• Vehicles and highways
• Lack of PROFEPA presence
Future potential threats
• Mega-tourism project
Grazing occurs throughout most of the protected area and its impacts are notorious. It is important to remember that this region is an arid zone with very little annual precipitation, meaning that no natural vegetation is capable of sustaining cattle grazing. Free range grazing of bovines, cattle, goats, and horses creates competition for native wildlife species like the peninsular pronghorn, bighorn sheep and the mule deer. Some species, like burros become feral and gather in wild herds negatively impacting native flora and fauna. Lack of interinstitutional governmental coordination worsens the situation since different social development programs, such as those promoted by the Secretary of Agriculture, Ranching, Rural Development, Fishing, and Alimentation (SAGARPA) that offer credits for grazing activities within Vizcaíno, establish contradictory policies regarding land uses and land limitations due to prolonged droughts in the region.
Agricultural activity is located in the buffer zone in the northern sector of the reserve, in the region known as Vizcaíno Valley, and covers approximately 11,000 hectares. The region is known as one of the country's main vegetable producers. However, almost all of the production is for export and it is at a high environmental cost. As was previously mentioned, water is the limiting resource in Baja California Sur, yet vegetable farming requires large quantities of water. Therefore, the agro-businesses extract ground water using wells for irrigation. The ground water and water from aquifers is used to grow tomatoes, chilies, peas, strawberries, alfalfa, and garlic among other crops (that are later canned). Locals comment that although this is an important industry, local benefits are minimal because the workforce comes from other parts of Mexico.
There is communication between the reserve administration and large agricultural businesses. Yet, the producers have not assumed total responsibility and they refuse to invest resources. This results in what is all too common: lands become impoverished and production rates decrease. These large-scale farmers will leave the zone and look for new land in this or other region. This is what happened in states like Sinaloa and Sonora, from where some of Vizcaíno's large farmers originate. Growth in agricultural activities, like grazing, is likely one of the largest landscape modifiers that can covert expanses of native, sustained vegetation into small patches of native vegetation that cannot sustain itself over the long-term.
Subsistence farming in the reserve is minimal since it is very costly due to lack of water.
The main problems related to fishing are due to a lack of organization of some isolated fishing sectors within the reserve. In these areas, fishermen engage in illegal fishing and catch out-of-season species, or species under special protection, like mollusks, lobster, and abalones. In some sites, such as El Cardón, Delgadillo, and El Dátil on the Pacific Coast, fishermen still catch sea turtles.
Overharvest of mollusks (Lyropecten subnudosus) and abalone (Haliotis spp. ) are two clear cases of illegal fishing, where even the fishermen recognize that the populations are diminishing.
The Pacific is known as one of the country’s richest fishing areas, and in fact, it is considered underdeveloped to a certain degree. The largest fishing cooperative is found in the region, known as the Northern Pacific (Pacífico Norte). In these areas, there are sufficient economic resources for the fishermen (businessmen) to conduct studies of the species they harvest. However, in other regions, like in Mar de Cortes, there is less technical capacity, fewer financial resources, and a lack of studies to determine population sizes of harvested marine resources. This situation shows that there are some well-organized groups with access to financial resources and capacity, but others that are not organized, lack resources, and haven’t diversified their harvests, thereby only concentrating on a few species.
The fishing methods used also pose a threat to the marine resources. For example, bottom trawling is notorious because of the damage it causes, yet it is commonly practiced. By-catch is extremely high when using bottom trawling, and in many cases, more by-catch is harvested than target species.
Without a doubt, there is a lack of biological fishing studies and little promotion for the need of such studies. However, they are required in order to identify additional potentially commercial species and to develop better sustainable harvest techniques with very clear regulatory measures.
Hunting in the reserve takes place in two ways: 1) hunting that is regulated via the System of Conservation, Management, and Sustainable Wildlife Use Units (UMAS); and 2) illegal hunting. Hunted species include bighorn sheep, mule deer, peninsular pronghorn, puma, bobcat, and small mammals. There is a large, economically powerful market for Bighorn sheep meat, and the hunting of this species is one of the best-developed programs within UMAS. The biggest prob with this program, unfortunately, is that the allowable harvest rates may be biased because they are based on data generated from the census of bighorn populations as well as on the number of hunting permits solicited. Experts in the region and within the UMAS system comment that because different areas within the program overlap, they may be counting one population of bighorns as two different herds, thus over-counting the number of sheep. As a result, this specially protected species has not demonstrated a true recovery.
Bighorns, deer, and peninsular pronghorns are hunted illegally, as are wild cats such as pumas and bobcats, which ranchers kill when these animals are threats to their cattle.
