Interview with Rubén Treviño Friederichsen, environmental education coordinator, Naturalia, and Jorge Neyra, wildlife photographer, Mexico

Interview by Nuria Bolaños, Neotropics Communications, Rainforest Alliance, Costa Rica

“It was with a double motive that we decided to make this excursion and from the clouds, from the summit of Ixtaccíhuatl, demand the release of Rodolfo and Teodoro.”

Last October a group of conservationists with Naturalia, a nonprofit group, climbed Ixtaccíhuatl Volcano, the third highest peak in Mexico at 5,280 meters. Treviño and Neyra explain why they made this ascent and what they found.

Question: What was the purpose of this ascent?

Treviño: We wanted to mark Naturalia’s 10th anniversary, on October 22, 2000. For a conservation group to reach 10 years here in Mexico is very important for the country. There are few conservation groups here. Many are environmental groups, located throughout the country but principally in Mexico City, but there are few groups dedicated to protecting the country’s flora and fauna. So celebrating Naturalia’s anniversary was one motive.

Another was to call attention to the case of Rodolfo Montiel — winner of the 2000 Goldman Prize — and Teodoro de Cabrera, two farmers and ecologists from Sierra de Guerrro. The former is founder of the Association of Ecological Campesinos of Petatlán. They were tortured and detained by the army and then by the authorities. A trial followed and they were sentenced to six years and eight months in prison, unjustly, for defending the forests of the Petatlán region in the state of Guerrero.

So it was with a double motive that we decided to make this excursion and from the clouds, from the summit of Ixtaccíhuatl, demand the release of Rodolfo and Teodoro.

Q: Why did you choose that mountain?

Treviño: For one thing, Mexico City is just an hour and a half from the population that lives at the base of Ixtaccíhuatl, a community called Meca Meca, and we thought to take the old route, from this small town to the summit and back to the town. The oak and fir forest is beautiful and ecologically important.

It took us several days to reach the summit, taking a route that our guide, Jorge Neyra, identified. There is a somewhat dangerous part that requires adequate equipment and technique, but we had prepared ourselves physically, mentally, and technically. This route is not well known, and at one point, we had low temperatures — four degrees centigrade below zero. Luckily we had sunny, clear days.

We started on a Friday. I was the third to arrive at the highest point, at 5,280 meters, at about 11:30 am on Sunday. At 12:30 pm we started the descent and concluded on Monday at 3 pm, after some falls and then our batteries ran out.

It was an extreme physical effort, exciting at some dangerous points, and a tremendous experience. I’m 47; not so young. Jorge, our guide, is 30. But to be at the summit after all this effort, in spite of the pain in our legs, in spite of being so tired, gave me tremendous satisfaction. We dedicated all that we went through to Rodolfo and Teodoro.

I had the opportunity to visit them in prison and talk with them, and made note of their physical and mental state. So we reached our objective with the idea of declaring from the mountain that these people must be freed immediately. In spite of our effort, we didn’t achieve the goal of liberating them, but we will not stop protesting.

Q: Now that there’s a new government in Mexico, does that improve the chances for their liberation?

Treviño: We will see if the new government is willing to do so. Unfortunately, Guerrro State is known for being repressive. Guerilla groups have been based there for many years. The outlook for Rodolfo and Teodoro is not encouraging, although the National Commission of Human Rights investigated and denounced the fact that the military had tortured them ad there were many irregularities during their trial. IN spite of this and the national and international pressure, their sentence was ratified, which underscores the impunity and power the military has in this country.

Now that we have a different political situation, this gives us hope that the case will be reviewed.

Q: You mentioned that when you passed through the forest on the way to the top of Ixtaccíhuatl, you saw a good deal of illegal logging — is this recent?

Treviño: There’s always been logging there, including logging done by some paper companies. Every time we go to the area, we hear hatchets and chainsaws. Recently I read that more than 30 percent of the forest had been logged. We mainly saw logging of cedro as well as charcoal production from oak trees. Last week we were in the forest observing endemic bird species and found three clandestine charcoal ovens. We noticed a change in the climate at the summit — the snowcap is melting.

Neyra: In the higher part of the mountain, above 4800 meters, you can still find sheets of ice and persistant snows. In recent years we have been losing this ice cap, probably due to climate change ad also to a normal recession of the glaciers during the last thousands of years. Also volcanic activity has probably melted the ice cap. It’s interesting because these glaciers re in a tropical zone, at 19-degrees, latitude north. No where else in the world can you find glaciers at this latitude. In Mexico, we find them on our three highest mountains. It’s probable that the snow will melt in the coming years, and this will have serious repercussions. One will be desertification.

Q: Is the region legally protected?

Treviño: Yes, but the level of protection that’s given to a park is little by little diminishing. The richest zone of the forest is not protected, which has allowed illegal and uncontrolled logging. Tree seedlings are supposed to be planted, but we didn’t notice any reforestation.

Neyra: The forests of the lower and middle part of the mountain are disappearing, which began 100 years ago when a paper plant ws established on the western slope of Ixtaccíhuatl, and that was followed by more and more human settlements in forests at low altitudes. The paper factory required huge amounts of water and wood, so that had an impact.

Beyond that, over time the human population has increased, with more impacts on the forest: illegal logging, particularly of conifers — the most common species are firs and pine.

Q: But isn’t the area a national park?

Neyra: It’s a national park from 3,650 meters and up, but this doesn’t protect the most biologically rich parts, which are below that. Supposedly this part is a “municipal reserve”, but that doesn’t mean anything. There are no parkguards.

The trip with Naturalia was my 20th ascent to the summit; I’ve been climbing Ixtaccíhuatl for 13 years. I was struck this time by the alteration that I could observe from the top of Mexico City and surrounding areas. Each time I’ve climbed to the top, there is less wildlife, fewer trees, and from the summit you can clearly see all that we are causing.

Q: Do you think you achieved the objective of this expedition?

Treviño: Yes. I think it’s clear how important this was to us. We are a country like yours, Costa Rica, with megadiversity and a huge responsibility. We will not stop shouting to the four winds: We must take care of this natural treasure.

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