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Edited by: John Stewart

The Wildlands Project Comes to Hidalgo County - Part 3

The Sky Island Alliance (cont)

by: Judy Keeler

At first glance the Sky Island Alliance’s most recent brochure is a colorful portrayal of images. A beautiful Mexican Parrot fills the front page. Picturesque Chihuahuan Desert landscapes leap from the inner pages. A portrait of the allusive jaguar dominates its own corner.

Although the Alliance now claims to have originated in 1992, in response to the Forest Service’s development oriented recreational plan, their initial press coverage stated they were established to “design biological reserves”.

Claiming to be a grassroots coalition in favor of restoring native biological diversity, and a publicly supported non-profit, 501(c) 3, organization, the Alliance’s tax return for the year 2000, shows the organization received the majority of its funding from a handful of contributors. Contributions for the year totaled $108,901. However, $105,000 came from five donors. Only a small amount of income came from their “grassroots” supporters.

For the year 1999, their 990 tax return reveals the organization grew exponentially from 1995 to 2000. Receiving contributions of only $3,100 in 1995, their largest leaps in income occurred between 1996 and 1998 when they grew from $25,371, to $60,686, to $103,853.

Today, the original “Greater Gila Sky Island Reserve” has also grown by leaps and bounds, from a 40,000 square mile plan to one of 70,000 square miles. The name has also been changed. It is now called the “Sky Islands Wildlands Network (SWIN)”.

Based on a concept called “rewilding”, the Alliance now hopes “to stabilize prey and smaller predator populations” by “restoring large carnivores”. Working with “its partners the Wildlands Project and Naturalia, of Mexico”, the organization claims to have spent 7 years writing a 220 page Sky Island Wildlands Network Conservation Plan to achieve its goals.

According to the Plan, the greatest threats to the “sky island” area are subdivisions, poor livestock grazing practices, fire suppression and recreation and resource based management by the federal agencies.

Just as the Wildlands Project calls for core areas, corridors and buffer zones to protect biodiversity, the Alliance calls for core areas to be designated for “wilderness, roadless areas, and national parks” where “extractive uses would be prohibited”.

Based on rewilding, the “linkage”, or corridor, areas would allow the “genetic exchange” necessary for wide-ranging “focal species such as Mexican wolves, jaguars, mountain lions, black bears, elk, and northern goshawks”.

Their claim that the 70,000 acre area is “globally important” because it is “rich in diverse species and habitats”, is supported solely on Aldo Leopold’s conviction that “this area is the last of North America’s strongholds for magnificent predators”.

Both the Wildlands Project and Sky Island Alliance participate in inventorying Forest and BLM lands for “roadless” areas. Making these events overnight camping trips, filled with fun and adventure, their trips have drawn avid followers. During the summer of 2000, several representatives from cooperating groups took part in “inventorying” the Coronado Forest in southern Hidalgo County.

Surveying for roadless areas has created one of those “strange bed fellow” relationships between environmental groups and ranchers. Ranchers, desiring to protect their private property and inholdings on federal lands, i.e. windmills, water storage tanks, etc., from trespass and criminal damage, have unwittingly allowed the Alliance to recommend closing certain roads.

Once recommendations are made to, and approved by, the federal agencies they become binding on all parties. Roads are obliterated from maps, and blocked by boulders on the ground. This serves to increase the amount of acreage in “roadless areas” and causes it to be reclassified by the agencies. It also provides a stronger case for environmental groups that lobby Congress to convert wilderness study areas into wilderness, and to enlarge existing wilderness areas.

October 19th the Sky Island Alliance, Wildlands Project, New Mexico Wilderness Alliance, Wilderness Society and Arizona Wilderness Coalition will host a “Sky Island 2002: Restoring Connections” workshop in Tucson, Arizona. Proclaiming the event will showcase “the network of people and organizations working to preserve the biological diversity of the unique Sky Islands borderland ecoregion” attendees will have an opportunity to hear “from Sky Islands Wildlands Network member groups, private citizens, scientists, government agencies, and other land protection organizations about the latest efforts to restore and connect wildlands”.

Keynote speaker will be Dave Foreman. Other presenters, besides the hosts, include: the Arizona State Museum; U.S. Forest Service; Malpai Borderlands Group; Nature Conservancy; National Park Service; Sonoran Institute; Gray Ranch; World Wildlife Fund; Center for Biological Diversity; Southeastern Arizona Bird Observatory; Coalition for Sonoran Desert Protection; Pima County’s Sonoran Desert Protection Plan; University of Arizona; Defenders of Wildlife; Arizona Open Land Trust; National Resource Conservation Service; a conservation biologist, a jaguar researcher, and a Coronado Forest rancher.

Next week: The Wildlands Project

(Editor Note: The above map is no longer displayed on The Wildlands Project web site. Part of the overall map was retrieved from the Internet Archive, Wayback Machine. Unfortunately, the entire map of the North Americian Continent could not be retrieved.)

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