For more than thirty years, the international scientific community has had a presence in Cuatro Ciénegas due to the valley's aquatic ecosystems and rare species. This community of researchers has played a significant role in the establishment of the valley both as a biological laboratory and as a federally recognized wildlife preserve. Because scientists were integral to the declaration of the valley as a protected area, and because some of them will certainly influence the management of the area, it is important to understand how they perceive the valley's resources and how they see these resources providing for the local as well as the global community.

The information within this chapter comes from a series of interviews with conservationists and scientists who have worked in the valley. When necessary, I refer to the results of their published works. In the course of our interviews, scientists and conservationists discussed ecological threats to the valley of Cuatro Ciénegas, management needs of the protected area, conservation initiatives, and the role played by local people in addressing these issues. Those interviewed stressed the importance of local support for the Natural Protected Area, and regarded financial incentives and environmental education as mandatory in winning that endorsement.

As was the case with the local viewpoint, the voices which make up the scientific and conservationist point of view are multiple and divergent, coming from many individuals, some of whom hold conflicting views as to the purpose of the conservation of the valley. The scientists and conservationists with whom I spoke come from the United States and México and include professors, consultants, government bureaucrats, and employees of conservation organizations. For many of these people, the conservation of the valley, besides being a scientific endeavor, is a labor of love. W. L. Minckley and Salvador Contreras-Balderas, after thirty-eight and thirty-seven years in the valley respectively, continue to work in and publish on the valley and participate in efforts for its conservation. In informal meetings which I attended, PROFAUNA's Eglantina Canales and SEMARNAP's Julio Carrera spoke with passion about the Cuatro Ciénegas basin to their students and other protected area managers, demonstrating the kind of enthusiasm that has been instrumental in involving numerous students in projects in the valley and consequently in carrying on the campaigns of scientific research and environmental activism.


Since E. G. Marsh came to the valley in 1939 to collect vertebrates as a part of his survey of Coahuila (Taylor and Minckley 1966:18), Cuatro Ciénegas has attracted a broad range of natural scientists interested in studying its biota, geology, and hydrology. Minckley (1996) told me his interest in the valley stemmed from "a persistence of a rich and varied, endemic and relict aquatic biota in an area otherwise not expected to support such a phenomenon because of aridity." The unusual occurrence of a desert wetland paired with the long-term isolation of many of its resident species makes the valley an ideal place to study aspects of evolution such as niche segregation, character displacement, speciation, and biogeographic relationships (Johnson 1984:89). Biologists consider the valley especially important for its highly endemic aquatic fauna, which includes mollusks, fish, and amphibians, as well as for the occurrence of stromatolites, lithified organo-sedimentary structures built by a community of microorganisms and found along the bottom of pools and rivers (Winsborough 1990). Botanists find interesting the valley's assemblage of rare cacti and its gypsophilic plants with their adaptations to life on the nutritionally inhospitable gypsum sand dunes (Powell and Turner 1978). Conservationists consider Cuatro Ciénegas to be a biological hot spot due to its unique aquatic biology, its gypsum dunes, and its high number of endemic species.

As individuals, the scientists and conservationists with whom I spoke each had personal reasons for their interest in Cuatro Ciénegas. Jos Dávila first visited the valley as a tourist. He camped on the gypsum dunes and was so impressed by their beauty and by the flora they supported that upon returning to his university in Saltillo, he began a project in which he studied revegetation on the mined dunes. Ron Savage, who started working in the valley as a representative of The Nature Conservancy of Texas in December 1995, first visited the valley in 1973 on a reptile and amphibian collecting tour. Though he now focuses more on his work with conservation groups, Savage still spends many of his nights in the valley cruising up and down the highway looking for snakes. The valley has been used as a teaching facility for years, and many who now study there do so because of the influence of their professors; Hendrickson is a student of Minckley, and Dávila studied under Canales who in turn studied under Contreras-Balderas.

