By Perin Hailey McNelis
The Borderlands Restoration Leadership Institute (BRLI) kicked off its Mexico programming this May by co-sponsoring a field course through The Southwest Center at the University of Arizona led by Gary Nabhan and Bill Steen. The five day agro-ecology short course was held in the farm-ranch-riparian corridor mosaic of the Rio Sonora and was attended by BRLI fellows, Allegra Mount, Caleb Weaver, Perin McNelis, and Francesca Claverie. The pilot workshop focused on field methods for surveying & documenting the ecosystem services provided by living fencerows of cottonwoods & willows planted between agricultural fields and the banks of the river. The agroecological tradition of installing living fencerows is recognized by farmers and ranchers along the flood plains of the Rio Sonora as a necessity for buffering fields from damaging floodwaters and debris during the monsoon storms, while still allowing nutrients and moisture (or “el abono del rio,” literally translated to “manure of the river”) to nourish the cultivated areas.
From May 20-24th the workshop participants, comprised of stellar scientists, anthropologists and restoration practitioners, worked in groups to examine the social, cultural and ecological dimensions of the living fencerows. The groups conducted early morning surveys of plants, wildlife, and river geomorphology in these restored agro-riparian landscapes and enjoyed afternoon field trips to other sites of ecological, ethnobotanical & cultural interest… Some highlights included presentations and discussions led by Chiltepin producers and scientists studying the impact of the Cananea mine spill on the Rio Sonora. In addition, participants enjoyed visiting various bacanora home-distilleries and witnessed some of the best Folklorico dancing in all of Sonora.
The big take-away was to consider the Santa Cruz river, which no longer flows and has suffered much habitat loss, and the Rio Sonora which still flows and maintains a higher level of biodiversity and overall riparian ecosystem health. Is there something to be learned from the traditional agroecological practices of farmers in Sonora that could potentially be applied in threatened riparian areas North of the border? Could restoration practitioners and ranchers experiment with living fencerows to help bridge restoration ecology and agro-ecology in Arizona?
Updates, News, and Resources from BRLI and Our Partners