Wildlife Rescue Group seeking a new rehabilitator


Josie, rehabilitator of Second Chance Wildlife Rescue (SCWR) in El Paso TX, has been doing rehabilitation for many fulfilling years and has elected to retire. SCWR is looking for a new rehabilitator to start by March 2019.

Anyone who loves and has experience working with animals, people, and loves wildlife and the outdoors would be perfect for this role. Applicants must also be okay with 12-hour days during the busy season. If anyone is interested, we ask that they please contact us at info@secondchancewildliferescue.org.  You can also view our posting in our IWRC here.

SCWR was donated a 7-acre ranch in Vinton, TX and immediately began renovations including 7 aviaries, a small mammal enclosure, large mammal enclosure for Habib and Bella, the deer they were brought as an infant and his companion, and essential home renovations including building an ICU and redoing all floors, windows and some plumbing work.

At this moment, SCWR determined the organization must change in order to grow. They obtained a new board and a new rehabilitator so Josie could retire. Unfortunately, the rehabilitator was injured early in the 2018 season and unable to come back to the job. We had to make a difficult decision and move the operations back to Josie’s home, which of course was difficult for the supporters and board. Now that they are starting the new year and approaching baby bird season, they hope to get someone in time so they can be properly trained to take over the rehabilitator role. This job requires long days during the busy season but is much more flexible in the off season (October to March) and is so rewarding, especially if you love wildlife! Intakes average over 800 a year between mammals and birds. SCWR is offering compensation, something unheard of in a role such as this in El Paso, and a place to live rent and utilities free on the beautiful property with wetlands and wildlife of its own.

There are big plans for the year, including but not limited to educating the public, purchasing more ICU machinery and increasing the region’s knowledge of the organization so they can grow the volunteer and donor base and eventually build the only raptor aviary for rehabilitation in El Paso.


Now is an exciting time to join the team as they build momentum and grow as the only rehabilitation center in El Paso with its own designated property and protected wetland.


Helping educate the Batwa in Rwanda


The school to untie Batwa indigenous people from the extreme poverty.

Few educated people from Batwa people reveal importance of education to untie from the vicious circle of poverty. In his testimony, Richard Ntakirutimana, as only first and only Mutwa that holds Master’s degree in Rwanda among 40 Batwa graduated students, emphasizes the impact of educating Batwa: “Look at me; I am now a self reliant man because I am educated.’’ When a person is educated, he/she can able to fight for his rights and advocate for his community as I do, he/she can compete at the job market and get a high waged employment and earn a living; the educated people are developed ones. Let’s strengthen the education of indigenous Batwa children by supporting a project that aims to buy the land for nursery school that can turn into primary and secondary school, so that they develop themselves”.

The population number of Batwa estimates 25,000 to 30,000 people out of 12 million of Rwandan population, the Twa face unique challenges and uncertainties related to socioeconomic deprivation, high unemployment and underemployment, social discrimination, and acute political marginalization. The Batwa are believed to be the original inhabitants of the Great Lakes of Central Africa. The equatorial forests were their homelands, providing them with sustenance, medicine and sacred sites. Over the course of several decades, the Batwa were gradually evicted from their traditional lands owing to a combination of deforestation initiatives, and conservation in the name of developmentwithout consultation, compensation or adequate remuneration. These communities were integrated into Rwandan society at the lowest level, forced to adapt a sedentary way of life with inadequate state support and few, if any, resources.

Over 99 per cent of indigenous Batwa adults never went to school and still now, many of their children do not go to school because of extremely poverty and ignorance in their families.In 2006, only 28% of indigenous children attended primary school, compared to 88% of other Rwandans.The recent number indicates that there are only about 42 Batwa pursuing university degrees, 80 in secondary school and 140 attending primary school.

