Bacanora and the bats

By Ashley Fredde/El Inde

While there are many plants nestled in Borderlands Restoration Network’s greenhouses, the blue agave is one of Francesca Claverie’s favorites. Claverie, the Native Plant Program Manager, holds a cup of coffee despite the warm temperatures inside the greenhouse, nicknamed Greenhouse Baby Herbert.

She leans over the agaves hanging in rows in the greenhouse, beaming with a look of pride a mother would have when looking at her child. Gently she points to a seed rising out of a brown stock, dirt underneath her nails. “We planted these a couple weeks ago, you see it’s starting to raise the little seed out,” she said with the seed still gently resting on her fingertip. “So that is so cute. I’m so happy that you’re coming up like that. That’s really good.”

According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Lesser long-nosed bats are nectar feeders and important pollinators for their nectar plants, which include agaves, saguaro and organ pipe cacti. The bats allow for cross-pollination between the plants when it feeds on the nectar and pollen covers the bat’s face and neck. This in turn  leads to genetic diversity in the agave plant, something that agave farmers are lacking because they typically harvest the agave stalks before it reproduces, or flowers, to create Bacanora, a cousin of Tequila. The early harvesting means there’s a lack of pollen for bats, endangering both the agave and bat species.

Until 2015, the bats were listed as an endangered species until a group of scientists found a colony of bats in a cave in Mexico, leading their status to be changed to threatened. Although they were delisted, Claverie still thinks they’re at risk especially now that the Trump administration is slashing all kinds of environmental laws. “Why would you take this off the endangered species list? Agaves are becoming more and more rare. They’re losing their food sources,” she said.

Borderlands Restoration Network works with agave farmers on both sides of the border teaching them how to create genetic diversity by allowing a percent of their agaves to bloom. “So that’s kind of the goal with this whole program is to plant a bunch on this side of the border where we’re not cutting them down like crazy,” said Claverie. “The farmers are now letting some agaves flower for the bats and not just for the bats. I mean, if they cut down all the agaves, then they won’t have any more agaves.”

Lea Ibarra and Valeria Cañedo from the Collectivo Sonora Silvestre, work closely with Borderlands Restoration Network. Being Sonora natives has allowed them to work closely with the farmers. “We recognize that Bacanora is a big part of our culture so we found it important to support it in our conservation efforts,” said Ibarra. 

The producers of Bacanora have been receptive to Ibarra and Cañedo’s efforts, allowing them to help design regulations for sustainability. When producers meet the necessary guidelines, a seal of sustainability is added to their product. 

“Their love for Bacanora really helps them get involved and engage in conservation efforts,” said Cañedo, of the producers. 

While the Borderlands Restoration Network and Colectivo Sonora Silvestre look for various ways to restore the borderlands, including by saving species like the agave and the Lesser long-nosed bat, they are concerned about how the increased militarization of the border will continue to threaten them.

The Lesser long-nosed bat feeds on and pollinates saguaros and the Organ Pipe cacti, and currently, border wall construction in Organ Pipe National Monument is underway, with construction crews utilizing explosives to clear a path for the wall. The wall is part of a 43-mile project on national monument land which has the potential to cut off wildlife corridors, affecting many migratory species. Removing saguaros from the environment will have a detrimental effect on the surrounding species.

“It’s a mother plant, it nourishes many other species and when you remove it the natural balance will be damaged. There will be relations there that won’t exist any longer,” said Ibarra. “The border is something we create, the land doesn’t recognize the border.”

Editor’s note: A version of this story will appear in the summer 2020 special issue of the Patagonia Regional Times.

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