It is opportune while we are urgently fundraising to save habitats for big cats, that one of our ‘big cat’ partners, Grupo Ecológico Sierra Gorda (GESG) was notified on 6 October of a prestigious award. The honour is for GESG’s founder-director, Martha “Pati” Ruiz Corzo, who has won the Wangari Maathai Prize, awarded by the Collaborative Partnership on Forests (CPF). The award is in recognition of her pioneering work to preserve forests and alleviate rural poverty in the Sierra Gorda.
Martha “Pati” Ruiz Corzo, has pioneered rural community projects in the Sierra Gorda Biosphere Reserve, one of the most ecologically diverse areas of Mexico and home to Jaguar and other threatened species such Puma and other wild cats, as well as endangered macaws and rare hummingbirds.
One of the most prestigious forest accolades, the Wangari Maathai Award 2014 recognizes extraordinary efforts by an individual to improve and sustain forests and the people who depend on them. The award was established by the CPF to honour the memory of Kenyan environmentalist Wangari Maathai, a champion of forest issues worldwide and the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize.
Since 1997 GESG and carried out an intensive conservation education and training for local communities, turning the reserve into a flagship for public-private ecosystem management. Hundreds of local families benefit from a ‘payment for ecosystem services’ programme, receiving financial compensation for conserving and replanting trees on their land, which in turn saves habitats by preserving local watersheds and reducing soil erosion. GESG also works to protect forests by promoting alternatives to subsistence farming, helping rural communities earn a living through sustainable small enterprises such as beekeeping, bottling and preserving forest fruits, traditional embroidery and eco-tourism.
“Martha’s extraordinary commitment to preserving the biodiversity of her land and to lifting rural communities out of poverty makes her a deserving winner of the Wangari Maathai Award,” said Eduardo Rojas Briales, FAO Assistant Director-General, Forestry, and Chair of the CPF.
“By recognizing the implications of asking subsistence farmers to plant trees on land they had previously used to eke out a living, and putting into place successful mechanisms to offset that lost income, Martha and her organization have established a solid model that can be replicated elsewhere.”
‘Pati’ was presented with the US$20,000 award at a ceremony in Salt Lake City during the XXIV World Congress of the International Union of Forest Research Organizations, one of the members of the CPF.
“I believe in the common good not only for the people that live in the Sierra Gorda but also for the conservation of flora and fauna with whom we share this biosphere,” she said.
A Lifeline for the wildlife of Sierra Gorda and WLT
Roberto Pedraza Ruiz, “Pati’s” oldest son, has played a key role of the work GESG from the beginning and has become an internationally acclaimed photographer and wildlife expert. Well known to the readers of WLT publications and website Roberto acts as the Trust’s lifeline with the Sierra Gorda reserve. Passionate about everything he works so hard to protect rarely does a week go by without a communication from him. On the eve of Big Cat Big Match Fortnight Roberto sent this note to give us inspirations .
“After three weeks in the field one of the camera traps, placed by Leonel Espino, our ranger in charge of Las Arenitas reserve, finally we have some new Jaguar photos! Leonel is an excellent tracker and really knows his territory well,” says Roberto. “It is so nice to have new evidence about the importance of the reserves, for our Big Cats and thanks to WLT for raising funds to help us protect more land for them where these big predators can still find shelter.”