While both scientists and conservationists are interested in the long-term ecological health of the valley and are attempting to ensure the survival of its unique biota, they approach the ecosystem of the valley with slightly different agendas; while conservationists are interested in protecting a representative ecosystem, biologists are concerned with the species to which it has given rise and the biological relationships which develop between them. In the course of my conversations, I encountered some hostility between scientists and conservationists. When I asked Carrera about the possibility of a research station in the valley, he told me that the idea did not interest him in the least; what interested him was conservation, not research. "In all their years in the valley, how many fish have the scientists saved?" Carrera asked me. "On the contrary, they have stolen species for their aquariums!" Despite their differences, these two groups work toward the same goals--the long-term health of the habitats and continued existence of their resident species--and for that reason this chapter considers them together, forming a more or less cohesive group.


For scientists and conservationists, what is at stake in the Cuatro Ciénegas valley is the survival of a rare and representative ecosystem. As discussed in Chapter Two, the Cuatro Ciénegas ecosystem exists in a relatively well-preserved condition, compared with other North American desert wetland ecosystems, and has thus far maintained the vast majority of its species. Nevertheless, since scientists began looking at the ecosystem in the late 1960s, a series of land use changes have been enacted. For the past thirty years, there has been a trend toward increasing extraction of the valley's water and minerals. Despite its salinity, ground water is being pumped in increasing quantities for use in irrigation. The system of canals has been expanded to divert increasing quantities of water for purposes of irrigation and industry, consequently lowering the levels of lakes and pools. Until the shut down of Proyeso, gypsum mining activities had escalated considerably, and outside the protected area new mining activities have started up. These trends have many scientists concerned that the ecosystem of the valley will continue to degrade, and that its biota will subsequently suffer and, in some cases, disappear.

Since the beginning of scientific research in the area, there has been concern about modifications to aquatic features due to the unregulated extraction of water from the pools through surface diversion and ground water pumping. Minckley (1969:15) offers evidence for lowering water table in the occurrence of dried channels, lowered water levels in the lagunas, and subsistence of the land surface. He describes the biota of the valley as being under stress, and worries about the impending commercial exploitation of spring deposits and gypsum dunes (Minckley 1969:55). Today, Minckley considers the increasing use of ground water to pose the most serious threat to the valley's ecosystem: he attributes increased water use to irrigated farming, describes the results as seen in the ditching and draining of a number of areas, and fears that the over-extraction of water which has desiccated so many desert springs ecosystems will begin to affect Cuatro Ciénegas (Minckley 1996).

Scientists hold differing views regarding the effects of the canals, which have been present since at least the turn of the century. Minckley points out that canal construction initially increased the overall available aquatic habitats (Pennak 1958 and Cole 1963, as cited by Minckley 1969:22) but also decreased the extent of marshlands and levels of barial lakes (Minckley 1969:15, 21). A Spanish map dated 1860 (Alessio Robles 1938), depicting the basin with two huge lakes which no longer exist, offers evidence of this effect of canalization. Other scientists state that canals, besides diverting water from the valley, connect previously isolated environments and allow for hybridization of species--and in some cases the extinction of the parent species--which had no contact with one another for millennia (Ono, et al. 1983).

Scientists point to both natural and human-induced changes in surface water levels. While some studies attribute the drying up of certain pools to drought (Contreras-Balderas 1984:85), others point to the damage done by the diversion of water outside the valley to a Monclova steel plant (Williams, et al. 1985:13) and to large-scale irrigation and pumping, especially in the numerous large-scale feedlots along the road to Ocampo (Savage 1995:6). Contreras-Balderas (1984:85) notes the adverse effects of irrigating new fields with the salty water; namely, abandoned fields and salinization, which he terms "irrational development." Today, water use is higher than in the past; farmers have skirted the problem of salinization by growing alfalfa and melon, which tolerate saline soils, while industries have found uses for the highly mineralized water. Besides turning the land surface to salt pan, scientists fear that the increasing use of ground water may be lowering the water table. All of the scientists with whom I spoke emphasized the importance of a hydrological study of the aquifer which creates this miraculous wetland in the Chihuahuan desert. Minckley (1996) insists that unless the sources of the springs and the extent of their watershed are identified, they cannot be protected, and that without the springs, the valley will become "just another desert area."

