Mexico Country Representative for The Nature Conservancy
by Christiana Ferris
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In December 2009, the 526,091-hectare (1.3 million-acre) Janos Biosphere Reserve was formally decreed and represents the first time the Mexican federal government is officially protecting—and allocating resources toward—grasslands. The new biosphere reserve protects some of the best and last pieces of southern shortgrass prairie in Mexico—home to threatened black-tailed prairie dogs and many other species.
“Janos is a big step forward in the 1937 dream of Miguel Ángel de Quevedo [a pioneer in Mexican conservation] to create a cross-border wildlife refuge,” says Juan Bezaury, the Conservancy’s Associate Director of External Affairs and Country Representative in Mexico.
This landmark protected area is a result of multi-institutional efforts led by Mexico’s National Protected Areas Commission, the Chihuahua state government and Janos municipal government, with support from the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), The Nature Conservancy’s New Mexico Chapter and Conservancy staff in Mexico, among others.
The Nature Conservancy’s 2005 purchase of Rancho El Uno, a keystone property in the Janos Valley, put the national spotlight on the importance of grassland conservation. The Conservancy also conducted extensive community outreach to garner local support for the biosphere reserve, with the El Uno Ecological Reserve serving as a hub for grassland research, restoration and public awareness programs.
As part of an important public-private alliance to improve the health of Mexico's grasslands and restore wild bison to the region, a seed herd of 23 bison donated by the U.S. National Park Service was reintroduced to Mexico on El Uno in November 2009. The National Park Service collaborated with the Mexican government to facilitate the donation and transportation of the animals from Wind Cave National Park in South Dakota to Chihuahua, Mexico.
In addition, among other collaborative conservation projects in the Janos Valley, the Conservancy and UNAM are working to secure grazing rights on more than 4,000 acres of land in the neighboring ejidos—communal landholdings—of San Pedro and Casa de Janos to restore grasslands for key prairie dog colonies. Another important grassland species—the black-footed ferret—has been reintroduced in the Janos Valley in recent years, with an additional population slated for reintroduction here in 2010.