Tag Archives: Mexico

San Miguel de Allende: “NAFTA of Literary Festivals” 

San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. Photo by Jiuguang Wang
via Flickr 

By Brian Brennan
March, 2018

“Meet acclaimed Canadian authors in San Miguel!” said the invitation. How could one resist? According to the program, three of the seven keynote speakers at this year’s Writers’ Conference & Literary Festival in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico – Emma Donoghue, John Vaillant and Joseph Boyden – would be Canadian. They would join American keynoters Wally Lamb, Jane Friedman and Rita Dove, and Mexican author Jorge Volpi, to talk about some of the “most pressing issues in today’s multi-cultural conversation.”

Other Canadian literary panellists, readers, and workshop leaders would include Leanne Dunic, Merilyn Simonds, Sandra Gulland, Myrl Coulter, Laurie Gough and April Bosshard. They would discuss experimental writing and the state of publishing today, read at a special outdoor Canada Reads event and facilitate workshops on writers’ craft. It all promised to be a grand opportunity for Canada’s travelling authors to hang out and talk shop.

© Brian Brennan 2018

As it turned out, Emma Donoghue was forced to cancel at the last minute due to her mother’s death in Dublin. But the conference organizers scrambled and substituted Benjamin Alire Sáenz, a New Mexico poet and novelist. He flew in and delivered an impassioned closing keynote on living in Trumpian America.

This writers’ gathering in San Miguel de Allende (SMA), a colonial gem of cobbled streets and revolutionary charm, has been held annually since 2005. The first one attracted an audience of twenty-six. Now, more than three hundred workshop participants attend, and the main stage presentations attract a total audience of ten thousand. Clearly, the five-day event is a hit.

What accounts for its success? The sunny location for starters. The SMA weather in February is as temperate as the May weather on Salt Spring Island. Plus, the city is culturally rich and diverse. You can attend an afternoon reading by a Spanish poet, then listen to a Calgary jazz singer-pianist and a Brazilian electric guitarist performing Great American Songbook staples while you dine in a pizza restaurant owned by a former Mexico City addictions counsellor.

Plus, and this is a major draw, the featured keynoters are some of the world’s best-known authors, including the likes of Yann Martel, Naomi Klein and Joyce Carol Oates. The keynoters come for the weather too. “If your conference was in Youngstown, Ohio, I don’t think I’d come,” Calvin Trillin told organizers in 2013. “But since it’s in San Miguel …”

And they certainly don’t come for the big bucks to this event, which draws no sponsorship from publishing houses. Barbara Kingsolver came in 2010 because she wanted to visit Mexico’s famous monarch butterfly wintering site, two hours’ drive from SMA. She also came because she shared an editor with conference executive director Susan Page, a published author. “Knowing people is huge,” says Page. “Most of our major writers come because we share a personal connection with them.”

Page takes pride in the fact it’s a bilingual, tricultural event, with as many people coming from Canada as from the U.S. and Mexico. “We coined the phrase: ‘the creative crossroads of the Americas.'” Or as Kingston’s Merilyn Simonds, author of The Convict Lover, likes to call it: “The NAFTA of literary festivals. The coming together of writers from all three cultures is both inspirational and provocative.”

Simonds, who was first invited to the conference – along with fellow keynoter Margaret Atwood – in 2012, now lives in SMA for half the year. She consults with the festival organizers on Canadian guests and has been successful in getting funding from the Canada Council and the Canadian embassy in Mexico City. “It’s a joy to see Canadian books and writers becoming better known to readers beyond our borders..”

For Simonds, the spark of this festival is the literary conversations between writers of different nationalities. “When you get international writers coming together you can see your own culture reflected in a way that you can’t when you’re conversing within your own borders. It broadens us all creatively, imaginatively.”

