More than 60 years after U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Mexican President Manuel Avila Camacho envisioned a conservation partnership to manage the biologically rich region along Big Bend National Park and Mexico's Rio Bravo region, efforts are under way to bring that vision to fruition.
When Big Bend was established on June 12, 1944, President Roosevelt wrote to President Camacho, “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 Río Grande forms one great international park.”
More than 65 years later, Interior Department officials and their Mexican counterparts have moved closer to making that vision a reality. On Monday, U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and Mexican Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Juan Rafael Elvira Quesada outlined "a working plan that identifies the next steps for the continued coordination between the two countries in the protection and preservation of the transnational Big Bend/Rio Bravo region – North America’s largest and most diverse desert ecosystem."
The Cooperative Action for Conservation in the Big Bend/Rio Bravo Region was developed in coordination with the National Park Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Geological Survey, Mexico’s National Commission of Natural Protected Areas and other partner agencies, according to an Interior Department release. The working plan's implementation has already begun.
“As neighbors and partners in conservation, the United States and Mexico share more than just a border,” said Secretary Salazar. “We share a commitment toward fulfilling a conservation vision President Roosevelt and President Camacho proposed over 60 years ago. With the support of Secretary Elvira and our counterparts in Mexico, today’s announcement marks a major step in turning this vision into a reality.”
For his part, Secretary Elvira saw the working plan as "a new chapter to our strategic partnership."
“We celebrate putting into actions a model of collaboration for transboundary conservation. The Big Bend-Rio Bravo Natural Area of Binational Interest is a model envisioned by our presidents; it is a dream shared by many past generations; and a legacy for present and future ones. In sum, it is an example of the best our governments and people can pursue through cooperation and joint work.”
The region spans more than 268 miles of rivers—some 14 percent of the entire U.S.-Mexico border—and three million acres of contiguous parks and protected area, according to Interior Department officials. It is home to 446 species of birds, 3,600 species of insects, more than 1,500 plants, and 75 species of mammals, they add.
Combined, the Big Bend region of Texas and the Mexican states of Chihuahua and Coahuila provide a unique opportunity for scientists, natural resource managers, and park staff to collaborate in areas that will benefit the people, the landscapes, and the wildlife on both sides of the border, according to Interior officials.
“When you come to an area as remote and as beautiful as Big Bend, it truly changes your perception of what a border is and what a border can be,” said U.S. Ambassador to Mexico Anthony Wayne. “There is a line - the river in this case - that politically marks the boundaries of our two countries. But for a tourist, for a park ranger, for a conservationist, and for anyone who has visited this spectacular place, one thing is clear: what we share here – the seamless flow of nature across both banks of the river – is far stronger and far more enduring than what divides us.”