Even though in Rwanda we have “education for all programs”, the indigenous people are still facing barriers to receiving education. Many of their children cannot afford uniforms or school supplies. Additionally, within the classroom, they face discrimination and stigma from their classmates. Most children from indigenous families live in poor health and this result in inability to compete with others academically. Because the most children from indigenous families do not benefit from universal education in the same way as most Rwanda, they do not have the educational background necessary for many jobs that would increase their standard of living and social capital, thus their extreme poverty and they continue to be viewed as primitive and unclean, as separate from the rest of the Rwandans.

AIMPO (African Initiative for Mankind Progress Organisation) needs to raise $10,000 to buy land for a school for Batwa children in Rwanda and I am writing on their behalf. The Japanese embassy in Kigali is willing to finance and build a school if land can be obtained. AIMPO is dedicated to the improvement of the lives of the indigenous Batwa people – an ethnic group living in the Great Lakes region.

Join others around the world in supporting this gofundme campaign.


Cover photo by Dr. Alan Goodall

Helping families in need this Christmas

Photo by Rick LoBello Tree of Hopes December 22 2018 Helping families in need this Christmas

On December 22, 2018 Tree of Hopes is planning a special Christmas food and toy distribution project in far northwest Juárez near the Santa Teresa Bridge border crossing.  With the support of Rotary Clubs in El Paso, Tree of Hopes plans to help needy families living in one of the poorest areas of the city along the Texas-New Mexico border with Mexico.  Last Christmas the group’s founder and Past President of the Rotary Club of El Paso, Rick LoBello, saw firsthand the great need so many people in this area experience when he helped the Comedor Aposento on Christmas Eve.  Volunteers distributed blankets and food baskets and toys donated by Service Systems and Associates Safari Outfitters gift shop at the El Paso Zoo. This year Tree of Hopes is inviting friends, Rotarians and others who are interested to be a part of an expanded effort on December 22.  The organization needs help in raising funds to purchase food items and other items like toys and blankets.  Donations of toys, food items, clothes and blankets are also being accepted between now and December 20.

To learn more visit treeofhopes.com or send a text message or email to Rick LoBello at 915-474-1456 (Send a text to arrange for a call) or ricklobello@gmail.com.

The mission of Tree of Hopes is to support humanitarian efforts to help needy families living along the US Mexico border in the Juarez, Chihuahua – El Paso, Texas region.


Unrest in the DRC threatens the Virungas

NetFlix-Poster1The Academy Award nominated documentary Virunga is a must see for anyone who cares about Africa and conservation in 2018 – watch it on Netflix.


by Rick LoBello, One Earth One Time

Ever since I completed my guide book to Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda I have tried to keep up with all the news from Virunga National Park just across the border in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.   Earlier this year there was some great news coming out of East Africa on the numbers of critically endangered mountain gorillas and how they were up, following conservation efforts in the transboundary Virunga Massif, one of the two remaining areas where the great ape is still found.

Survey results revealed that numbers have increased to 604 from an estimated 480 in 2010. This brings the global wild population of mountain gorillas to an estimated 1,004 when combined with published figures from Bwindi Impenetrable National Park (where the rest of the sub-species is found) and makes it the only great ape in the world that is considered to be increasing in population.

All the good news from the survey is promising, but what is happening in the DRC threatens the mountain gorilla like no other threat to the species across its range.  No matter how well the Rwandan government protects Volcanoes National Park, what happens in this part of the world where over 5.4 million people were killed during the Congo War of 1998 to 2003, is critical to the Virunga ecosystem. No park is an island and there is little doubt that the gorillas and other creatures in the Virungas are threatened by human activities on any side of the border as I discuss in my book, Guide to Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park, Home to Critically Endangered Mountain Gorillas.

When I revised my book this past summer,Virunga National Park had closed due to increased violence in the area as a result of increased attacks on park rangers and the abduction of two British tourists. Tourism was scheduled to resume on June 4, 2018, but the news of the park reopening was short lived when a few weeks after the announcement the park announced that it would close to tourism until sometime in 2019.   Today the situation in the park is getting worse by the day.