This year, as in other years, one of the conversations was about cross-cultural influences. An international festival often turns the conversation to this provocative and sometimes contentious topic. Witness, for example, the furious social media backlash caused last year by the former editor of The Writers’ Union of Canada’s in-house magazine when he wrote – in an issue devoted to the work of Canada’s Indigenous writers – that there should be an “appropriation prize” for the best book by an author who writes about people “who aren’t even remotely like her or him.” The editor, Hal Niedzviecki, subsequently resigned and apologized, saying he regretted that his words had “failed to acknowledge the profound and lasting adverse impact of cultural appropriation on Indigenous peoples.”

So, how has exposure to or immersion in another nation’s culture affected the work of the writers who participated in this year’s SMA conference?

Simonds’s forthcoming novel, Refuge, is set partly in Mexico, and her work-in-progress evolves half in SMA and half in Chiapas. “I couldn’t have written either without living here, getting to know the Mexican culture, and having access to their remarkable literature.”

© Brian Brennan 2018

For Vancouver’s Leanne Dunic, a writer, digital artist and musician who has a Chinese mother and Croatian father and speaks Japanese as her second language, cross-cultural exploration is about working within and beyond the hyphen of a transnational identity, exploring culturally diverse narratives. As artistic director of the Powell Street Festival, the largest Japanese-Canadian arts and culture festival in Canada, Dunic is constantly being inspired by other authors and artists. “I meet so many artists from so many different backgrounds that I’m sure we’re all rubbing off on each other. As we move forward, and the world is becoming what it is, a lot more people are living in these transnational identities.”

April Bosshard, a Vancouver writer and story coach with a background in film, finds inspiration in the work of Japanese-Canadian filmmaker Linda Ohama, with whom she has participated in several projects. “Her passion and dedication and the messages she wants to get out about real people have certainly had an impact. Some of the work I’ve done lately has been a bit commercial, producing for online markets and so on, but she inspires me to return more to art, what your heart wants to say, what you want to put out to the world, that deeper truth.”

Gordon Cope, a Calgary author of travel memoirs and mystery thrillers who has lived in Paris, London and the South Pacific, and now lives full-time in Manzanillo, Mexico, finds that living internationally draws him to topics reflecting something other than the North American point of view. “In some ways, I feel like an anthropologist. My memoirs follow a common construct: well-meaning but bumbling narrator undergoing frequent embarrassment while trying to understand the host culture. Living internationally exposes me to many different points of view. It sharpens my powers of observation and obliges me to delve deeper.”

Sandra Gulland, author of the acclaimed Josephine B trilogy, grew up in California, moved to Canada in 1970 and now lives half the year in SMA. She says her Cold-War Berkeley upbringing used to make her think the end of the world was always imminent. Coming to Canada – “a healing nation,” as Carol Shields once called it – was a bit of a surprise because it offered Gulland a more optimistic view. “I was soon healed and won over by the general calm civility of Canadians. I’m not sure how this may have impacted my writing life. Calm helps, certainly.”

Gulland adds, in an interview with CBC’s Talin Vartanian, that the colonial character of SMA makes it an ideal setting for her French historical fiction. “This is a place where you hear horses on cobblestones. It’s a place where you walk everywhere, and life used to be like that. It helps to be immersed here in a Catholic culture where everyone shares the same values. There’s also the sensual richness of it, focused on the feminine and the Virgin Mary. You don’t see much of that north of the Mexican border.”

Edmonton’s Myrl Coulter, author of The Left-Handed Dinner Party and Other Stories, has spent the last seven winters in Arizona. She says the drive back and forth to Edmonton inspired her to write a road novel and now she wants to do more. She and her husband have sold their Arizona home so they can travel the world. “I’m looking for wider writing experiences. So, I’m reading widely in other cultures. And I plan on writing in other cultures – with dignity and respect.”

Respect for other cultures also defines the work of John Vaillant and Joseph Boyden.

