Sky Island Alliance Gives Land Stewardship Award to Mexican School

Residents of  San Lazaro, Sonora, a community on the Santa Cruz River, work on habitat restoration.  (Photo courtesy of Sergio Avila)

For the first time, The Sky Island Alliance awarded its Land Stewardship Award to a school in Sonora, Mexico.

What made this year’s April award ceremony unique, according to Sergio Avila, the Alliance’s program manager, was that the Land Stewardship Award wasn’t given to an individual who owns or manages land. It was instead given to a Mexican University, the Instituto Tecnológico Superior de Cananea.  

Avila said the school, founded in 1991, was chosen because it has shown a strong commitment to protecting the environment. In addition, its students traveled from the Sonoran school to Arizona to work on conservation projects. 

The school signed an agreement with the Alliance in Aug. 2012 to work towards conservation goals and environmental education. More than 100 students and faculty from the school have participated in Alliance projects, Avila said, and many of these projects worked to restore natural habitats.

The school feels an obligation to make the environment more hospitable for future generations, said Guillermo Molina, head of the electromechanical and industrial engineering department at the school.

Jose de Jesus Martinez “Chito” (in white shirt and cowboy hat), from Tecnologico de Cananea, helps young participants plant willow poles at a restoration site in San Lazaro, Sonora. (Photo courtesy of Sergio Avila)

Avila noted that the award is meant to bring attention to those trying to make a difference in the environment and work towards conservation, whether they are in Mexico or Arizona.

“The environment doesn’t have borders,” he said. One of the goals of the Sky Island Alliance is to build relationships between the United States and Mexico through conservation efforts, he added. Half of the area that the Alliance seeks to protect lies in the United States and the other half in Mexico.

Throughout most of the Alliance’s 23 years, its focus has remained on the United States. That dynamic changed as the members came realize that the wildlife and climate on both sides are the same, and the knowledge the group acquired in the United States could be applied to Mexico as well, according to Avila.

Avila is the only Mexican national working for the Alliance and he acknowledges the difficulties working in two countries. Laws are quite different, for example. However, the people are essentially the same, he said. People from both the U.S. and Mexico share a closeness to the environment, he added.

Currently, the Alliance is primarily concerned with land restoration. Much of its work focuses on planting native trees, creating structures to prevent erosion, and monitoring springs. Additionally, the Sky Island Alliance members take inventory of plants and animals in areas that scientists have not previously explored, Avila said. 

For the last four years, the Alliance has run a program that takes scientists from the University of Arizona, Arizona State University and Northern Arizona University into Sonora for scientific expeditions. Over the course of the program’s existence, Alliance members and accompanying scientists have discovered four new species, including a scorpion, a dragonfly and cockroach, Avila said.

“Regardless of their differences, their careers, their diplomas, they come together in the name of the environment,” he said. “It’s creating a very positive story about the environment concerning the two countries.”

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