In 2014 a new threat to Virunga National Park emerged from the British Petroleum Company Soco International. Soco was planning to explore for oil inside the park even though the park is protected by the DRC. According to the World Wildlife Fund oil development in the park would threaten local communities that depend on the park’s natural resources. At Lake Edward for example more that 27,000 people fish for a living and over 50,000 people depend on the lake for their drinking water. Worldwide opposition with the support of the European Union and the Netflix film Virunga has helped, but in April, 2018 the DRC government was seeking to explore for oil in the park.  Months later the government decided to move forward with plans to drill in the park.

I hope to return to Rwanda in the near future to see what else I can do personally to help encourage more people to get involved in helping to alleviate this threat to the mountain gorillas and the future of the ecosystem as a whole.   In the meantime I encourage you to help in any way you can by supporting the Virunga Alliance in any way you can.   If you would like to help me with my efforts I can be contacted by email at ricklobello@gmail.com.  I also have a Friends of Great Apes Facebook group you can join.


Protect our mountains

Take Action to Protect Our Mountains!   Contact all El Paso City Elected Officials.
Ask them to NOT sell YOUR land on our mountains for development.

A public hearing on this topic will be held on Tue 29 May. PLEASE PLAN TO ATTEND. Details to follow.

More Mountain Land to be Lost to Development

Scott Cutler, President of the Franklin Mountains Wilderness Coalition sent out a news alert this week that reads as follows:

On Tuesday, May 15th, City Council will be meeting to discuss the future of the Northwest Master Plan. It appears the Council plans to discuss setting up a Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone to help finance the sale of this publicly owned land for development.

The upshot is that the City will be taking your publically owned land, purchased in the 1950’s to protect our water resources and allow it to be built on. While this may generate tax revenue in the short run, it will not create a sustainable tax income without further development in the future to make up for tax shortfalls from the old development.

The Franklin Mountains Wilderness Coalition is working hard to not allow this to happen. There are other ways the land can, as open space, benefit the City without creating a tax burden for future generations.

Below are links to the pertinent agenda items on the May 15th regular city council meeting. There are also links to descriptions describing what a Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone is and how it has been used in other communities.

While it appears the public will not be allowed to speak at this meeting, we are encouraging anyone who can to show up and hear the discussion for yourself. We are also encouraging you to contact ALL City Representatives (not just your district) to let them know how you feel about this process.

Please help us protect what remains of our Franklin Mountains and its watershed.

Scott Cutler
Franklin Mountains Wilderness Coalition

New Microsoft Word Document

Agenda for Regular Council Meeting – May 15, 2018  HERE.

Agenda item 16.1 details  HERE.

Agenda item 16.2 details HERE.

Explanation about what a Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone
Bryan Texas: https://www.bryantx.gov/tirz/

General description by law firm: http://www.cstx.gov/Modules/ShowDocument.aspx?documentid=15746

Houston Texas: https://bigreddog.com/what-is-a-tirz/

Tax Code: Title 3, Subtitle B, Chapter 311: Tax Increment Financing Act
sec. 311.014 discusses payments from the Tax Increment Fund

Conservation in the Big Bend Border Region

by James Cash

  • The Big Bend region of the Chihuahuan Desert is home to more than 3 million acres of protected lands that span the U.S. / Mexico border.
  • Conservationists on both sides of the border work together to conserve and protect the region’s wildlife and wildlands through wildlife reintroductions, invasive species control, fire management, and more.
  • Grassroots efforts are underway to secure an international designation for the region, such as an international park or a Transboundary Biosphere Reserve.
  • For the most part, national politics on either side of the border don’t affect the collaborations that take place in this remote region. However, there is concern that President Donald Trump’s proposed border wall would have negative impacts on wildlife and wildlife conservation efforts.
  • Above – A desert bighorn sheep photographed just north of Big Bend National Park. Photo courtesy of Ben Masters.

The Rio Grande, or the Río Bravo as it’s known in Mexico, serves as the boundary marker for the border between Mexico and Texas, which makes up over half of the roughly 2000 mile (3200 km) long U.S. / Mexico border. As the river flows towards the Gulf of Mexico it makes a dramatic change in direction as it traverses the Chihuahuan Desert, hence the region’s name: Big Bend.

