Background info

The Sierra Gorda Biosphere Reserve covers 33% of the Mexican state of Querétaro. Grupo Ecologico Sierra Gorda creates community-based models to regenerate and conserve old-growth forests while providing diverse income for communities. More than thirty years of work is now manifesting in community benefits and the protection of Mexico’s beautiful natural heritage.

Mexican forests: incredible opportunity for community regeneration

Forests cover more than one-third of Mexico. And since the Mexican Revolution, at the beginning of the 20th century, local communities control and manage over 80% of the country’s forests. This offers an incredible opportunity for community-based conservation within Mexico. When managed well, forests can provide sustenance and income for these communities. Healthy forests act as massive carbon sinks – mitigating climate change – while playing a critical hydrological role to cycle water.

Yet unsustainable forest management is widespread. Many communities use old-growth forest as “natural pasture”. Overloading of cattle in forests leads to the severe degradation of a collective community resource, deteriorates the rich biodiversity of Mexico and reduces the potential for forests to absorb carbon and mitigate climate change. Deforestation is a country wide issue: between 2002 and 2018 Mexico lost more than 500,000 ha of primary forest. Reducing unsustainable livestock management is key to protecting Mexico’s forest.

The Sierra Gorda Biosphere Reserve

The Sierra Gorda Biosphere Reserve is a mountainous landscape in the State of Querétaro, Mexico. Located between America’s neo-artic and neo-tropical bioregion, the area is rugged and highly diverse. Mountains range from 3100m to 300m above sea level, while rainfall varies from 300ml to 2500ml/year. The variety of the landscape means the Sierra Gorda Biosphere is a microcosm of Mexico’s rich natural heritage. Among mountain cloud forests and temperate forests flourish 34 species of oak, Douglas firs stand tall on the highest peaks and semi-desert species like guanacaste and ceiba grow in the semi-arid areas. Recently two new species of magnolia were discovered within the Biosphere.

The animals that live within the landscape are just as impressive. Jaguars and pumas traverse the mountain range. Black bears live among the forests. Deep valleys and rivers offer habitat for an axolotl species. And flying squirrels and mountain trogons nest in tree cavities. To date 2,308 plant species, 343 birds, 111 mammals, 134 reptiles and amphibians, and a third of all the butterflies found in Mexico, approximately 800 species, have been documented in the landscape. The Sierra Gorda is an oases of life.

Learn about Sierra Gorda’s fauna and flora in the photo-essay by conservationist and photographer Roberto Pedraza Ruiz: Sierra Gorda Ark of Life.

Grupo Ecológico Sierra Gorda: Orchestrating a paradigm shift

Shocked by the degradation of forests in The Sierra Gorda, local community members created Grupo Ecologico Sierra Gorda (GESG). Since 1987, GESG has been driven by a local desire to protect biodiversity in the region. Through community-driven workshops and campaigns, the Sierra Gorda Biosphere reserve was written in decree and created in 1997.

Grupo Ecológico Sierra Gorda leads an alliance of civil society organisations made up of: Bosque Sustentable A.C., Tourism Products and Services of the Sierra Gorda S.A. de C.V., Joya del Hielo A.C.and Viva Sierra Gorda. Together the alliance is part of a regenerative movement to develop solutions that value ecosystem services and biodiversity. Education and community engagement promotes a shared responsibility for common heritage. A local carbon mechanism in collaboration with the State Government of Querétaro is in place. Knowledge exchange leads to diversification of income. While research and analysis leads best practice for monitoring and forest regeneration.

Grupo Ecológico Sierra Gorda and alliance are orchestrating a paradigm shift in community-management of forest landscapes that will act as a model for other forest-dependent communities in Mexico.

Explore the landscape

4 Returns

  • People find a purpose in their own communities, reducing the motivation for migration.
  • Residents of the Reserve take pride in its beauty and natural resources.
  • Residents of the state of Querétaro value and support the conservation of the Reserve.
  • National and international visitors respect and support the conservation of the Reserve.
  • The successful Querétaro model inspires replication in the Sierra Gorda bioregion and in other states

An image for Inspiration

Inspiring communities through environmental education is a way to connect people with the Sierra Gorda Biosphere Reserve.

  • Communities and individuals thrive in a conservation-based economy.
  • Communities receive ongoing education and training for the regeneration of landscapes and economic sustainability.
  • Communities implement measures to reduce their vulnerability to climate change.
  • Businesses, organizations and individuals reduce their climate footprint by supporting mitigation and adaptation activities in the Reserve.
  • Communities and farmers increase their water and food security.
  • Municipalities and communities implement integrated waste management that minimizes environmental impacts.

An image for Social Capital

Increased food security is an important social capital for communities living in the Sierra Gorda Biosphere Reserve.

  • Natural habitat is conserved and restored.
  • Biodiversity that depends on the habitat is conserved and restored.
  • Restoration contributes to the mitigation of climate change, capturing carbon in forests and soils.
  • Natural water sources are regenerated.

An image for Natural Capital

Protecting and restoring natural habitat mitigates the impacts of climate change while capturing carbon in forest ecosystems.

  • Sustainable harvesting of wild products like pine nuts and aromatic herbs provides essential work for the communities.
  • Forest owners receive additional income from payments for ecosystem services.
  • Farmers receive increased income from the increased productivity of their grazing and croplands.
  • Community-based tourism provides residents with increased income.

An image for Financial Capital

Healthy ecosystems provide financial capital through harvesting wild products.


Culture of sustainability

  • Environmental education
  • Communication with the community: neighbourhood meetings, social media channels and a weekly radio program “Our Earth”
  • Solid waste management: support micro-business collection centres pursuing an inter-municipal solid waste plan
  • Earth Centre (Centro Tierra): a space where three decades of experience is exchanges with multiple stakeholders

Sanctuaries of Wildlife

  • The first federally protected area created from a grassroots movement, decreed in 1997
  • Today private reserves are part of the bio-corridor
  • Forest fire brigades in local communities

Regenerative economy

  • Forest and non-forest products
  • Hydrological and CO2 capture: volunteer carbon offset framework, regenerative soil management
  • Valorization of Scenic Beauty capabilities
An image for At the Earth Center, decades of experience are shared among diverse people like farmers, forest producers, entrepreneurs and government.

At the Earth Center, decades of experience are shared among diverse people like farmers, forest producers, entrepreneurs and government.

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