El Pinacate and Gran Desierto de Altar Biosphere Reserve
The 714,566 hectare site comprises two distinct parts: the dormant volcanic Pinacate Shield of black and red lava flows and desert pavements to the east, and, in the west, the Gran Altar Desert with its ever changing and varied sand dunes that can reach a height of 200 metres. This landscape of dramatic contrast notably features linear, star and dome dunes as well as several arid granite massifs, some as high as 650 metres. The dunes emerge like islands from the sea of sand and harbour distinct and highly diverse plant and wildlife communities, including endemic freshwater fish species and the endemic Sonoran Pronghorn, which is only to be found in northwestern Sonora and in southwestern Arizona (USA). Ten enormous, deep and almost perfectly circular craters, believed to have been formed by a combination of eruptions and collapses, also contribute to the dramatic beauty of the site whose exceptional combination of features are of great scientific interest. The site is also a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve.
2017 Conservation Outlook
Current state and trend of VALUES
Overall PROTECTION and MANAGEMENT
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Description of values
Extraordinary landscape beauty
Extraordinary volcanic and geological features
Scientific importance of volcanic and geological features
Rare, endangered and endemic species of flora and fauna
Endemics include two arenicolous lizards, the flat-tail horned lizard (Phrynosoma mcallii) and the Yuma fringe-toed lizard (Uma rufopunctata), both considered as Near Threated (IUCN) (Bezy et al. 2017); a local endemic plant restricted to a small part of the volcanic shield and several subspecies of plants endemics of the dunes of the Gran Desierto. Endemics include two freshwater fish species. There is a population of the endemic Sonoyta mud turtle (Kinosternon sonoriense longifemorale) which have recently declined markedly and should be closely monitored. The many other noteworthy species include the endangered subspecies of the Sonoran Pronghorn (Antilocarpa sonorensis), the Mexican subspecies of the bighorn sheep ( Ovis canadensis mexicana) subjected to special protection, the Near Threated lesser long-nosed bat (Leptonycteris curasoae yerbabuenae) and the endemic (listed as Vulnerable) fish-eating bat (Myotis vivesi).
Scientific importance (desert ecology and biology)
The localized impacts of past extraction of volcanic ash (Morusa) and cinder mining of volcanic rock and pyroclastic material will be visible for a long time. Gold mining further east in the state of Sonora deserves to be mentioned. Despite the distance from the property the mining area belongs to the range of the last Sonoran Pronghorns like the property itself. Mining may therefore negatively affect the flagship species of El Pinacate (Burquez y Martinez-Yrizar, 2006; Burquez y Castillo, 1994; Castillo-Sánchez, 1999).
Prior to the establishment of the Reserve, rock and sand extraction was one of the most productive activities (Brusca et al 2001). Currently, it seems that commercial extraction of sand, gravel and cinder in certain locations within the buffer zone is allowed. Plant extraction is currently practiced in the Pinacate Reserve on a small domestic scale and is not regulated. The principal species extracted are mesquite, ironwood, and ocotillo. Mesquite is used in construction and for firewood. As mentioned above, there are a few, scattered local settlements and it is from these settlements that the reserve is exploited of cinder, sand, volcanic rock, firewood, and fauna.
There is a large open-pit gold mine in the region (“Mina La Herradura”) (31°8'56"N 112°51'47"W), some 125 Km from Caborca, outside the Reserve and close the town of Sonoyta and operating since 1997. It is own by Minera Penmont S de RL de CV, a subsidiary of Fresnill PLC. (http://www.fresnilloplc.com/; http://www.desi.economia.gob.mx/empresas/empresas3.asp?Clave=977).
While earlier plans for transmission lines along the coast were abandoned to conserve the visual integrity of the area, a major transmission infrastructure project is proceeding in parallel to Route 2 and the international border. It will connect the two Mexican States on the Baja California Peninsula with the Mexican power grid (IUCN, 2013).
Surface water (in particular the Sonoyta River) and groundwater are scarce and of utmost ecological importance in and around EPGDABR. The increasing pressure from pollution and overuse on both sides of the border in the broader region is likely to have long-term impacts on the entire Sonoran Desert (IUCN, 201).
