El Carmen the first wilderness designation in Latin America

10/03/05

Anchorage Alaska (October 1, 2005) – CEMEX, Agrupación Sierra Madre, Conservational International (CI), The Wild Foundation, Birdlife International and Comision Nacional de Areas Naturales Protegidas announced today the first Wilderness Designation in Latin America. The New El Carmen Wilderness Area is located in Northeastern Mexico, adjacent to the Big Bend National Park in Texas. The Sierra del Carmen is a 40 mile long sky island which lies high above its Great Chihuahuan Desert floor and is the heart of a bi–national mega–corridor that is considered an international conservation priority.

Mexico is the fourth richest country in diversity of species and the second richest in ecosystems worldwide. Thanks to this biological wealth, some of the most interesting and diverse cultures on the planet have been able to flourish. After thousands of years of constant use of natural resources, very few places have remained unmarked by the human footprint: only the deep canyons of the sierras like Sierra de Carmen have been left in pristine condition.

In the last 10 years, the Mexican government has taken a significant step forward towards the conservation of this extraordinary diversity: the creation of the CONANP, which accepted the challenge of increasing the coverage of the protected area system in Mexico to international levels and, much more importantly, of ensuring that the system effectively conserves a representative sample of the different ecosystems present in Mexico. However, due to the fact that public owned land is not common in Mexico, the designation of Mexican wilderness areas needs to be a voluntary process where responsible private landowners like CEMEX commit their land to the wilderness concept and compatible conservation and management practices.

Mexico is embracing the designation of wilderness in two ways. First, the existing legal private and social "conservation land certification system" is being used by CONANP to recognize land conservation efforts by legally protecting these lands and offering economic incentives to landowners such as payment for the ecosystem services from watershed-based forest conservation, biodiversity conservation, carbon sequestration and scenic landscape protection. Recently, conservation groups and the private sector approached CONANP to suggest a new level of certification, one that will seek to promote the highest possible level of ecological integrity of the land and avoid negative or excessive human impacts. Wilderness Zones would embrace wilderness within this certification framework and would facilitate the re-wilding process of more land in the future. It also would be an incentive to expand strict conservation into additional areas.

Second, and from the private sector, a coalition of national and international conservation organizations and academic institutions will create a "private wilderness certification system," thereby, providing solid, verifiable, moral and prestige-based backing either to landowners who have already certified their lands through CONANP or to those who prefer to certify their land as wilderness through the private sector process.

The northern end of the Sierra del Carmen, located at the international border between Mexico and the United States, is a spectacular, pristine environment with deep canyons and great walls that connect it to the Rio Grande Wild and Scenic River and the Big Bend National Park. This area is home to more than 500 plant species, 400 bird species (including eagles), 70 mammal species, and 50 types of reptiles and amphibians.

CEMEX, which owns and manages this land, is committed to working with its partners and all stakeholders to transform it into the first private wilderness area for Mexico and Latin America. The El Carmen Wilderness Area is an excellent example of how a private company, NGOs and government can bring about important accomplishments by working together to re-wild and protect this extraordinary biodiverse ecosystem.

Source: Eurekalert & others

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