The Sierra Madre Occidental in Northern Mexico extends for over 1,000 miles and is the most biologically diverse ecosystem in North America. The Sierra Madres' isolation and deeply corrugated topography has attracted drug traffickers and illegal logging operations. Only two percent of the region's old growth forest remains.
Undaunted by the violent climate generated by the drug trade, Edwin Bustillos (d. 2003), an agricultural engineer, was determined to create a 1.3 million acre biosphere reserve in the Sierra Madre to protect both its highly endangered ecosystems and 12 native Tarahumara and Tepehuan communities that have lived in the mountains for two thousand years. To accomplish this Bustillos, a native of the Sierra Madre, founded a human rights and environmental organization called CASMAC (Advisory Council of the Sierra Madre) in 1992. Two indigenous old growth forest reserves have been officially declared by surrounding communities. CASMAC is developing proposals from 10 other communities to integrate all or part of their forests into the Biosphere reserve.
Bustillos paid a high price for his commitment to the Sierra. Since 1994, he survived three attempts on his life and suffered from severe back and head injuries incurred in the attacks.
Despite the odds, Bustillos and CASMAC helped stop two illegal logging operations and were working to protect the land rights of over 300 Tarahumara families. Although a very small organization, CASMAC and Bustillos were also instrumental in developing a landmark constitutional proposal for indigenous rights in the state of Chihuahua, which nearly became law before being defeated by a newly elected congress in 1996. CASMAC proceeded to change strategies for defense of indigenous rights by embarking in ecologically friendly and culturally appropriate economic alternatives to drug production and logging. CASMAC, with its U.S. partner, the Sierra Madre Alliance, developed a permaculture training program and a native craft program. Organic paper production and a project to develop non-timber forest products such as medicinal plants were slated to begin in the fall of 1998. CASMAC further enabled native communities with a leadership training program, a radio communications network and a program for training and certifying indigenous forest inspectors. CASMAC continues to research community problems and take legal action on behalf of communal native forests and lands.
Goldman Environmental Foundation
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