Back when the line was drawn to separate California from Baja California, I bet few imagined how significant that border would become for wildlife.
Today, the contrasts in conservation status across the U.S. – Mexico border are pretty stark.
North of the border is an extensive – albeit incomplete—network of public and private conservation lands that offers some protection for an extraordinary diversity of coastal, montane and desert species.
South of the border there are only a few, isolated protected areas.
But there are still vast regions of northwest Baja California that are remarkably intact and undeveloped when compared to the areas just north of the border. The Sierra Juarez mountain range, for example, is one of the few true wilderness areas remaining in the globally imperiled mediterranean biome of North America.
Things are changing, though. And fast.
Both sides of the border are experiencing intense development. Residential sprawl, border security infrastructure and now industrial-scale renewable energy projects threaten to sever the ecological connection between the mountains of the north and those in the south.
To understand the importance of that connection, simply examine the tracks of the GPS-collared mountain lion that roamed from the United States to Mexico and back.
He reminded us that the success of our conservation work in this region depends on our ability to preserve habitat on both sides of the border as well as the corridors between them. This is especially important as climates change and plants and animals need room to move.
What I see in the Sierra Juarez is a (fleeting!) opportunity to protect a vestige of las Californias, where iconic species like California condor and bighorn sheep can thrive.
The imperative for the binational conservation community is to figure out ways to ensure that, as the border region develops and economic opportunities are created for the people that live there, we don’t lose any of the region’s irreplaceable conservation value.
I’m confident that, with science and guidance from local communities, we can find ways to ensure that the lines drawn on maps a long time ago don’t become barriers to wildlife making their way across borders to where they need to be.
(Image: A mountain lion in southern California. Source: Kevin Crooks)
Tags: Animals, Baja California, bighorn sheep, land development, Mediterranean biome, mountain lion, Nature Conservancy, open space, Scott Morrison, Sierra Juarez mountains, southern California, US-Mexico border, wildlife