Increasingly, water extraction is affecting the pools and their biota. Poza La Becerra, one of the largest of the valley's spring-fed pools, was first channelized in 1964 and the resultant lowering of water levels prompted concern about the diminishing snail, shrimp, fish, and turtle populations due to siltation, higher temperatures, and the loss of marshland (Contreras-Balderas 1984:85). During one of my recent visits to the valley, a visiting scientist suggested to me that raising the level of Poza La Becerra was as easy as installing a new sluice at a higher level. He said that this new system would do much to improve conditions for the resident biota by returning the pool to its original conditions of size and temperature as well as by creating bird habitat by extending the surrounding marshlands.

Poza La Becerra is experiencing further problems due to heavy recreational use. I heard scientists refer fatalistically to both Poza La Becerra and Río Mesquites as "sacrifices to the gods" for the effects they are suffering at the hands of tourism. Though increasingly polluted, these two habitats are considered important for the role they play in diverting recreational swimming from the rest of the valley.

Dávila considers fire to pose one of the most serious threats to the ecosystem. Though grass fires were historically natural occurrences in the valley, fires are now ignited by ranchers with much greater than the natural frequency in order to promote the growth



Picture of horses at Poza Becerra

of new grass for forage. Minckley (1969:21) cites burning, along with canalization, as one of two major anthropogenic factors affecting marshlands in the basin. Davila(1996) insists that when ranchers light fires during seasons when they would not naturally occur, they alter vegetation regimes and endanger other species which inhabit the grasslands. He reports numerous encounters with "tortugas asadas"[burnt box turtles] which had been killed by fires which moved faster than they did, and cites an impoverished vegetation assemblage as a result of the frequent burning. He and his group of volunteers have been involved in extinguishing numerous controlled burns which escaped their intended boundaries.

The intense extraction of gypsum sand from the dunes associated with Laguna Grande, which started on a small scale in 1968, increased to industrial levels after 1979 (Contreras-Balderas 1984:85), and intensified earlier this year as Proyeso saw impending restrictions (Dávila 1996), has led to the virtual disappearance of the dunes. Hendrickson (1996) and Winsborough (1996) each estimate that the dunes today represent ten percent or less of their previous extent. In geological terms, the dunes can be considered a renewable resource: in a few million years, if conditions remain constant, the dunes may return to their previous size. In human terms, however, they are gone.

Though they now receive limited federal protection, and while concerned people are still attempting to end their mining, the dunes exhibit a much degraded flora and fauna. Dávila, who has studied the re-establishment of gypsophilic plants in disturbed areas, is not convinced that the mined dunes will ever support their previous assemblages. The reforestation efforts carried out by Proyeso in order to satisfy federal regulations have resulted in a landscape reminiscent of a Christmas tree lot, with same-aged, sickly yuccas lined up like soldiers on a flat grid.

Salt extraction is another form of mining which scientists find questionable. While Sales Coahuilteca, a newly-opened factory which extracts magnesium and sodium chloride from the ground water, was obligated to complete an environmental impact report before beginning operations, some scientists feel that this kind of mining may cause unforeseen problems in the future. According to those interviewed, other forms of mineral extraction threaten to irreparably scar the landscapes of the valley. As I drove south along the road to Torre--n with Ron Savage, we came across a group of people dynamiting a hillside in order to extract travertine deposits. Savage expressed fear that this kind of mining had the possibility of ruining the viewscapes of the valley, which could seriously affect the allure of the valley for tourists. After years of watching the biological impacts of mining, many scientists insist that there is no such thing as sustainable extraction.

Exotic species represent a growing problem in all protected areas. In his 1969 article, Minckley mentions one possible but unconfirmed (and unnamed) fish introduction in the Cuatro Ciénegas basin. Today, many scientists consider exotic fish species, especially the tilapia introduced by the Mexican government in order to improve fish stocks, to be an increasing problem in many pools and rivers, as the native fish are unadapted to predation and competition (Contreras-Balderas 1978). Other exotic introductions include the ubiquitous water hyacinth (Eichornia crassipes), whose presence dates back to the Spanish settlement and which is considered to be choking out some springheads and outflows (Contreras-Balderas 1991:194), and an introduced snail, which is thought to threaten the native species. I also heard rumors of an introduced grass and exotic pondweed. As tourism increases, so does the introduction of exotics. A strong correlation has been established between the number of visitors to a preserve and the number of exotic species within the preserve (Daehler and Strong 1994:94). Due to their location in an isolated desert valley, Cuatro Ciénegas' long isolated aquatic habitats bear similarities to an island; as such, their biota is especially vulnerable to extinction induced by exotic species (Soul 1989:297-298).

