How to Become an Environmentalist (By Accident)

Caminantes del DesiertoI started with activism in 2017 not by grand design but mostly by just being in the right place at the right time. I was a computer engineer by trade and part of a group of hiker friends who collaborated on cleanups of Cerro del Bachoco in Hermosillo, Sonora, and we decided to join together to form the collective Caminantes del Desierto. We loved being outside, and our original purpose was to educate people on how to hike responsibly and give back a little to nature.

But this turned into a snowball much to our surprise.

We moved our activities to Cerro Johnson, which is a protected natural area within the city of Hermosillo. And we began to prepare the place by removing rubble and garbage, creating trails, reforesting, etc. In May 2018 a very strong fire hit the area and forced us to learn about fire prevention and firefighting techniques, including strategies to eradicate invasive bufflegrass (see our “saguaro” above). And step by step, this is how we became an environmental organization, creating alliances with other local groups such as Hermosillo Plogging, Ser Natura, and Reduce Tu Huella.

One of our first trainings was with Sky Island Alliance at the Aribabi Conservation Ranch — a place that has played host to various environmental gatherings over the years and hopefully will see many more to come. There, we learned how to build retention structures within natural landscapes to prevent erosion and promote rainwater infiltration. We took this knowledge with us and began to quickly see results at Cerro Johnson. More water was being soaked up by plants, and less sediment was running off into surrounding streets.

Over time, as we gained experience and knowledge, Caminantes del Desierto began to focus more on conservation on the outskirts of Hermosillo and to collaborate more with binational organizations focused on the Sonoran Desert region such as Borderlands Restoration Network, Watershed Management Group, and Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. One thing kept leading to another, and it was exciting to see all these various groups from both sides of the border collaborating and making connections.

This regular interaction allowed us to meet key people to carry out projects on a larger scale. And it is this path that’s now brought me to Sky Island Alliance, with the skills to help further their mission and my own to conserve the Sonoran Desert.

A unique path? Perhaps, with a little luck thrown in. But it’s been a fun ride, and I’m looking forward to all that’s ahead.

Sergio Müller is the Sonoran Conservation Coordinator at Sky Island Alliance and works to support the organization’s objectives in Mexico while creating connections among stakeholders and decision-makers.