The Colorado River Delta is located just west of the Altar Desert. The huge Colorado River system has been massively transformed and overused to the point that hardly any of its water reaches the Gulf of California. This clearly constitutes a major ecosystem modification of an area that has intricate geological and ecological linkages to the property and the adjacent Gulf (Chester, 2006; Hume, 2000; IUCN, 2011.
The Sonoyta River is known to suffer from pollution, mostly from industrial agriculture in the United States of America and sewage from the border town of Sonoyta (Mumme, 2002; Sistema de Areas Naturales Protegidas del Estado de Sonora (SANPES), 1994).
Visitors to the center and the Reserve have augmented significantly over the last 20 years, from 3000 in 1997 to about 25,000 in recent years. However, these figures are far from the estimated 120,000 visitors the Reserve has capacity to house.
While harsh conditions set natural limits to tourism numbers, there are a number of concerns. Tourists for example may engage in illegal extraction of plants and animals and there are indirect concerns related to water consumption in the nearby coastal tourism resort (World Heritage nomination dossier of the property).
Mainstream tourism takes place around the visitor centre and is restricted to its surroundings. Possible risks associated with tourists and scientists entering the property include unintended introductions of alien invasive species. Official and unofficial off-road rallies through the dunes of the Altar Desert are a concern. This sort of threat is growing and race organizers are looking more and more seriously on organized off road races, mainly along the western and southern edge of the reserve. They take place in areas that are very difficult to control conventionally. Indirect impacts of tourism are related to water consumption in the arid area and disturbance from increased traffic, in particular on the axis connecting the coast to neighbouring Arizona in the United States of America (IUCN, 2013; Burquez y Martinez-Yrizar, 2006).
One of the most widespread and serious threats to the Reserve, and to the entire Sonoran Desert ecoregion, is buffelgrass, an invasive exotic forage introduced on ranches throughout northern Mexico starting in the 1950s. Buffelgrass pastures are expanding especially quickly across the desert rangelands of Sonora, where since the early 1970s, nearly one million hectares of desert scrub have been cleared, tilled, and sown with buffelgrass to create cattle pastures (Brenner and Kanda 2013).
Buffelgrass has been transforming large parts of the Sonoran Desert (Búrquez and Martínez, 2006).
In addition to plants, at least 5-10 mammals, 2 amphibians, 50-60 fishes, and several reptiles have been introduced in the region (Felger et al. 2013). Known impacts mostly stem from feral livestock, competing with native species, disseminating non-native plants and raising concerns about wildlife diseases spread at waterholes (IUCN, 2013, Avila-Jiménez, 2005; Hayden, 1998).
For instance, Goode’s horned lizard (Phrynosoma goodei) might be severely threatened by combined forces of climatic and landscape change (Lara-Resendiz et al. 2014).
Also, information provided (August 2017, personal communication) by former CONANP Reserve`s staff indicate that there are plans for salt mining in or near the Reserve`s buffer zone. In March 2017, an environmental impact assessment was submitted to the Ministry of Environment (SEMARNAT) by a private company but was not approved by CONANP. However, it seems the project is still being pursued.
in Mexico`s federal government programs, the annual budget for the Reserve was downsized in more than half (to only 400,000 pesos). There is no available information on the 2017 budget. One of the items the Reserve most urgently need are vehicles.
On the other hand, the operation of the Centro de Visitantes seems to be well financed with funds from FANP (Fondo para Areas Protegidas), co-managed by Fondo Mexicano para la Conservacion and CONANP.
On the other hand, the operation of the Centro de Visitantes seems to be well financed with funds from FANP (Fondo para Areas Protegidas), co-managed by Fondo Mexicano para la Conservacion and CONANP.
Staff are well-qualified and frequent cooperation with academic and civil society partners exposes staff to scientific information and management ideas. Future staff development prospects will depend on continuing and ideally increasing funding levels (IUCN, 2013).