Scientists worry about a general increase in the number of people living in and visiting the valley. Many scientists consider nature tourism to pose a greater threat to the valley than traditional tourism because nature tourists by definition are drawn to the most sensitive areas of the valley. Carrera considers the influx of visitors to pose the single greatest threat to the valley. According to the scientists and conservationists I interviewed, tourists bring in trash, compact soil around pools, break stromatolites, increase turbidity and affect visibility in the pools by disturbing sediments, and change the nutritional balance of the natural systems with their excrement. Adding insult to injury, tourists have been known to take home species as souvenirs (Dávila 1996).

Efforts to regulate nature tourism are currently irregular at best. The Pozas Azules, featured in many magazine articles, are a potential visiting spot for many, yet they are some of the most fragile habitats of the valley. Though these pools are somewhat protected by their remote location and the fact that they are on private property, they remain an area of concern to scientists due to their biological richness and structural fragility--an equation for doom if accessible to too many visitors. Also worrying scientists are the numerous ill-conceived money-making schemes such as motorized water sports at Las Playitas, which is home to a population of the endangered box turtle (Terrapene coahuila), game hunting (Dávila 1996), and mountain biking across the gypsum dunes (Gonzáles 1996). Scientists insist that guidelines need to be established immediately so that schemes such as these will not come to fruition and add to the environmental degradation of the valley.

For the most part, scientists do not believe in the benignity of nature tourism. Though some of the articles encouraging visitation to the valley include basic guidelines for visitors, scientists believe that publicity has encouraged a type of tourism for which the valley is unprepared. The Desert Fishes Council responded to the National Geographic article with concern that worldwide publicity would make Cuatro Ciénegas the destination for an onslaught of ecotourism for which it is wholly unsuited and entirely unprepared. In an unpublished letter, DFC president Dean Hendrickson criticizes the article for pointing out the spectacular beauty of Cuatro Ciénegas without emphasizing its fragility. Hendrickson writes that while the article is important for allowing the world to see the spectacular beauty of the valley, it is irresponsible in that it provides aerial photographs and maps which could serve as "vandal guides"to some of the most environmentally fragile habitats in the basin.

Another concern regarding tourism is the commodification of nature it tends to foster. Walking through town, I was approached numerous times by street vendors who wanted to sell me relict arrowheads collected from the surrounding mountains. Canales (1996) worries that for the profit of a few pesos, these treasure hunters remove artifacts from their place of origin and thereby threaten the possibility of understanding the poorly studied archeological history of the basin. Davila(1996) expresses concern that an influx of tourists might increase the incidence of locals who collect turtles, cactus, and potentially other endemic species, to sell to collectors.

The local population is growing along with the number of visitors, and scientists and conservationists worry that this increased population is causing a general trend toward resource depletion through its need for space, water, soil, and land (Contreras-Balderas 1996). Scientists and conservationists worry that this local population, especially new residents coming from outside the valley, lacks interest in environmental issues, has not been provided with sufficient ecological training, and knows nothing of how Cuatro Ciénegas looked in the past and consequently cannot relate to the need for its protection.


In contrast to local people, who generally do not find current land uses to be problematic, scientists for decades have noted the human-induced modifications to the environments of the valley--through the activities of irrigation, agriculture, ranching, and mining--and the resultant changes in the habitats and biota (Minckley 1969; Contreras-Balderas 1984; Contreras-Balderas 1991; Williams, et al. 1985). For the most part, scientists consider the pools and gypsum dunes to be the most fragile and endangered areas in the valley. For all these reasons, scientists have made numerous calls for the protection of the ecosystem of the Cuatro Ciénegas valley (Contreras-Balderas and Almada-Villela 1984; Pinkava 1987; Johnson 1984).

Besides publishing papers, scientists have worked behind the scenes to bring about the formal protection of the valley. The National Geographic article provides a case in point. When National Geographic photographer George Grall became interested in bringing the biota of the valley to an international audience, he approached Minckley and asked him to work as his scientific consultant. Minckley agreed, on the condition that Grall would write his article with the purpose of securing the formal protection of the valley. Though his original purpose was simply to provide a pictorial representation of the valley, Grall feels that by bringing the valley of Cuatro Ciénegas to a world-wide audience, the National Geographic Society influenced the federal authorities in their decision to declare the basin of Cuatro Ciénegas as protected area (Grall 1996).