The Big Bend region is one of the most beautiful and harsh landscapes in North America, with desert grass and shrublands punctuated by “sky island” mountain forest habitats. The region hosts a diverse array of plants and animals, including iconic species such as American black bears (Ursus americanus), desert bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis mexicana), American pronghorn (Antilocapra americana), and mountain lions (Puma concolor). Ben Masters, a well-known wildlife film maker and photographer, has described the Chihuahuan Desert as home to “landscapes and an array of life that rivals Yellowstone, Yosemite, and the Serengeti.”

Big Bend is home to a large network of protected areas on either side of the international border, totaling over 3 million acres (1.2 million hectares). On the U.S. side there is the Big Bend National Park (BBNP), Texas’s Black Gap Wildlife Management Area (WMA), and Big Bend Ranch State Park. These properties are mirrored by three “Flora and Fauna Protection Areas” on the Mexican side of the border: the Cañon de Santa Elena, Ocampo, and Maderas del Carmen. Additionally, both countries have designated long stretches of the river itself as a protected area; the United States’ Rio Grande Wild and Scenic River and Mexico’s Rio Bravo del Norte National Monument, which overlap each other.

mapMap of the primary parks and protected areas along the border in the Big Bend region. The boundaries of the Rio Grande Wild & Scenic River and Rio Bravo del Norte National Monument are not marked.

Dr. Louis Harveson, Director of the Borderlands Research Institute (BRI) at Sul Ross University, explained that “American and Mexican citizens know the Rio Grande is a political border, but wildlife do not.  To them, the Rio Grande is merely a water source within their home range, surrounded by riparian habitat.  Wildlife use this binational transboundary area like you and I use the roadway between our grocery store and post office.”

International Collaborations 

The conservationists of the region have long recognized the importance of collaborating with one another and have worked together on a myriad of issues, including invasive species management, wildland fire management, and wildlife population restoration projects.

Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) biologist Russell Martin said that “Collaboration between the two countries is key to the ecological health of the region. Many of the conservation challenges that we face, such as invasive species, can only be addressed through collaborative efforts on both sides of the river.”

Martin identified several cross-border collaborations that TPWD is involved with, including “the periodic co-hosting of a binational wildlife workshop for wildlife managers from both sides of the border, participating as a core team member in a landscape conservation design planning process facilitated by the Desert LCC, initiating and funding a Transboundary Conservation Program through Sul Ross State University, and several smaller collaborative habitat and wildlife management projects with neighboring landowners on both sides of the river.”

bullsnakeA gopher snake (Pituophis catenifer) in TPWD’s Black Gap WMA. Photo credit: James Cash

Another example of an effective collaboration on the border is the Los Diablos firefighters. This firefighting crew is composed of Mexican citizens living in small rural villages and ranches across the river from the BBNP. They receive training and equipment from the National Park Service (NPS) in the U.S. and work collaboratively with the NPS on prescribed burns and wildfires in the national park and elsewhere.

One of the Los Diablos firefighters’ current projects involves teaming up with the World Wildlife Fund, ProFauna, NPS, Rio Grande Scientific Support Services, and Mexico’s Comisión Nacional de Áreas Naturales Protegidas (CONANP) to use prescribed fire to restore riverside habitat that is invaded by non-native giant cane (Arundo donax). The Los Diablos program saves the NPS the expense of transporting U.S. fire crews to this remote region, provides a crew who can respond in a timely manner during emergency situations, and serves as a source of income and opportunity for the Mexican firefighters.

Jennette Jurado, a Park Ranger at Big Bend NP, said that “partnerships (like above) allow for restoration to happen on both sides of the Rio Grande. The river is one system, but managed by two countries. Work on one bank of the river only gets the job half done!”

rioThe Rio Grande flowing between Big Bend National Park and the Maderas del Carmen Flora and Fauna Protection Area. This section of the river is also protected as the Rio Grande Wild and Scenic River (US) and the Rio Bravo del Norte National Monument (Mexico). Photo credit: James Cash.