Mining peaked during the last century in places like Santa Rosalía, where minerals such as copper, manganese, and gypsum were extracted. This mining activity created soil erosion, contamination, pollution, and litter from abandoned machinery and infrastructure (much of which was dumped into the ocean); in short, damaging the environment. After companies decided to leave the region and the capital that stimulated employment, commerce, and development was gone, prosperous communities like Santa Rosalía entered an economic recess.
Salt mining has been the most profitable in Guerrero Negro, where large salt evaporation processors exist, owned by Exportadora de Sal (SEMARNAT 1997). Considering that the inputs for this industry come from the ocean, it is estimated that its reserves are "almost infinite." The main threat posed by salt mining is the by-products created by high salt concentrations (brine) that have been associated with the death of threatened species such as sea turtles.
At Guerrero Negro's Salt Mine, there are large concentration glasses covering much of the land where they produce salt
Another important location within the Salt Mine is "El Chaparrito" where the ships transport salt towards Cedros Island, where large barges later arrive for the produce
Another threat is the growth of the salt industry and the resulting transformation of large extensions of land, which will eventually turn into highly saline areas that would only be able to support hyper-saline tolerant vegetation.
In summary, mining is not regulated in a way that is compatible with the environment and the area's conservation. There are currently new mineral exploration projects being conducted by foreign companies interested in reactivating mining in the region.
Contamination threatens the reserve in several different ways. For one, farming activities create soil and water contamination when agrochemicals seep into the ground water. Vizcaíno Valley's intensive agriculture also creates significant amounts of inorganic waste, such as plastics that are used during vegetable production and then deposited in open-air dumps or simply thrown away in non-designated areas, affecting the environment.
The dump at Guerrero Negro is open-air and it receives very little attention from authorities. What we were able to find out, and from our observations, the dump is burned frequently which produces large clouds of smoke that can be seen from far away. Among the waste is fishing waste, scrap metal, industrial garbage, in addition to everything else one can imagine
Depositing organic waste in sanitary landfills is quickly becoming a solution to get rid of waste. However, in each field, several landfills are created and the waste is not managed in a systematic way, so dispersed contamination continues.
Because there is insufficient infrastructure and technology for final deposition, other activities, such as fishing, mining, dumping domestic garbage, and scrapping vehicles, create pollution as well.
Vehicles and highways
Although the main highway in the peninsula is the Transpeninsular No. 1, secondary roads connecting major communities are still important. From these roads many tourists (mostly Americans) in all-terrain vehicles enter the protected areas without any authorization or advice and end up driving through remote, well-conserved areas, destroying vegetation.
The extensive network of secondary roads, some of which are now asphalted, is a threat for species like the peninsular pronghorns that inhabit Vizcaíno’s desert plains because these highways fragment and isolate their habitat and populations, making the species more susceptible to threats and predators.
Projects like the “Escalera Náutica” represent a threat because they create incentives for more road and highway consturction to allow easy access to the most important tourist sites (more information on this particular project follows).
The magnitude of Escalera Náutica is seen in these maps. It represents a potential threat that could affect all of the Peninsula’s and Gulf of California’s protected areas and biodiversity.
The project "Escalera Náutica" (Nautical Ladder) represents a major tourism investment during this governmental term. In short, it is a multimillion-dollar investment to build new infrastructure to optimize the nautical, terrestrial, and aerial capacities along the entire Baja California Peninsula.
They are considering creating 24 ports, 11 nautical centers, and a land bridge that connects the Pacific Coast with the Sea of Cortés. Also contemplated are four entrance routes from the United States, 20 airports and airfields, and a system of fuel distribution at every port. Eight of the potential ports would be located in protected areas including El Vizcaíno Biosphere Reserve, which would have ports at Bahía Tortugas, Punta Abreojos, and Santa Rosalía and two airfields. Another protected area, the Cirios Wildlife Protection Area, would have four sites (Cabo Colonet, Punta San Carlos, Santa Rosalillita ,and Bahía de los Ángeles).
As was mentioned previously, extensive UMAS could be playing a double role when it proposes sustainable use with special protection of wildlife species that are threatened. This warning sign stems from the General Wildlife Office's lack of solid administrative and field structure, prohibiting it from clear and systematic field monitoring of species included in the UMAS. In addition, population studies are needed for some endangered species and for some protected species before allowing them to be hunted or harvested. However, as is the case with the sea cucumber (Isostichopus fuscus), the UMAS is about to permit harvest in the region Santa Rosalía without such population status studies.
Lack of PROFEPA presence
It is a well-known fact that the environmental authority (PROFEPA) is incapable of covering all the needs of a reserve like El Vizcaíno. The reserve is the country's largest protected area, yet only one PROFEPA officer is assigned to it. In addition to lack of staff, the PROFEPA officer that is assigned to Vizcaíno does not have sufficient equipment or infrastructure to guarantee natural resource protection.