With what environmental organization are you affiliated?
Currently I serve as program officer in the Mexican Forest Program for World Wildlife Fund, working to protect the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve in central Mexico. The pine and fir forest region where I work is the winter habitat for the migratory North American monarch butterfly. These butterflies travel all the way from Canada and the eastern United States to find refuge here during the winter months. It is a spectacular migration and natural phenomenon. Given this area’s importance, the Mexican government set aside roughly 139,000 acres for protection. Without these forests our favorite orange butterfly could be lost to extinction throughout the eastern United States and Canada.
What do you really do, on a day-to-day basis?
We work with rural communities, the Mexican government, local organizations, and researchers to stop deforestation in the protected area. I review project proposals from local organizations and groups who seek financial support from WWF to advance our conservation mission. The day-to-day work is a healthy combination of addressing everyday emergencies and creative thinking to stop logging in the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve.
What long and winding road led you to your current position?
Unlike most of my colleagues, I studied economics and history. We need more interdisciplinary thinkers in the field of conservation and forest protection. It can be lonely.
With whom do you interact regularly as part of your job?
I deal with many scientists and politicians, as well as a few scientists who have converted to politics. Interacting with the rural farmers who live in the protected area can be very rewarding. Our conservation program could benefit by reaching out more to the private sector such as sawmill owners, loggers, and anyone else who processes timber.
Who’s nicer than you would expect?
A power boss who controls one of the illegal logging groups in the indigenous community of Crescencio Morales proved to be one of the most charismatic and humorous individuals I have ever met. We met repeatedly in my attempt to convince him and his indigenous community to participate in a conservation program. I remember thinking, if I were thrown into a Mexican prison I would like to share a cell with this outlaw. We would have a great time sharing stories, and probably get out quickly too. Not that I approve of his source of income, of course.
Where were you born? Where do you live now?
I was born in the Bay Area in California, and now live in Mexico City.
What do you consider your environmental coming-of-age moment or experience?
Back in college I took a summer internship with Nabisco in Barcelona, Spain. We sold Oreos, Chips Ahoy!, and other cookies, crackers, and biscuits to Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. The most accomplished salesperson was a woman who had sold millions of Oreo cookies in Iceland. Every time a major new order was made, the employee who sealed the deal ran over to ring a loud bell, which was always followed by cheers of congratulations from our coworkers. It then became clear to me that I wanted to do more than sell cookies; I wanted to make a contribution to our planet.
What’s been the best moment of your career?
In the spring of 2003, I traveled with a group of Mexican farmers from the state of Michoacán to the southern state of Oaxaca to visit projects run by indigenous communities who have succeeded in improving their well-being while also conserving their forest resources. Their success was amazing and admirable. They have even set up a nice-looking tourism business to show off their beautiful temperate forest to tourists who visit the city of Oaxaca. But the best part was seeing how rural farmers learned directly from their peers and were inspired to return to their homes to work on similar projects in conservation and economic development.
Ironically, this exchange of experiences between rural Mexicans was not even in our work plan, and yet it was one of our program’s most successful projects for the year. We couldn’t have brought these groups together without our support from the Dave and Lucile Packard Foundation, and while this may sound like a simple plug for our donor, it is not. I’ve worked with other donors, and it is not the same. The Packard Foundation has supported WWF’s conservation program for years, and the region where I work in Mexico would not be the same without their help. Any organization able to work with the Packard Foundation is extremely fortunate.
What’s on your desk right now?
A deforestation analysis put together by researchers at Stanford University with high-resolution IKONOS satellite imagery. Also on my desk is WWF’s June 2004 report on illegal logging in the protected area, and a proposal from a small organization that will review the effectiveness of forest plantations surrounding the protected area.
How do you get around?
Mexico City buses have a fine taste in music that includes cumbia, salsa, norteño, and merengue that are always worth a trip. The Metro works great as well. But mostly, I am able to walk.
What are you reading these days?
I recently finished La Reina del Sur by Arturo Perez-Reverté, which depicts the internal workings of organized crime in Mexico and Europe. The illegal businesses of drug trafficking, car robberies, and gambling are closely intertwined with politics and political campaigns as a singular and interconnected business. I found it interesting how much these organizations invest in buying off the law for legal protection.
What’s your favorite meal?
Pa amb tomaquet: Catalan for bread and tomato, usually accompanied with manchego cheese and Rosés Vila organic wine from Spain.
Are you a news junkie? Where do you get your news?
Which stereotype about environmentalists most fits you?
I don’t own a car or television.
What’s your favorite place or ecosystem?
The top of any mountain.
Would you label yourself an environmentalist?
Yes, why not?
If you could have every InterActivist reader do one thing, what would it be?
Travel outside the United States and listen to how the world perceives the stars and stripes.