When Vaillant was researching The Golden Spruce, his award-winning nonfiction book about the illegal felling of a tree sacred to the Haida Nation, he was told the story was the property of the Nation and shouldn’t be used without permission. This came as a surprise to the Boston-born writer who had moved to Canada in 1998 so his wife could do a graduate degree in anthropology at the University of British Columbia. So, he sought permission from the Tsiits Gitanee clan and was given “some really wonderful assistance.” It changed Vaillant’s life and informed his writing accordingly. “It’s also informed the way I live and think about the world; what I felt and saw and had shared with me in Haida Gwaii. I’m really grateful.”

Boyden sought permissions, too, when he wrote Wenjack, a novella based on the true story of a 12-year-old Ontario boy who froze to death in 1966 while on the run from a residential school. “I’ve done that with all my novels. I either seek advice from people like Georges Sioui, the great Huron academic and poet, or I talk to the family members of people on which I base my characters. In this instance, I asked permission from his sisters. It was a frightening thing because they could say no, and then where do you go? But they didn’t say no. ‘Keep doing what you’re doing,’ they said. So that’s what I did. They allowed me to write about their beloved brother.”

At the conference’s co-cultural panel that included Boyden and Vaillant, American poet Rita Dove spoke passionately about freedom of the imagination. “Labels carry with them presumptions about what a certain sort of writer can do. My lifelong goal is to thwart those presumptions whenever I can.” And Mexican novelist Jorge Volpi said, “We live in a world of clichés and simplification. It is our role to keep the language alive and vibrant.”

There were many other engaging and provocative conversations at this year’s festival, including one on writers as activists in dangerous times. In a panel discussion on the subject, it was noted that the humane, compassionate world we have spent our lives working to make better is disappearing before our eyes. “So, what is our role as writers, right now?” The answer remains elusive.

Copyright © Brian Brennan 2018


Brian BrennanBrian Brennan, an Irish journalist living in Canada, is a founding feature writer with Facts and Opinions and a contributor to Arts dispatches and the Loose Leaf salon. His profile of Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi, the first original feature in the journal’s inaugural issue, won Runner-up, Best Feature Article, in the 2014 Professional Writers Association of Canada Awards. Brennan was educated at University College Dublin, Vancouver’s Langara College, the Poynter Institute in St. Petersburg, Florida, and the National Critics Institute in Waterford, Connecticut.

Visit him at his website, www.brianbrennan.ca

Brian Brennan also plays jazz piano, for fun and profit.

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Porous Texas Fence Foreshadow’s Trump’s Wall Problems

Mud from people climbing over a border fence in Brownsville, Texas, U.S. is seen in Brownsville, Texas, U.S. on November 17, 2016.     REUTERS/Jon Herskovitz

Mud from people climbing over a border fence in Brownsville, Texas, U.S. is seen in Brownsville, Texas, U.S. on November 17, 2016. REUTERS/Jon Herskovitz

By Jon Herskovitz
December, 2016

BROWNSVILLE, Texas (Reuters) – The rose-coloured border security fence starts in a dusty field on the Loop family farm in South Texas – about 15 miles inland from the Gulf of Mexico and a mile north of the southern U.S. border.

From there, near Brownsville, it stretches about 60 miles west, but with plenty of gaps to drive or walk through. Where it exists, the fence doesn’t always stop illegal immigrants.

“It takes them about a minute and a half to climb the wall,” said farmer Ray Loop, noting the muddy footprints on several sections of the fence crossing his property.

The porous South Texas border fence, authorized in 2006, underscores how topography, treaty obligations, legal fights and high costs could frustrate efforts to stretch an “impenetrable” wall over the 2,000-mile border – the signature campaign promise of U.S. President-elect Donald Trump.

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The South Texas barrier is “more holes than it is fence,” said Denise Gilman, a law professor and director of the Immigration Clinic at the University of Texas at Austin.

The gaps reflect local political opposition, land rights battles and strategic decisions about where a fence would be most cost-effective, according to internal U.S. government emails obtained by Gilman through a court order and viewed by Reuters.