The conservation stakeholders in the region have entered into several multilateral agreements and partnerships over the years to help facilitate further collaborations. One of these is the Desert Landscape Conservation Cooperative (LCC) mentioned by Russel Martin. Another is the Big Bend Conservation Cooperative (BBCC), a group of over 30 government, NGO, and private stakeholders (lead by the NPS, US Fish and Wildlife Service, TPWD, and US Geological Survey). Members of the BBCC work with partners in Mexico, such as CONANP, through the Big Bend- Río Bravo Initiative.

CEMEX, a Mexican cement company with operations all over the world, is an important conservation stakeholder in the region. CEMEX owns and protects the roughly 346,000 acre (140,300 ha) El Carmen property. El Carmen is located primarily within the Maderas del Carmen and Ocampo Flora and Fauna Protection Areas, with about 18,000 acres (7,300 ha) on the US side of the border, sandwiched between BBNP and Black Gap WMA. They actively participate in wildlife habitat and population restoration efforts, often partnering with TPWD, BRI, CONANP, and other conservation agencies and organizations on both sides of the border. Recent examples include reintroductions of mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus) and the endangered Rio Grande silvery minnow (Hybognathus amarus).

prongAn American pronghorn behind a fence north of Big Bend National Park. Fences pose serious problems for pronghorn because they can’t jump them, which is why CEMEX removed 350 km of interior fencing on their El Carmen property. Photo credit: James Cash

Collaborations between the two countries doesn’t just benefit the wildlife of the region. The border crossing between Big Bend NP and the small town of Boquillas, Mexico was closed for much of the early 2000s, severely hampering the tourist-based economy of Boquillas. The Port of Entry was officially re-opened in 2013, much to the relief of the town’s residents. The NPS estimates that 14,000 visitors crossed the river on the small row-boat ferry in FY 2017.

An International Protected Area 

For years there have been proposals and discussions about taking these collaborations to the next level by creating an international designation that encompasses all of the protected areas in the region. The Greater Big Bend Coalition (GBBC) is a grass-roots organization heavily involved in advocating for such a designation, which could take the form of an international park, international Biosphere Reserve, or a binational natural area.

The GBBC lists many benefits of an international designation, including stronger cross-border partnerships and increased public awareness of the importance of conservation in the region.

The international park proposal dates back to 1934 and has since gained support from  government officials including past presidents of the US and Mexico, congressional representatives, NPS superintendents, and more. The international park concept has a precedent in the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park on the U.S./ Canada border, which is made up of the United States’ Glacier National Park and Canada’s Waterton Lakes National Park.

The GBBC states that an international park in Big Bend could be managed following the Waterton-Glacier model, whereby each of the protected areas that make up the international park are “managed and protected under their respective national legislative frameworks. Guiding principles would be established relating to natural and cultural resource management, visitor use and interpretation, science and research and relations with peoples living in the area, reflecting strong cooperation among the property managers. Management plans and their associated goals and objectives should be periodically reviewed and updated with all stakeholders.”

mountainlionMountain lions are an important top predator in the Big Bend region. This individual is at a wildlife rehabilitation center in San Antonio, Texas. Photo courtesy of Ben Masters.

However, establishing an international park is no simple task partly due to the structure of the protected areas in Mexico. These protected areas are not like national parks in the US; significant portions of them are occupied by communal properties known as ejidos, plus private landholdings such as the CEMEX property.

Billy Pat McKinney Jr., a longtime resident of the Big Bend region with experience working on conservation projects on both sides of the border, explained that the ejido communities have difficulty supporting themselves in the “hard desert country.” The ejidos “rely on candelilla wax, meat goats, and whatever opportunity throws their way” and must “depend heavily on government supplements to survive.”

