Mexico's Maderas del Carmen
by Ro Wauer
I recently visited an area in Mexico, just south of Big Bend National Park, that I had not seen for more than 25 years. Instead of camping, as I had in the past, I was one of 18 guests of CEMEX, staying in well-constructed houses at Campo Dos. The houses even contained toilets and showers; bathing in a cold mountain stream was no longer necessary. And two cooks prepared our meals. Wow! What a change!
Campo Dos is located at about 8000 feet elevation among pines and firs in a deep canyon with towering rhyolitic cliffs rising another 1500 feet. Once the site of a major logging operation, the canyon and surrounding forest has recovered almost to the point that the deep scars where logs were dragged down the steep slopes are barely evident. Scattered cans and truck parts can be found only with some effort, and Carmen Mountain white-tailed deer and bear have returned to the open meadows and forest. Peregrines nest on the 9600-foot high Loomis Peak, Montezuma quail haunt the grassy meadows, and olive warblers and painted redstarts sing in the deep forest. Nature is dominant once again.
But the important story of the Maderas del Carmen is not its magnificent scenery and marvelous wildlife. Instead, the big story here is the active project by the world's second largest cement conglomerate - CEMEX - to protect and restore the Maderas and surrounding landscapes. The total area eventually will include about 500,000 acres of rugged landscape located just south of the Rio Grande in the Mexican state of Coahuila. And unlike other large protected areas, such as national and state parks in Mexico and the United States, the "El Carmen" project, at least in the short-term, limits visits to scientists and resource specialists. General public use and commercial interests are not permitted. The intend is to establish a completely natural system where nature will be allowed to function with minimum interference from man. As CEMEX Vice President Armando J. Garcia stated in the El Carmen pamphlet, "Our mission will be valued by future generations as long as we leave no trace but the pristine beauty of El Carmen."
Much is already underway. Besides the removal of huge sawdust piles, that leaked into the pristine streams, and numerous other "eyesores," hunting and grazing are no longer permitted. The intent is to allow the deer population to build back to a level where wolves might eventually be reintroduced. Pronghorn have already been released within the lowlands, and a significant bighorn sheep restoration project is underway; the currently fenced population has more than doubled since its inception in 2000.
The El Carmen project is managed by Billy Pat McKinney, an experienced and highly respected wildlife manager CEMEX hired from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department's Black Gap Wildlife Management Area. Billy and his wife, Bonnie, who manages the scientific studies portion of the project, work out of the Pilares headquarters area, located at the western base of the high escarpment. Pilares is two to three hours south of Musquiz, a total of six to seven hours from Del Rio, the route we took from Texas. Prior to September 11, access was possible through Big Bend National Park and south from Boquillas.
I am extremely optimistic about the El Carmen project! This is an effort to do right for the resources, to establish a baseline and understanding to properly restore an environment with a long history of overuse. It is not as if there are no other nearby preserves. After all, several very large adjacent areas offer other public opportunities: 801,000-acre Big Bend National Park and adjacent Big Bend Ranch State Park, Black Gap Wildlife Management Area, and the Rio Grande Wildlife and Scenic River in the U.S. and Mexico's Canon de Santa Elena Flora and Fauna Protected Area. Maybe because I have visited the del Carmens on several previous occasions, and actually included it in a chapter - Maderas del Carmens - in my book, "Birder's Mexico," and I watched as the area's resources were so abused, that I have a very special interest in the project today.
The Maderas del Carmen is an incredible resource that deserves special protection. Eventually, once the area has recovered to the condition that existed prior to human abuse, limited public access is likely.