Trump transition team spokesman Jason Miller declined to comment on the challenges of border wall construction, saying the president-elect would have “plenty of time to discuss policy specifics” after he takes office in January.

In an interview with CBS’ “60 minutes” last month, Trump said for the first time that he would accept fencing in some areas of the border.

“But some areas, a wall is more appropriate,” Trump said. “I’m very good at this. It’s called construction. There could be some fencing.”

Loop, 51, is a Trump supporter who supports stricter immigration controls, but he has little faith in fences or walls.

“That is not going to work,” Loop said from his pickup last month as he passed border patrol cars on his property. “There are places where it makes sense logistically, but all the way from Texas to California? No.”

The Rio Grande Valley in South Texas has become a focal point for immigration enforcement because it has been a main artery for crossing.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection said in a statement that fencing is part of an integrated strategy that includes agents on the ground, motion sensors, cameras and airborne monitoring.

The Washington-based Center for Immigration Studies, which supports strong border security, said Trump should look beyond his proposed wall for a comprehensive policy.

“Fencing can be very effective in making life difficult for those attempting to clandestinely cross our southern border, but it is not a one-stop measure,” said Jon Feere, legal policy analyst for the centre.

A gate in the U.S. border fence with Mexico is seen in this photo taken at the Loop family farm in Brownsville, Texas, U.S. on November 17, 2016.   REUTERS/Jon Herskovitz

A gate in the U.S. border fence with Mexico is seen in this photo taken at the Loop family farm in Brownsville, Texas, U.S. on November 17, 2016. REUTERS/Jon Herskovitz


The Secure Fence Act of 2006, signed by Republican President George W. Bush, underestimated the cost of building a planned 670 miles of fencing at various places between California and Texas.

By the time Democratic President Barack Obama declared construction essentially complete in 2011, the allocated $2.4 billion had paid for fencing over only about half that distance, according to a U.S. Government Accounting Office report. Obama voted for the border fence construction when he was a U.S. Senator, as did Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.

In South Texas, original plans for two layers of reinforced fencing over about 200 miles between Laredo and Brownsville were scaled down to a gap-toothed, single-layer barrier of about a third that length.

Border terrain caused a host of land rights issues that added cost and time to the construction. About 1,200 miles of the U.S.-Mexico border are in Texas, along the meandering Rio Grande river, which makes it impossible to build a border wall on the actual border.

The International Boundary and Water Commission, set up between the two countries in 1889, prevents any disruption to the flow of the Rio Grande, effectively requiring any wall to be built on levees in flood plains.

That pushed the South Texas fence up to two miles north into U.S. territory – putting property on the Mexico-facing side of in into a kind of no man’s land, and requiring the government to compensate owners for lost land value.


Ernest Villarreal points to where the U.S. border fence passes through the backyard of his family’s home in Brownsville, Texas, U.S. on November 18, 2016.     REUTERS/Jon Herskovitz

Ernest Villarreal points to where the U.S. border fence passes through the backyard of his family’s home in Brownsville, Texas, U.S. on November 18, 2016. REUTERS/Jon Herskovitz

Loop’s home, and almost all of his farm, are in U.S. territory but on the Mexico-facing side of the fence. He settled the U.S. government’s eminent domain case on terms that were not disclosed.

Another eminent domain case filed by the U.S. government stretched out for seven years and 140 court filings, as Eloisa Tamez fought attempts to put a few acres of family land – awarded in a grant from the King of Spain in 1767 – on the Mexico-facing side of the wall. The government settled for an undisclosed sum and agreed to construct several access points in the fence on the property.

Another telling example of economic loss: The Fort Brown Memorial Golf Course in Brownsville, also behind the wall, closed in 2015 after losing business from customers who mistakenly believed they had to leave the U.S. to play a round.

Trump would have little trouble obtaining land through eminent domain to build a wall for national security purposes, legal experts said. But land owners may now have stronger claims for higher compensation because previous rounds of construction have established concrete examples of lost property value.

