By John Waters, Publisher
Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, U.S. Customs and Border Protection Chief Michael Fisher, U.S. Ambassador to Mexico Anthony Wayne, Mexican Environmental and Natural Resources Secretary Juan Rafael Elvira Quessada, visited Big Bend National Park on October 24 to celebrate binational environmental cooperation between the U.S. and Mexico, and to break ground on the new Boquillas Crossing.
Salazar said they were there to celebrate, continue, and expand the environmental cooperation Presidents Obama and Calderón agreed upon in May 2010.
Citing the region’s “extraordinary biological diversity” Salazar said increased cooperation would protect one of the largest ecological complexes in North America. Salazar and Elvira signed an action plan identifying goals for the conservation of the area’s biodiversity. Under the plan, scientists and resource managers from both countries are working on habitat restoration, the control of invasive species, wildlife management, climate change adaptation and wildfire management.
Salazar, Elvira and other dignitaries shoveled soil for the groundbreaking of the new Customs station for the crossing between Rio Grande Village in the park and Boquillas, in Mexico. Immediate beneficiaries of the crossing will be scientists on both sides of the river who will no longer be hindered by a several-hundred-mile drive to cross the international border at a port of entry.
The collaborative efforts will benefit almost three million acres of contiguous park and protected area consisting of 270 miles of river—or fourteen percent of the entire U.S. Mexico border.
Salazar said current and future efforts in bilateral ecological cooperation is a great step in completing President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s vision. Upon the creation of Big Bend National Park, Roosevelt said, “I do not believe that this undertaking in the Big Bend will be complete until the entire park area in this region on both sides of the Rio Grande forms one great international park.”
Salazar (center) conferred with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Biologist Aimee Roberson (R), who is supervising a multi-agency restoration project around the endangered Rio Grande silvery minnow. Since 2008, Fish and Wildlife has released approximately 1.4 million silvery minnows in the Big Bend region. In June, biologists documented the minnows have dispersed fifteen miles upstream and 70 miles downstream. While standing midstream in the Rio Grande, releasing the minnows, Salazar shouted out: “Where’s Aimee [Roberson]? She’s the steward of this project. Lets have a big round of applause for Aimee.”
Mexico Secretary of Environment and Natural Resources Juan Rafael Elvira (L), U.S. Ambassador Anthony “Tony” Wayne (center), Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar (R), waded in the Rio Grande. Upon releasing the first bucket of approximately 500 of the 267,000 Rio Grande silvery minnows, Secretary Salazar commented, “With 500 a bucket, one down — about 270 to go.” The Rio Grande Silvery minnow was once one of the most abundant fishes in the Rio Grande, found from northern New Mexico to the Gulf of Mexico. The minnow population has suffered dramatic declines due to modification of the river’s flow regime, stream channelization, decreasing water quality and introduction of non-native species, according to Fish and Wildlife.