Now that the valley has received formal protection, scientists and conservationists are establishing a series of priorities which include:

1. a study of the valley's hydrology,

2. a study of potential types of sustainable development,

3. the establishment of environmental education programs,

4. the establishment of an infrastructure for the protected area, and

5. the strict regulation of industry.

The individuals I interviewed expressed different perspectives as to the role of scientists and conservationists in following through with this agenda. Historically, the role of scientists was the discovery of the biota of the valley--the identification of its species, their biotic relationships, and the extent of their habitats (Minckley 1996). Today, their role has expanded. Contreras-Balderas (1996) defines the role of scientists as informing management through the establishment of guidelines for sustainability, and as interesting local people in the conservation process. Contreras-Balderas insists that by acting as models for local citizens, by participating in hands-on training, and by teaching by example and participation, scientists can and should play an active role in the conservation of the valley.

Thus far, the major hindrance to developing a rapport between scientists and local people has been the fact that scientists are not actually in the valley with any degree of regularity, and when they do come, they generally have numerous commitments with agency representatives and to their own research. Furthermore, the factor of language is often a barrier to communication; many of the scientists coming from the United States do not speak Spanish and few people in Cuatro Ciénegas speak English fluently. This obvious factor has far-reaching implications and points to the need for bilingual education efforts.

The majority of the work in environmental education is being carried out by Dávila, better known locally as "Pepe Ecologica." Through his work leading visitors on field trips in the basin and tutoring the Guardians of the Valley, Dávila has taken steps to bring many people--local and otherwise--to a better understanding of the valley's biological richness. Dávila has been especially successful in his leadership role with the GDV. Through Saturday field trips and informal natural history lessons, he has encouraged a number of young people with an interest in ecology to pursue the study of the natural history of the valley. While he would like to do more, Dávila lacks the time and resources necessary to reach a larger number of people. As it stands today, since the valley lacks the resources for any type of outreach program, the only people learning about ecology are those making an individual effort to educate themselves.

The Desert Fishes Council (DFC) recently contributed to the infrastructure of environmental education in Cuatro Ciénegas. In August 1996, DFC donated two computers to the municipality. The hard drives of these computers contain information from the web sites of DFC and the Texas Natural History Collection, and include color photos of and facts about habitats, fish, snails, turtles, aquatic plants, and lizards of Cuatro Ciénegas. The files contain bilingual information on the natural history of the basin and Minckley's bibliography of over 500 natural history studies. Hendrickson, who runs the DFC web site, encourages local people to contribute to the site with news, studies, projects, histories, or whatever they see fit to describe, and has already received feedback from the local community. In a public ceremony, mayor Susana Moncada thanked the DFC for their donation and emphasized the significance of this gift as one of the first efforts of scientists to make the resources of the scientific community accessible to local residents.


When I questioned scientists and conservationists about local interest in conservation, they responded that some people did have an interest after so many years hearing about the biological value of the valley. Many scientists were impressed by the willingness of landowners to work with conservationists, but insisted that the majority of the citizens were indifferent. According to Savage, most of the people who take an interest in conservation do so because of its positive or negative economic implications; some residents see conservation as posing a threat to their livelihood, while others see it as bringing opportunity.

Dávila, the scientist who has the most contact with the residents of the valley, says that local people are beginning to talk about the importance of ecology and conservation. Dávila insists that this interest is based on the popularity of the terms and on the fact that more and more people are coming to the valley to see its flora and fauna, but that, in general, people understand very little about the ecology of the basin and have shown almost no interest in learning more about it. Rodolfo Garza, Coahuila's state director of ecology, expresses the view that the acceptance of conservation initiatives occurs progressively.

We've noticed that the population has gone through different stages of adaptation to the new concept of the valley: at first, there was an almost unanimous rejection of the declaration of the reserve. After three years, a good number of inhabitants have begun to sense the value of their natural resources (Rodolfo Garza, e-mail to Dean Hendrickson, 1 December 1996).

