Sharp-shinned Hawk
Ewan Burns
Sharp-shinned Hawk
 The state of Veracruz is the third most biologically diverse region of Mexico and is an important passageway for migratory birds and insects traveling across the Americas.  Each year more than four million birds of prey and tens of millions more songbirds, dragonflies, and butterflies pass through or winter in Veracruz, in southeast Mexico. The region's dramatic topography and thermal wind currents provide a unique environment where raptors--a family that comprises hawks, falcons, osprey, and kites--as well as vultures migrating from the eastern and western United States funnel into a single flight path, forming the famous "River of Raptors," one of the great natural spectacles of the world. These diverse ecosystems provide habitat for more than 220 species that migrate from the United States, as well as a total of 731 avian species, representing two-thirds of the known bird species in Mexico. 

Today, however, 92 percent of the natural primary forest in Veracruz has been lost or severely degraded, converted to sugar cane, cattle pasture, or other purposes that cannot easily sustain wildlife. Unless current land-use patterns are reversed in this critical bottleneck, many species of hemispheric migrants will decline and the chance to restore forests in Veracruz will be lost forever.

River of Raptors
Ewan Burns
Raptors over Veracruz
 As millions of migratory birds pass through Veracruz each year, rampant deforestation is posing significant damage to their stopover habitats. Cattle ranching and mono-crop agriculture--two dominant livelihoods for locals--have cleared away more than 90 percent of central Veracruz's natural vegetation, leaving little cover, food, or roosting sites for birds traveling vast distances. Urban pollution and sprawl, agricultural runoff, and wetland filling also pose significant threats to Veracruz's ability to support the biodiversity of its natural heritage.

Audubon and Pronatura Veracruz help landowners manage their lands sustainably and work to restore forests and riparian areas. We help these landowners develop resource use and extraction plans that can provide alternative economic opportunities and that qualify the landowners for government assistance as they implement these plans.

Veracruz landowner
Ewan Burns
 To date, this project has placed more than 3,570 acres into private protected areas, helping preserve the remaining seed banks and biodiversity necessary for the regeneration of forests in the future. These acres represent the holdings of 12 forward-thinking landowners who saw the benefits of enrolling their family lands into this recognized land-protection program. They have joined our program to create alternative livelihoods and to reduce reliance on cattle production, the region's dominant economic opportunity. They also see the value in preserving the remaining tracts of forests, their biodiversity, and the benefits these forests provide the entire community. Pronatura has held seven workshops to engage and educate landowners; it has also held several informal one-on-one meetings with landowners enrolled in the program. Thirty-eight landowners have attended one or more workshop, and seven landowners attended more than four. Initial meetings helped foster greater awareness among the landowners about income opportunities from intact forests, as well as the many benefits forests provide for human health and biological diversity. These workshops inspired landowners to enroll additional acreage in the conservation project.

Read more about the river of raptors here: http://mag.audubon.org/articles/birds/river-raptors