Park management is struggling to have a strong voice in other public sectors, namely road construction. The compliance with requirements defined in Environmental Impact Assessments is not always secured despite frequent complaints on the part of park management, indicating a relatively weak position. Working relationships with neighboring Mexican protected areas appear to be functional. The transboundary conservation dimension in the shared ecosystem appears to have been compromised by border security issues (IUCN. 2013; Nomination dossier).
|№||Organization/ individuals||Project duration||Brief description of Active Projects|
|1||United States National Park Service (USNPS)||Cooperation between EPGDABR and adjacent protected areas in the United States of America, in particular provision of equipment for field monitoring.|
|2||International Cooperation||Exchange with Los Cardones National Park, Argentina.|
|3||Various academic and NGO partners||Various research projects, such as monitoring of various species. Scientific research is carried out within the reserve.|
|№||Site need title||Brief description of potential site needs||Support needed for following years|
|1||Sonoran Pronghorn conservation||The conservation efforts for the Sonoran Pronghorn appear to require even better coordination. The role of EPGDABR could be consolidated within such a broader and coordinated approach.|
|2||Increased transboundary cooperation and coordination||Transboundary cooperation has conservation benefits in any shared ecosystem divided by an international border. It can be argued that the need for better cooperation is ever more important given the impacts of recent investments in surveillance and physical barriers on the United States of America side of the border, including within contiguous protected areas. Improvement of sharing of information by US scientist with their counterparts in Mexico would benefit both, as well as reinforce capacities to better manage the reserve and address its challenges.|
|3||Private land within the property||The remaining ejidos, a Mexican form of communal land tenure, within the property are the legacy of a questionable land reform which distributed land to establish agriculture and ranching. The expectations were met with little success when irrigation attempts proved costly and resulted in soil salinization. Governmental purchasing of the land could bring the longstanding and sometimes conflictive discussion to a conclusion. Such action is unlikely to result in major conflicts due to the low value of the land and given the use restrictions in a federal protected area. Such purchasing would reverse what can only be described as a historic error.|
|4||Involvement of indigenous representatives in sensitive areas||Mapping of sacred sites and displaying sites in publicly accessible maps and documents can be highly sensitive. There are current efforts to better understand native toponomy, considering sensitive locations. Touristic and scientific access to archaeological sites should be determined in consultation with indigenous peoples.|
|1||Armendáriz-Villegas, E.J., M.A. Covarrubias-García, E. Troyo-Dieguez, E. Lagunes, A. Arreola-Lizárraga, A. Nieto-Garibay, L.F. Beltrán-Morales & A. Ortega-Rubio. 2015. Mining and protected areas in Mexico: Geographical overlarps and environmental implications. Environmental Science & Policy 48:9-19.|
|2||Avila-Jiménez, D.Z. 2005. Changes in the Pinacate Reserve Ecosystems: Invasion of Non-Native Plants. Centro de Datos para la Conservación (CDC), Instituto del Medio Ambiente y el Desarrollo Sustentable del Estado de Sonora (IMADES), Hermosillo, Sonora, Mexico. USDA Forest Service Proceedings RMRS-P-36.|
|3||Bezy, R.L., P.C. Rosen, T.R. Van Devender & E.F. Ederrson. 2017.Southern distributional limits of the Sonoran Desert herpetofauna along the mainland coast of northwestern Mexico. Mesomerican Herpetology 4: 137-167.|