An international park could benefit the ejidos by encouraging tourism to the region and thus supporting small businesses such as craft and food sales, lodging, and guide services. However, McKinney is skeptical of how many of these benefits would materialize because most of the ejidos “do not live in or have access to areas conducive to tourism.” There “might be some opportunity in a national park type situation,” he says, “however the real national park type country belongs to private land owners and that will require access permission.” McKinney also claims that in Mexico there is “little interest” in—and in some cases opposition to—an international park. Even so, he added that it might one day be successful and that the benefits for the local people would depend on their ability to cash-in on tourism revenue.

cactusA prickly pear cactus in Big Bend NP, one of 16 Opuntia species in the region. Photo credit: James Cash

When asked about the international park concept, Park Ranger Jennette Jurado replied, “Private individuals are raising awareness of the proposal for an International Peace Park. At this time, Big Bend National Park and the bordering lands in Mexico are already protecting these places, and coordinating and cooperating in projects of mutual interest or concern—in essence, these protected areas already function like an international park, just without the title.”

Rick LoBello, Chair of the GBBC, said that, “Any proposal to promote international cooperation in support of conservation and ecotourism would involve both governments collaborating with each other.  If Mexico were to develop ecotourism the people in the ejidos would likely benefit the most with ecotourism jobs and more international attention regarding their wellbeing.  For example, if more people knew how they lived now in very low income communities more people would be able to help them with health care and education opportunities.”

Even if an international park did not significantly change how the land was managed, the name alone could be an ecotourism draw. As it is, not many people are aware of the protected lands in Mexico; sometimes they aren’t even shown on maps. Combining an international park designation with voluntary and well-publicized access agreements with land owners and local communities could increase the amount of tourists and tourism revenue flowing into the region. This in turn could allow the local communities to live more sustainably and self-reliantly, which ultimately benefits the entire ecosystem. It will be important to prioritize the needs and concerns of the local communities and land owners if the international park proposal moves ahead.

Dr. Harveson, the BRI Director, believes that the international park could be a win-win for everyone involved provided it is implemented with proper structure and funding, including financial assistance for local communities (i.e. ejidos), instead of simply serving as a photo-op for politicians.

The Greater Big Bend Coalition is also working on creating a Transboundary Biosphere Reserve by combining the Maderas del Carmen Biosphere Reserve in Mexico and the Big Bend Biosphere Reserve in the US.

UNESCO Biosphere Reserves are “special places for testing interdisciplinary approaches to understanding and managing changes and interactions between social and ecological systems, including conflict prevention and management of biodiversity” according to the UNESCO website. UNESCO’s International Coordinating Council recommended creating the Transboundary Biosphere Reserve in their 2016 Periodic Review of the Big Bend Biosphere Reserve.

flycatcherA Vermilion Flycatcher (Pyrocephalus rubinus) photographed near Big Bend Ranch State Park. An international park could increase the amount of birding tourism on the Mexican side of the border, providing economic benefits for Mexican communities and land owners. Photo courtesy of Ben Masters.

Effects of National Politics 

Interviewees were asked whether they have seen or expect to see any changes to collaborations in the region under the new presidential administration.

Russel Martin replied that, “At this time, we [TPWD] have not experienced or been notified about any changes to collaborative projects in the region due to the change in Presidential administrations.”

“Since the new administration took office in January, Big Bend National Park has continued to partner with CONANP, WWF, and ProFauna for restoration efforts,” says Jennette Jurado, adding, “Beyond that, the National Park Service cannot engage in speculation or comment on pending legislation.”

Billy Pat McKinney replied, “I expect some changes but nothing major, the complications of operating in two countries normally boils down to local politics and local people.”

Rick LoBello brought up the proposed border wall, saying that it would “be a major setback for conservation of North American wildlands and our friendship with Mexico.”

During his campaign President Trump was very vocal about his support for an extensive border wall along the U.S./ Mexico border and he issued an Executive Order calling for its construction soon after being inaugurated. However, the fate of the wall is still unknown and there are many questions regarding how the wall would be funded and where it would go. In February 2017 it was reported that an internal Department of Homeland Security (DHS) memo slated Big Bend for “phase two” construction, but the report did not specify a timeline for phase two and it is not clear whether the White House intends to follow the plans laid out in the memo if funding is secured.

