Protecting El Pitayal

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Steven Herman, Adam Hannuksela

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Vegetation Community

Protecting El Pitayal, conserving coastal thorn-scrub in Sonora.


This presentation is meant to stimulate action by informing others of the nature of our goals and the urgency of the need for persons with the expertise in real estate law and land acquisition to engage our problem.

For the last 12 years, the Alamos Wildlands Alliance, a non-profit conservation group, has been operating a biological field station in the southwest corner of Sonora, a long day’s drive from Tucson. From mid-November through March, we teach and study the flora and fauna of this diverse landscape on the shores of the Agiabampo Estuary.

Starting with the gift of the original site, we have expanded the infrastructure of the Navopatia Field Station and created a comfortable destination where we host students, local schoolchildren, and researchers. Our central aim is the establishment of a preserve of 1200 hectares (4.6 square miles) in a forest of Organ Pipe Cactus that is in many ways the crown in the distribution of Stenocereus thurberi. Only in this area, known as El Pitayal, does it reach densities as high as those found here. More than 250 bird species are known from here, and the diversity of other vertebrates, invertebrates, and plants is also high.

But pursuing our goal of establishing a preserve has proven very difficult. The ejido owns the parcels that would make up the preserve, and the land is under siege from the east by agriculture and the west by aquaculture – shrimp farms. We have worked with ejido members, local government, university personnel, and Mexican NGO’s to lay the groundwork for a preserve, but at this point we are in need of expert guidance and assistance to craft an offer and negotiate a deal.