The Sierra Gorda Biosphere Reserve covers 33% of the state of Querétaro. Located between America’s neo-artic and neo-tropical bioregions, the area is rugged and highly diverse. The rich variety of the landscape makes the Sierra Gorda Biosphere a microcosm of Mexican biodiversity. Cloud and temperate forests, tropical and riparian forests and semi-arid and semi-desert zones are home to 2,308 plant species, 343 birds, 111 mammals, 134 reptiles and amphibians, and 800 butterfly species. Since 1987, Grupo Ecológico Sierra Gorda (GESG) has been leading a regenerative movement to develop solutions that value ecosystem services and biodiversity, while being a driver for transformational change among the local communities.  

The area is the second most populated protected area in Mexico, with severe problems with deforestation, urbanization, soil erosion, wildfires and water scarcity. While environmental protection laws exist, regulations and enforcement is lacking, and protected areas are often cleared by illegal and commercial loggers and local farmers. Domestic and feral dog and cats are decimating the region’s wildlife. Climate change is exacerbating issues with prolonged droughts drying up reservoirs and reducing the capacity of the forests to self-generate water. 

In 2021, Commonland started collaborating with Grupo Ecológico Sierra Gorda through a small grant to synthesise a carbon registry for forest landowners. Additionally, to support business opportunities in the landscape, Commonland supported the creation of an aromatics business to harvest wild oregano, damiana, and pink pine nuts in the semi-arid zones. Throughout the collaboration, Commonland is supporting GESG as a sparring partner on holistic landscape restoration, with communications, and visibility, and to identify funding opportunities. 

Vision 

GESG aims to be a model of social and institutional co-management, with effective local recognition that guarantees the conservation of biodiversity in the Sierra Gorda. GESG will be a self-sufficient organisation that has its own sources of funding to cover the operational costs of its in situ programmes, with sufficient human and material resources to carry out activities aimed at conserving and regenerating the natural heritage, promoting sustainable development, with actions that count on social participation and support. 

Challenges:  

  • Climate change is leading to rising temperatures and prolonged droughts. 
  • Unchecked livestock and pets (dogs) by landowners have a significant Impact on forests and wildlife.  
  • Urbanization Is placing Increased pressure on the natural areas due to lack of Infrastructure, e.g., for waste management.  
  • New business models take time to be proven and reach long-term sustainability.    
  • Achieve full implementation of environmental education within official schools in the region 

Opportunities:  

  • Develop a conservation-based economy by supporting value-adding activities within the landscape, e.g., processing aromatics and pinyon pine nuts to sell at a premium 
  • Strengthen the community-based eco-tourism network 
  • Replicate financial mechanisms, including vehicle fees and carbon taxes, have provided payments for ecosystem services (PES).  
  • Expand network of protected areas and improve conservation activities including fire management and control 
  • Promote the learning and knowledge generated in the Sierra Gorda Biosphere Reserve on regional and national scales 

Impact:

  • At least 18,000 children at 170 schools have attended the environmental education program 
  • There are now 420 teachers trained with the Diploma in Sustainable Development “Teaching tools for climate action”, with 70 schools implemented the “Green Protocol” in the region. 
  • More than 80 eco-sites form a network of rural tourism and provide an example for tourism operating within a Natural Protected Area.  
  • Over 300 people directly benefitting from The Payment for Ecosystem Services program that covers over 14,000 hectares. 
  • Female volunteers operate 113 recycling centres in rural communities which collected 4,000 tons of recycled in the last year. 
  • Local people received direct income of $1.8 million USD resulting from nature-based solutions driven by the GESG. 
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