierra Madre.
Ernesto C. Enkerlin-Hoeflich
Centro de Calidad Ambiental Profesor, Depto. de Recursos Naturales
Tecnológico de Monterrey Investigador, Centro de Calidad Ambiental
Telefonos: 011-52(8)328-4032 o 387-5814
25 June 2004: Mexican judge releases two jailed Indian antilogging activists. (AP). They're out after a year in jail only because of international pressure on the corrupt Mexican government.
Ejido Cebadillas, Imperiled Parrots, and an Historic Conservation Partnership,
by Allan McDonnell and Kim Vacariu. Wild Earth (Spring 2000).
Cooperative Conservation Wildlands Project Efforts in the
[JWW comments: Congratulations, Ernesto, and congratulations to everyone else who has worked on this important conservation project. A lifetime birding highlight was watching a flock of this bird's sibling species, the Maroon-fronted Parrot, R. terrisi, at close focus, feeding on pine cones, calling and flying about above Cola de Caballo, Monterrey, NL, México in 1993. I hope to visit the Thick-billed conservation project, and would encourage others to go see these magnificent birds. (What a place for a Christmas bird count!) Logistical details eventually will be posted to WorldTwitch. If only such a project could have been undertaken 50 years ago to preserve the Imperial Woodpecker for a few additional years! Unfortunately, too much parrot conservation money continues to be spent on misguided captive breeding and release programs that primarily benefit politicians, zoos and underemployed biologists.]