The recently passed 2018 federal spending bill allocated $1.6 billion to wall funding, much less than Trump’s requested $18 billion. The funding will be spent on fence repair and construction near San Diego, CA and the Rio Grande Valley in south Texas. A National Wildlife Refuge in the Rio Grande Valley previously slated to be crossed by the wall was protected in the bill, however other wildlife refuges in south Texas are at risk.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott and Congressman Will Hurd (whose district includes Big Bend), have made statements in opposition to a wall in Big Bend NP, further throwing the fate of the wall into question.

The wall would have many negative environmental impacts if it is constructed. Species such as black bear and bighorn sheep have been documented crossing the border, which is important for maintaining genetic diversity (and thus population health) among populations on both sides of the river (Onorator et al. 2004, McKinney and Villalobos 2005). A wall would isolate these populations, eventually leading to loss of genetic diversity and increased risk of local extinction. The river itself is an important water source that would be cut off from wildlife on the U.S. side. Several organizations have published articles and videos detailing these impacts, including the National Audubon Society, National Geographic, Vox, and Mongabay. Border security alternatives to a wall, such as electronic surveillance, have many fewer environmental impacts than a physical wall.

Trump told reporters in July 2017 that “you don’t need 2,000 miles of wall because you have a lot of natural barriers” and recent reports are that the administration is advocating for physical barriers on about 1000 miles of the border (about 650 miles of fencing have already been installed by previous administrations). However, Big Bend has not specifically been mentioned and the possibility of a wall in at least some parts of the region still looms. If a wall bypasses the most extreme natural barriers, such as steep canyons, but blocks the river access points, then the negative effects on wildlife could be the same as a continuous barrier.

Mckinney communicated that he does not believe that the wall is as significant a threat as some claim, but he did say that it would affect regional conservation, “as did the thousands of miles of paved roads, farms, cities, dams, electric systems, wind farms, etc.”

The types of human land uses McKinney referenced have fragmented wildlife habitat across the globe. The Big Bend region is relatively devoid of such barriers—all the more reason to be concerned about the possibility of a wall being built that would cut off the existing wildlife corridors.

Dr. Harveson said that “the wall could definitely have negative impacts for both wildlife and wildlife conservation collaborations,” and that the wall stands a good chance of being built. “I believe that people should be aware of and engaged in conversations about the potential problems it may cause. The border wall issue isn’t a partisan issue.  There should be bi-partisan concern about understanding the impacts of a proposed wall,” he added.
chisos“Sky island” mountain habitats, such as Big Bend National Park’s Chisos Mountains, are generally cooler and more forested than the surrounding desert. Corridors between these sky islands would be cut off by a border wall, which would restrict important gene flow among populations of black bear and other wildlife species. Photo courtesy of Hannah Gerke.

Future Conservation Collaborations 

When asked about the best way to foster successful conservation projects on both sides of border, Russell Martin responded, “Open and frequent communication is key to fostering successful, collaborative conservation on both sides of the river in the Big Bend region.”

McKinney said, “Basically it is a simple recipe, less talk more action (government on both sides talk it to death), stable funding source (seems like the funds do not reach the field), real and practical projects that make significant differences to habitat on large scales to both sides of the border, running consecutively.”

“The best way would be for US and Mexico to create strong binding partnerships,” said Rick LoBello.

“There are phenomenal conservation efforts across the world.  But all too often they end at jurisdictional boundaries.  We, as a society, must get past this two-dimensional mindset and start looking at ecosystems as a whole, regardless of political boundaries,” said Dr. Harveson. “Conservation of transboundary areas is a challenge we must overcome.”

Jennette Jurado said that “Using existing models and success stories, we plan to continue to build relationships with people working to protect the other side of our shared river, shared canyons, and shared greater Chihuahuan Desert ecosystem.”

There are many examples of cross-border conservation collaborations in the region—too many to fully discuss in this article. These collaborations are the work of biologists, managers, and land owners who recognize the importance of sharing information and resources in order to effectively and efficiently meet conservation objectives in the beautiful wildlands of the Big Bend border region. Promoting future collaborations will ensure the continued protection of this unique ecosystem.