Scientists and conservationists list examples of local conservation efforts as the activities of the Guardians of the Valley and the recently initiated local NGO, the garbage clean-up, and the willingness of land owners to deal with conservationists. Overall, however, they seem to feel that the local efforts are few and those which do exist are largely irrelevant.

Scientists and conservationists I interviewed insisted that local support of conservation was absolutely essential to the success of conservation initiatives; without local support, they told me, conservation did not stand a chance. Most agreed that the key to achieving local acceptance of the protected area was to prove conservation to be economically beneficial to the local community and to introduce environmental education programs that taught people the value of conservation in their own lives.

Sustainable development was proposed as a way to address the local resistance to conservation's tenets, and scientists offered a few ideas for alternative uses of resources: culturing bees for pollen and honey, collecting rare cactus seeds for the horticultural market, and generally working more closely with the available materials, producing finished products rather than exporting raw materials. Many stressed the importance of developing services with which to extract money from the growing tourism industry, and pointed out that if the people of the valley were to depend upon an income from nature tourism, they would soon find that it was in their best interest to take care of their natural resources. Scientists consider a critical step in the conservation process to be the establishment of environmentally sensitive industries which offer people legitimate alternatives to working in extractive industries.

Scientists insist that individual citizens are not causing the most serious problems in the valley. Instead, they emphasize the harm caused by mismanagement of resources on the industrial level: gypsum mining and the processes associated with industrial agriculture and ranching are considered to pose some of the greatest threats to the ecosystem. Though laws exist which impose regulations and delineate specific environmental standards within industry, these laws are largely ignored. Scientists emphasize the importance of stepping up the enforcement of environmental regulations, and point out the importance of a study of sustainable and alternative resource use in order to better manage the existent industries and to supply the resident people with viable employment opportunities which do not deplete their resource base.

Yet while sustainable development appears to offer the solution to the employment problems facing the residents of the valley, its potential has not been proven on the ground. Residents are expected to believe that good industries will come to take the place of environmentally problematic ones, yet they see no evidence of these new businesses. Not all scientists and conservationists believe that those working in conservation can or should solve the problems of the economy which existed before the decree establishing the protected area. Addressing the economics of Cuatro Ciénegas, Eglantina Canales insisted that the town faced the same issues as other protected areas in México: there are too many people and too few jobs. She said it was a lie that conservation was taking away jobs and that the real issue was that the valley lacked extractable resources. Canales insisted that there would never be enough jobs in Cuatro Ciénegas, with or without the declaration of the protected area, and that the establishment of the maquiladora offered the local economy the equivalent of an aspirin, making people feel better for a while but eventually wearing out, leaving them exactly where they started. Julio Carrera agreed, and when I asked him to name the most important idea for local people to accept, he told me that they needed to understand that the richness of Cuatro Ciénegas was ecological, not economical.

Carrera's statement brings up an issue of utmost concern to local residents. Where, exactly, does this new vision of the valley--a vision which celebrates its ecology and asks people politely to find a job which will not alter it--leave the economy of the local community? It is hard to know. Because while the possibility of new, sustainable industries exists, the studies which will discover these new projects have not been undertaken. Meanwhile, there exists within the minds of the local community the threat of industry shutdown and a fear that local people may have to move in order to find work. Many of the scientists with whom I spoke insisted that these fears were unfounded: the declaration of the protected area, they said, would in fact affect very few people. The problem was, they said, that people simply did not understand the facts of the matter.

Besides stressing the importance of understanding the actual land use recommendations within the protected area, scientists and conservationist insist upon the urgency of bringing local people to an understanding of the biological richness of the valley. Additionally, they stress that local people need to understand the larger implications of conservation; they need to realize that in the long term, conservation will benefit the community by assuring them of a high quality of life which includes clean water, clean air, the survival of the endemic biota. Scientists insist that people need to realize that if they take care of their resources now, these resources will be available to them in the future. Dávila points out that if the fish populations increase it may be possible to fish again some day. Others believe that the benefits of conservation include a sense of pride for participating in the preservation of the valley's unique species, the "possibilities for maintenance and actual sustaining of one of the more remarkable areas for its size anywhere in the world"(Minckley 1996) and the "survival of endemic or peculiar biota"(Contreras-Balderas 1996). Scientists believe that the challenge is to convince people of all these benefits to their lives in the future.

