Current Threats to the San Lorenzo Reserve

 Bighorn sheep hunting:

The recent establishment of various private hunting reserves has resulted in vast tracts of pristine Sonoran desert being privately owned and managed by a few individuals. These people prohibit trespassing and general land use, which in effect has resulted in large areas of pristine desert being protected from some anthropogenic impacts, such as the establishment of dirt roads and fishing camps. This protection comes at the price of local communities, and others, not having access to vast areas of largely pristine desert.

As private hunting reserves for desert bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis nelsoni), large areas of pristine desert are in danger of poor wildlife management practices, such as the introduction of African buffelgrass (Pennisetum ciliaris). Buffelgrass is planted throughout the state Sonora, to increase the range productivity of forage for cattle. As Buffelgrass becomes established, fuel accumulation results in burnings that facilitates the further establishment of buffelgrass. The Sonoran desert flora is not adapted to a physical fire regime and is therefore lost, resulting in grasslands of lower biodiversity. Buffelgrass is well established in agricultural areas of Caborca, and continues to expand its range through repeated natural burnings.

The Mexican government encourages the introduction of buffelgrass via subsidies, and there exists the danger of buffelgrass being introduced in the private hunting reserves under the assumption that the increased range productivity of forage would result in larger herds of desert bighorn sheep. This is not the case, simply because the desert bighorn sheep would disappear with its Sonoran desert habitat.

The mountain loin (Felis concolor) is also found within the mountain range habitat of the desert bighorn sheep. Within the hunting reserves there exists the danger of increased mountain lion hunting, under the faulty assumption that less of these predators would equate to more bighorn sheep. Predator-Prey dynamics continue within the pristine desert mountain ranges of the private hunting reserves, including San Lorenzo, and would be severely impacted by hunting. Hunting of any sort will cease with the establishment of the San Lorenzo Reserve, in order to ensure the continuation of such species interactions.

 Oil tanker spill

About 35km south of the reefs and intertidal boulder fields of San Lorenzo, is the fishing village of Puerto Libertad. Adjacent to the Puerto Libertad is a large thermoelectric power plant that supplies electricity to Caborca and other towns in the vicinity. From the power plant extends a long pier into the Gulf of California, at the end of which oil tankers dock and deposit petroleum fuel.

Off shore patch reefs are very common along this coastline of the Gulf of California, and the fact that oil tankers regularly deposit petroleum at the power plant, presents the possibility of an oil tanker accident spilling petroleum into the Gulf of California. As a partially enclosed body of water, an oil tanker accident would be devastating to the entire Gulf of California. The Persian Gulf, a similarly enclosed body of water at the same latitudes as the Gulf of California, witnessed severe oil spills as a result of the Gulf War. The profound environmental impacts from an oil spill in the Gulf of California would likely resemble the impacts of the Persian Gulf, which were devastating.

 Proposed coastal highway

A Mexican federal highway is to be built along the northern Sonoran coast of the Gulf of California. This paved, two lane highway, will run from the town of Puerto Libertad, to the town of El Golfo de Santa Clara (despite the fact that El Golfo de Santa Clara is well within the Reserva de la Biosfera del Alto Golfo de California y Delta del Rio Colorado). Construction on the highway is proposed to last 7 years. Very little can be done to deter the government from completing such projects, which are seen as critical to the development and progress of the state of Sonora.

In actuality, the highway will provide access to the most remote coastal areas of the northern Gulf of California, and will “pave the road” for the development of a massive tourist industry. The impacts of a commercially based tourist industry, along with an increased coastal population, are profound and long term. This development will resemble yet another Riviera, and result in the “Mediterraneanization” of the currently remote and largely intact coastal environments of the northern Gulf of California.

The proposed inter-coastal highway illustrates the pressure the state of Sonora is experiencing to develop its remote coastline in the name of “progress”. Whether the construction of the highway is completed, or not, the pressure to develop the coastline will certainly increase. Most importantly, the proposed highway illustrates the current urgency to establish reserves along the coast of the Gulf of California (such as La Estrella, and San Lorenzo), in order to protect critical coastal habitats, and deter further development.

Please note our updated contact information
Sonoran Desert Coastal Conservation
The University of Arizona, EEB Dept. Biological Sciences East 1D
Tucson, Az 85721
(520) 622-3140