|4||Brenner, J.C. & L.L. Kanda. 2013. Buffergrass (Pennisetum ciliare) invades land surrounding cultivated pastures in Sonora, Mexico. Invasive Plant Science and Management. DOI: 10.1614/IPSM-D-12-00047.1.|
|5||Brusca, R.C., J. Campoy Fabela, C. Castillo Sanchez, et al. 2001. A case study of two Mexican biospgere reserves. The Upper Gulf of California/Colorado River Delta and Pinacate/Gran Desierto de Altar Biosphere Reserves. 2000 UNESCO Conference on Biodiversity and Society, Columbia University Earthscape (an electronic journal). www.earthscape/org/rr1/cbs01/html.|
|6||Búrquez, A. & C. Castillo. 1994. Reserva de la biosfera El Pinacate y Gran Desierto de Altar: entorno biológico y social. Estudios Sociales 5(9):9-64.|
|7||Búrquez, A. y A. Martínez-Yrízar. 2006. Conservation and Landscape Transformation northwestern Mexico: Status and future of biological reserves. p. 465-475 + bibliografía. En: R.S. Felger and B. Broyles (eds). DRY BORDERS: Great Natural Areas of the Gran Desierto and Upper Gulf of California. University of Utah Press. 750 p.|
|8||Castillo-Sánchez, C. 1999. Highways and Wildlife Conservation in Mexico: The Sonoran Pronghorn Antelope at the El Pinacate y Gran Desierto de Altar Biosphere Reserve along the Mexico – USA Border. Instituto Nacional de Ecología. Reserva de la biosfera de El Pinacate y Gran Desierto de Altar. Hermosillo, Sonora, México.|
|9||Chester, C.C. 2006. Conservation across Borders. Biodiversity in an Interdependent World. Island Press.|
|10||Cohn, J.P. 2007. The Environmental Impacts of a Border Fence. BioScience, 57(1): 96-96. American Institute of Biological Sciences.|
|11||Cordova, A., de la Parra, C. 2007. A Barrier to our Shared Environment. The Border Fence between the United States and Mexico. Secretariat of Environment and Natural Resources. National Institute of Ecology. El Colegio de la Frontera Norte. Southwest Consortium for Environmental Research & Policy.|
|12||Felger, R.S. 2000. Flora of the Gran Desierto and Río Colorado of Northwestern Mexico. Univ. of Arizona Press, Tucson.|
|13||Felger, R.S. and B. Broyles (eds.). 1997. Dry Borders: Binational Sonoran Desert reserves. Journal of the Southwest 39: 303–860.|
|14||Felger, R.S., S. Rutman, J. Malusa and T.R. Van Devender. 2013. Ajo Peak to Tinajas Altas: Flora of southwestern Arizona: An introduction. Phytoneuron 2013-5: 1–40. Published 28 January 2013. ISSN 2153 733X|
|15||Figueroa, F., Sanchez-Cordero, V. 2008. Effectiveness of natural protected areas to prevent land use and land cover change in Mexico. Biodivers Conserv (2008) 17:3223–3240.|
|16||Ganster, P. 1996. Environmental Issues of the California-Baja California Border Region. Border Environment Research Reports (Number 1 – June 1996). San Diego State University.|
|17||Goudie, A., Seely, M. 2011. World Heritage Desert Landscapes: Potential Priorities for the Recognition of Desert Landscapes and Geomorphological Sites on the World Heritage List. Gland, Switzerland. IUCN. 44pp.|
|18||Gutmann, J. T. 2007. Geologic Studies in the Pinacate Volcanic Field. Journal of the Southwest, Vol. 49, No. 2, 189-243.|
|19||Gutmann, J. T. 2011. Estudios Geológicos en el Campo Volcánico de El Pinacate. Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Instituto de Geología, Estación Regional del Noroeste, Publicaciones Ocasionales No. 5, 53 pp., Hermosillo.|
|20||Gutmann, J. T., Turrin, B. D., and Dohrenwend, J. C. 2000. Volcanic rocks from the Pinacate Volcanic Field yield notably young 40Ar/39Ar ages. Eos, Transactions, American Geophysical Union, Vol. 81, No. 4, 33-37.|
|21||Hayden, J.D. 1998. The Sierra Pinacate. Southwest Center Series. University of Arizona Press. Tucson, Arizona.|
|22||Hume, B. 2000. Water in the U.S.-Mexico Border Area. Natural Resources Journal, Vol. 40, No. 2.|
