The Mystery of Mexico’s Endangered River Oaks

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“We plan to plant around 1,200 new oak trees in the region. We will plant inside the fences of the ranches to ensure that each oak tree grows in a protected and well-maintained way,” explains Pérez Morales.

“We will also plant outside the ranches in areas with less predator pressure. And with the help of municipal authorities, we will plant in public spaces, where every planted tree receives protection, care and its growth can be monitored.

The Morton Arboretum and GCCO are also working with botanical gardens in Mexico to establish the oak elsewhere beyond its current range, to improve the species’ chances of conservation. Currently, 15 trees grow in the botanical garden of the University of Puebla, in central Mexico.

An exchange of knowledge

Scientists, local authorities, ranchers and other community members from the town of San Dionisio in Baja California Sur came together to discuss the future of the oak tree during a workshop on the end initiative. 2021. “It was a workshop where we co-constructed knowledge,” says Breceda. “Because it’s not like ‘wise’ scientists are going to tell local people what to do with something that’s been theirs for hundreds of years. They grew up with these trees.”

Local people know better than anyone the best places to plant, says Pérez Morales. And they know that without their help, in an increasingly dry and unpredictable climate, it will be very difficult for the oak tree to survive.

“It is important that we, breeders, give the task of taking care of these spaces, of watering the trees until they are at least two years old,” says Rogelio Rosas López.

Other workshops are planned for 2022, as well as the first “Arroyo Oak Festival” in San Dionisio. The idea is also to promote other income-generating activities, in particular ecotourism and artisanal products such as mango jelly or a drink made from damiana, a local plant.

clinging to life

The river oak project shows how complex and case-by-case the task of saving endangered species is.

“The work has not been easy because the results of these efforts are not immediate and you have to understand that they will be seen over longer periods of time. However, we are on the right track,” says Pérez Morales.

Noelia Álvarez de Román, conservation director for Latin America and the Caribbean at BGCI, praised the results so far. “The Quercus brandegeei conservation project has resulted in significant advances in knowledge of the species and its threats, in spreading the importance of its conservation and in increasing the capacity of local collaborators,” she says.

“If this species disappears, it disappears from the face of the known universe,” says Cibnor’s Aurora Breceda. “And on the other hand, we are losing the possibility of sustainable resources for the rural people of Baja California Sur, for whom I have enormous respect and admiration.”

Álvarez Clare of Morton Arboretum never ceases to wonder that “currents, storms, hurricanes, droughts come to these oaks and they still cling to them, producing their acorns, providing shade , purifying the air, giving life”.

“In fact, when I’m next to one of these trees, I just touch the trunk and say ‘thank you!’

“The arroyo oaks have been around much longer than we have,” says Álvarez Clare. “And we want to make sure they’re there for our kids and our grandkids, that they can get shade from that wonderful tree that our grandparents had.”

Alejandra Martins is a broadcast journalist at BBC Mundo. This article was originally published in Spanish on BBC Mundo – you can read it here. This is also why this story does not have an estimate of its carbon emissions, as Future Planet stories usually do.

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