Sky Island Alliance supports local ranchers in Sonora through partnerships with conservation nonprofits in Mexico. These partnerships allow us to invest in ranch lands and protect  important Sky Island habitat in northern Sonora. We work together with our partners to understand the needs and interests of local landowners, study the health of water and wildlife on ranch lands, and enhance both the conservation and economic values of places where iconic species like jaguar roam.

Sonoran ranches where Sky Island Alliance is supporting landowners to enhance their natural resource management strategies. These ranches were selected because of their proximity to the Ajos-Bavispe reserve – the only federal protected area in the Sky Islands of Sonora.

Naturalia and Rancho Los Fresnos

  We are proud to partner with Naturalia A.C., a Mexican nonprofit that has played one of the most important and longest roles in the conservation of Mexico’s biodiversity. They were instrumental in the reintroduction of the Mexican gray wolf and establishment of the Northern Jaguar Reserve. Naturalia manages Rancho Los Fresnos.

For years, Sky Island Alliance and Naturalia have collaborated with volunteers to advance conservation at Rancho Los Fresnos, a protected ranch in the southern foothills of the Huachuca Mountains. Directly south of Coronado National Memorial, Rancho Los Fresnos is designated as an “area voluntarily destined to conservation” (ADVC in Spanish), which is one of the many conservation policy instruments that exist in Mexico. Los Fresno has 10,000 acres of grassland and 155 acres of critical wetland habitat in the upper San Pedro Watershed. It contains one of the largest and most important ciénagas in the region, along with multiple springs and riparian areas that support nearly 400 species of birds that seasonally migrate through this important binational wildlife corridor, 68 amphibian and reptile species, and 87 mammal species including beavers.

In 2020, cattle exclusion fencing was installed to protect 155 acres of critical wetland habitat at Rancho Los Fresnos. More than 3,000 plants—including willow, cottonwood, ash, and walnut trees—were also planted to enhance biodiversity and habitat structure. Erosion control work continues to stabilize soil affected by past ranching practices and increase water infiltration across Los Fresnos. Naturalia also joined the Border Wildlife Study and installed 10 cameras at Los Fresnos,  making this research effort to define the borderland wildlife community a truly binational effort.

Profauna and Ranches of the Bavispe Reserve

Profauna is one of the oldest conservation non-profits in Mexico. Their work extends across most of central and northern Mexico and their efforts have been essential to the protection and restoration of Mexico’s biodiversity. Profauna has been a critical actor in the recovery of species like the Golden Eagle and the American Bison, and they are also playing a key role in promoting environmental education across northern Mexico.

Together with Profauna, we focus on the ranches in northern Sonora that are within and around the Área de Protección de Flora y Fauna Bavispe (Bavispe Reserve). Bavispe is a 200,900 ha (500,000 acre) Natural Protected Area spanning three Sky Island mountain ranges (Sierra Los Ajos, Sierra Buenos Aires, and Sierra La Púrica) and a combination of federal, private, and communal lands. This region in northern Mexico is home to jaguars, black bears, ocelots, beavers, golden eagles, pronghorns, and other spectacular species that depend on habitat on private lands for food, water, shelter, and safe passage between other federally protected lands in the U.S. and Mexico. By finding solutions that enhance rancher livelihoods and habitat quality for wildlife at the same time, we are building a stronger Sky Island community.

In 2019, we spoke with eight ranchers near Bavispe about their conservation interests and needs. We listened to their passion for protecting wildlife and concerns about the environment in the region including access to clean and reliable water, spreading invasive species, and pollution from mining activities nearby. In 2020, we signed 6 conservation access agreements with ranchers and in fall 2020 are beginning conservation projects on two ranches.

The first project is on El Agua de en Medio, a ranch owned and managed by Eduardo Ríos Colores. Together with Profauna, we will design and implement a Wildlife Management Capacity Building Project to help the ranch achieve the federal designation of Unit of Environmental Management (UMA) to better regulate hunting activities and improve the habitat for key species in their property. The second project is on Rancho Las Borregas to identify sites where restoration through soil erosion control structures is required and we will implement a secondary wildlife monitoring project to evaluate the potential benefits of soil restoration on wildlife.

This work is supported by generous funding from the Papoose Wildlife Conservation Foundation, Biophilia Foundation, New York Community Trust, and many individual donors.