|23||IUCN, 2013. Evaluation of El Pinacate and Gran Desierto de Altar Biosphere Reserve. In: IUCN, 2013. IUCN Evaluations of Nominations of Natural and Mixed Properties to the World Heritage List. WHC-13/37.COM/INF.8B2. Gland, Switzerland.|
|24||Lara-Resendiz, R., T. Jezkova, P.R.. Rosen and F. R. Méndez-de La Cruz. 2014. Thermoregulation during the summer season in the Goode’s horned lizard Phrynosoma goodei (Iguania: Phrynosomatidae) in Sonoran Desert. Amphibia-Reptilia 35:161-172.|
|25||Lieberman Goodwin, S. 2000 Conservation Connections in a Fragmented Desert Environment: The U.S.-Mexico Border. U.S. Department of the Interior. Prepared for delivery at the 2000 meeting of the Latin American Studies Association, Hyatt Regency, Miami, March 16-18, 2000. (Draft March 13, 2000).|
|26||MacDougal, D.T. 1908. Across Papagueria. Bulletin of the American Geographical Society, Vol. 40, No. 12, pp. 705-725. American Geographical Society.|
|27||Morehouse, B., Ferguson, D.B., Owen, G., Browning-Aiken, A., Wong-Gonzalez, P., Pineda, N., Varady, R. 2008 Science and socio-ecological resilience: examples from the Arizona-Sonora Border. Review. Environmental Science & Policy 11 (2008) 272 – 284.|
|28||Moya, H., Peters, E., Zamorano, P. 2011. La importancia de un enfoque regional para la conservación del hábitat natural en la frontera norte de México. In: Sánchez, O., Zamorano, P., Peters, E., Moya, H. (ed). 2011. Temas sobre conservación de vertebrados silvestres en México, pp. 49 – 68.|
|29||Mumme, S.P. 2000. Minute 242 and Beyond: Challenges and Opportunities for Managing Transboundary Groundwater on the Mexico-U.S. Border. Natural Resources Journal, Vol. 40, No. 2.|
|30||Murguia Ruiz, M. 2000. El Agua en la Reserva de la Biosfera el Pinacate y Gran Desierto de Alter, Sonora, México: Comunidades, Vida Silvestre y la Frontera con Estados Unidos. IMADES. Natural Resources Journal, Vol. 40, No. 2.|
|31||Otegui-Acha, M. 2007. Developing and Testing a Methodology and Tools for the Inventorying of Sacred Natural Sites of Indigenous and Traditional Peoples in Mexico. Pronatura Mexico/ The Rigoberta Menchu Tum Foundation in Collaboration with: IUCN- International Union for Conservation of Nature. Research project funded by: The Alcoa Foundation Conservation and Sustainability Fellowship Program.|
|32||Pearson, G., Conner, C.W. 2000. The Quitobaquito Desert Pupfish, An Endangered Species within Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument: Historical Significance and Management Challenges. Natural Resources Journal, Vol. 40, No. 2.|
|33||Salazar, J., Spalding, M. N.d. Adjacent U.S.-Mexican Border Natural Protected Areas: Protection, Management, and Cooperation. In: D. Rick Van Schoik, Elena Lelea, and John Cunningham, Salazar, J., Spalding, M., Brown, C., Czerniak, R., Buscaglia, C. Graizbord, C. de la Fuente, E., Singh, J. The US-Mexican Border Environment. Transboundary Ecosystem Management. Pp. 69-107. SCERP Monograph 15.|
|34||Sistema de Areas Naturales Protegidas del Estado de Sonora (SANPES). 1994. Programa de Manejo. Reserva de la Biosfera El Pinacate y Gran Desierto de Altar, Municipios de Plutarco, Elias Calles, Puerto Penasco y San Luis Rio Colorado, Sonora, Mexico. Hermosillo, Sonora.|
|35||Sivervo et al. 2010. Erosion of lizard diversity by climate change and altered thermal niches. Science 328: 894-899.|
|36||Southwest Center for Environmental Research and Policy (SCERP). N.d. The U.S.-Mexican Border Environment: Needs, Risks, and Costs. Border Environmental Research Reports (BERRs). San Diego, California, SCERP.|
|37||Southwestern Association of Naturalists (SWAN). 2008. Resolution on the US-Mexico Border Fence. Approved by the membership of the Southwestern Association of Naturalists at the Annual Meeting at the University of Memphis, Memphis, TN.|
|38||UNEP. Global Deserts Outlook. 2006. www.unep.org/geo/gdoutlook/|
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