The Janos Valley Grasslands, located in the state of Chihuahua about 120 miles south of Ciudad Juarez, have been heavily impacted by overgrazing and land conversion to agriculture. This has caused shrubs like mesquite, Mormon tea and tree cholla to invade the surrounding grasslands, altering the habitat of the 222 species of birds that breed and migrate through here.
Increased water usage for agriculture and ranching is also increasing stresses on the valley’s grasslands.
Particularly threatened are black-tailed prairie dogs. The black-tailed prairie dogs are vital to this grassland system as ecosystem engineers that create habitats for other plants and animals through their burrowing activities. They are herbivores and also serve as prey for other animals creating an important link in the food chain. The threatened status of these prairie dogs causes a cascade of effects throughout the grassland ecosystem. In recent years the black-tailed prairie dog population has fallen by 90 percent.
Rancho El Uno
In 2005, The Nature Conservancy and local partner Pronatura Noreste (PNE) purchased a 46,000-acre cattle ranch in the northern part of the Janos Valley. Rancho El Uno is home to a variety of rare animals including the world’s largest complex of black-tailed prairie dog colonies. Since the purchase and protection of the ranch, Pronatura Noreste has reported a 50 percent increase in the reproduction rate of the black-tailed prairie dogs.
PNE managed Rancho El Uno until December 2007, when the Conservancy assumed responsibility for ranch operations. The change is enabling Conservancy staff to apply the organization’s expertise toward improved grassland management and community education and outreach.
Creating the Janos Biosphere Reserve
The Conservancy has been working with local partners to create a protection strategy for the Janos Valley grasslands. Thanks to the work of the Conservancy and local partners, the Mexican federal and Chihuahua state governments recognized the Janos Valley as a conservation priority. And on Dec. 8, 2009, the 1.3 million-acre Janos Biosphere Reserve was decreed. This declaration marks the first time that Mexico is officially protecting—and allocating resources toward—grasslands that benefit people and nature.
The Conservancy is also working with local communities to educate them on more sustainable use of resources and grazing practices, and with local partners to help them acquire grazing rights and coordinate grass-banking efforts.