The U.S. Department of the Interior and Mexico’s Comisión Nacional de Áreas Naturales Protegidas did not respond to emailed questions for this article.



McKinney, B.R. and J.D. Villalobos. 2005. Desert bighorn sheep reintroduction in Maderas del Carmen, Coahuila, México. 2005 BighornCouncil Transactions. 48: 46-49

Onorato, D.P., E.C. Hellgren, R.A. Van Den Bussche, and D.L. Doan-Crider. 2004. Phylogeographic Patterns within a Metapopulation of Black Bears (Ursus americanus) in the American Southwest. Journal of Mammology. 85(1): 140-147





A National Palm Oil Scheme

A National Palm Oil Scheme Towards Landscape Conservation

by Robert Hii

Palm oil, the cursed fruit or blessed fruit depending on who you ask, epitomizes the global struggle to find a balance between development and conservation. Widely grown in the tropical countries of Malaysia and Indonesia, the crop has become synonymous with the disappearance of wildlife habitats as ancient forests are replaced with the palm oil tree as far as the eye can see.

The projected growth of the need for vegetable oils to meet the needs of a booming human population is leading to the expansion of palm oil plantations into undeveloped areas including Papua New Guinea and Africa where some of the world’s last remaining primary forests remain. Other vegetable oil crops, notably soy, is further threatening South American landscapes as the two competing vegetable oils struggle for market share.

There is no shortage of bad news for conservation as reports from Australia all the way  to the Everglades in Florida talk about the loss of ecology to economy? Can the palm oil industries afford the costs of sustainable practices when the biggest influencers are not conservationists but soy from the Americas and investors worldwide who will punish poor financial performance?

These are some of the challenges facing the Malaysian palm oil industry as the government seeks to certify all of its local production as sustainable.

Malaysian Sustainable Palm Oil (MSPO)

Introduced in 2015 as a way to prove that the country’s palm oil production is sustainable, the MSPO was subsequently made mandatory as a national scheme. External influences aside, the scheme is further challenged by internal factors including state driven economic goals and competing industries in timber. Even the 650,000 small farmers of palm oil which are being presented as impoverished farmers finding a solution towards empowerment by farming palm oil, are a problem for certification as many of these are illiterate and may not be able to fulfil the rigorous reporting required by the MSPO.

The government has allocated $40 million to facilitate the certification of small and medium sized growers to assist them towards certification. This may help the palm oil industry gain certification but it does not necessarily mean that positive actions for conservation will follow. If we look at the most recognized certification bodies in sustainable palm oil for example, the RSPO and the ISCC which certifies member or client operations. These selected operations are rendered quite meaningless if surrounded by uncertified plantations whether its timber or rice. As recent studies have shown, isolated patches of HCVs will not preserve biodiversity for perpetuity which has to be the goal of any sustainable product.

Landscape Plans Needed for National Certification Schemes 

What Malaysia needs to do is to create a complete plan for land use in order to create long term conservation impact. The palm oil industry complains often that demands for sustainability certification is unfair when competing vegetable oils like soy or rapeseed do not face similar demands. As a crop that has been identified as most suitable to meet global demand and most likely to be grown in forested developing countries instead of soy, the industries whether in Malaysia or Gabon or Papua have an ethical obligation to show responsible use of landscapes.

Creating a national landscape use plan in Malaysia should be relatively simple. Enough research has gone into biodiversity in Malaysia that one could simply pull up these reports and confirm key areas in need of protection to ensure survival of flora and fauna plus target areas to make sure they not only survive, but thrive.

Examples of these are the Central Forest Spine in West Malaysia and the Heart of Borneo areas in Malaysian Borneo. It would be a gargantuan task to gather all stakeholders in state governments and industries but the benefits of such a plan are just as big. This nationwide plan for sustainable land use would go a long way towards the credibility of not only the MSPO but Malaysia’s compliance with international standards for certified timber.