Those interviewed told me that the most important things to emphasize to residents, when teaching them about the ecosystem of the valley, were the sustainability of their resources, the uniqueness and fragility of the ecosystem, the interconnectedness of the total system, the objectives of the protected area, and the responsibility of everyone for its continued good health. Of singular importance to the scientists is the establishment of an ecological consciousness within the local community, a way of thinking involving a redefinition of the valley which stresses its ecological value over its economic importance. They also emphasize the primacy of recognizing and appreciating the flora and fauna. "You can only save what you love," Carrera told me, quoting a favorite saying of American conservationists.

According to Minckley (1996), it is the older residents of the community who can provide the necessary incentive for conservation.

Most of the people that have lived there a relatively long time will talk about the "good old days" with nostalgia, indicating that they do detect change and that they find the past more desirable than a modified future. This is the basis for conservation, the realization that things are changing for something "worse" than one remembers, and a desire to reverse that trend.

Minckley insists that if you can make people understand what the stakes are, see what the future holds, and realize the power that they as individuals possess to change destructive trends, that conservation becomes a distinct possibility. The common sentiment of scientists is that if people only understood it better, they would support conservation. If local people knew the recommendations of the zoning plan, scientists told me, they would be less fearful that farming would cease, or that the horses would all be driven from the valley, or that all industries would be shut down. Information was posited as a panacea for all local citizens' unfounded fears.

All the above comments acknowledge the importance of local support of conservation and offer suggestions for winning that patronage. They do not, however, find an active role for local people within the protected area. These solutions fail to point out the importance of providing a forum within which local people can make known their concerns and needs. Scientific recommendations focus on how locals should act, as opposed to addressing the importance of their input. Certainly they need to be offered alternative jobs; of course they need access to information about the natural history of the valley. Nevertheless, the residents also desire a voice within the conservation process, a place in which to vent their frustrations, an accessible authority with whom they can discuss their options, and a chance to react publicly to the decrees which are passed down to them. In the course of my interviews, I found that scientists and conservationists often emphasized what people could do for conservation and how they could be convinced that doing so was in their best interest, but I found few who talked about the place for local input in conservation's agenda.

A few scientists and conservationists expressed an understanding of the local resistance to conservation. Russell Brown, a United States National Park Service ranger who worked as an instructor in the management course, said that in Cuatro Ciénegas, as in all protected areas, some local people felt that due to increasing government regulations they were losing their freedom. Minckley (1996) agreed, stating that in every country there were people "who resisted anything that smacks of governmental control over individual rights, whatever those rights are perceived to be." Dávila understands this sentiment, and does not fault the local people for their desire for self-government. He told me that upon arriving in the valley, he had strong ideas about what he was going to do in the name of conservation. He imagined himself storming into town, chasing the horses out of the valley, and closing down Poza La Becerra to swimming. After getting to know the people, he revised his agenda. "If I were from here, I would not want people from Saltillo coming in and telling me what to do," said Dávila.


In this chapter, I presented the views of scientists and conservationists regarding the needs of the ecosystem and the role of local people in responding to those needs. All those interviewed acknowledged the importance of a local support of conservation. What I found to be lacking in many of their views was a direct response to the fear of local people regarding the economic implications of conservation. Because while the scientists and conservationists understand the importance of offering jobs, many of them told me that "very few" people depended upon the resources of the valley. I was told otherwise by the valley's residents.

Local people are deeply concerned by the prospect of land use restrictions which have not been made clear to them. Once the management plan is written, and once the recommendations of the zoning plan begin to be carried out, resource use may change considerably. If local people's views are disregarded when these decisions are made, then they may again react unfavorably to changes in land use policy, as they did to the closure of Proyeso. If local people feel that new regulations are inappropriate or hostile to their needs, they will certainly hold conservation to blame. The problem in the case of Proyeso was that people felt strongly that something was being taken away from them and not replaced. If new restrictions are carried out without the consent of local people, this type of reaction is certain to resurface.

Next section
Return to Thesis Table of Contents

Return to / Regrese a Cuatro Ciénegas Home Page DFC Home TNHC FISH Home. Page maintained by / página a cargo de Dean A. Hendrickson