Some property rights and compensation cases filed in the Bush years now may carry over into Trump’s term, legal experts said. Trump’s wall, if constructed, could bring a flood of new court challenges, they said.

“The court disputes are going to delay any building for months and years,” said Efren Olivares, regional legal director with the South Texas office of the nonprofit Texas Civil Rights Project, which has represented landowners in border fence disputes.

Local political and economic concerns also pose obstacles. One of the large gaps in the fence is just west of Brownsville, near an affluent area where residents successfully fought off construction.

The government avoided areas with higher land values, according to the internal emails from U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

“They will not build any fence in any area (urban) where real estate costs are too high,” wrote Jeffrey Self, a Customs and Border Protection divisional bureau chief, in a situational report in March 2007.


A gate in the U.S. border fence with Mexico is seen in this photo taken at the Loop family farm in Brownsville, Texas, U.S. on November 17, 2016.  REUTERS/Jon Herskovitz

A gate in the U.S. border fence with Mexico is seen in this photo taken at the Loop family farm in Brownsville, Texas, U.S. on November 17, 2016. REUTERS/Jon Herskovitz

Across the southwest border, apprehensions have shot up in recent months as Trump made border security a central issue in the campaign. In the year through September, U.S. authorities have apprehended 408,870 immigrants trying to cross, a jump of 23 percent from a year ago, according to Customs and Border Protection data.

In McCallen, about 55 miles west of Brownsville, Mayor Jim Darling said human traffickers are drumming up business by telling people to cross before the Trump wall goes up.

“Now we have a bigger immigration problem,” said Darling, who holds a nonpartisan office but endorsed Republican Texas Governor Greg Abbott in his 2014 campaign.

If the current fencing in south Texas is extended to the west, it would likely end up in Rio Grande City, where Mayor Joel Villarreal, a political independent, sees it as a waste of government money and a potential windfall for Mexican criminal cartels trafficking immigrants.

“They will have the means to take people across,” he said in an interview, “and people will have to pay their cut to those cartels.”

Copyright Reuters 2016

(Reporting by Jon Herskovitz; Additional reporting by Jim Forsyth in San Antonio; Editing by Brian Thevenot)


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To Protect Monarch Butterfly,  A Plan to Save the Sacred Firs

By Janet Marinelli, Yale Environment 360 
January, 2016

Monarch butterflies cover a tree Photo by Bfpage/WikipediaCC BY 3.0

Overwintering monarch butterflies cover on oyamel tree near Angangueo, Michoacan, Mexico. Photo by Bfpage/WikipediaCC BY 3.0

For as long as anyone can remember, monarch butterflies have arrived in Mexico’s Trans-Volcanic Belt in late October, when the locals begin to celebrate Día de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead. Families fill their homes with marigolds, eat skull-shaped sweets and place candles on graves to guide the souls of departed loved ones home. According to  traditional belief, the brilliant orange butterflies are the spirits of ancestors returning to earth to visit.

Steep, fir-clad peaks are scattered across the volcanic arc from Jalisco east to Veracruz, but most of the butterflies spend the winter on just a few of them, in an area protected as the Monarch Biosphere Reserve. In the cool, thin air between 9,500 and 10,800 feet they huddle together by the thousands on oyamel fir trees(Abies religiosa), commonly called the “sacred fir” because of its narrow, conic tip that resembles clasped hands with fingers pointed upwards, praying. These dense, dark-green conifers protect the monarchs from cold and rainy winter nights.

A billion butterflies once fluttered down from as far as southern Canada to paint the firs a quivering crazy quilt of orange and black with white spots. But due to the usual litany of destructive factors — from the deforestation of Mexico’s oyamel fir trees to the loss of milkweeds, the primary host plants for monarch caterpillars up north — their numbers have plummeted. By 2014, there were just 33 million of them. Although they have ticked up slightly since, their numbers remain perilously low. And now an additional threat — the devastating impact of climate change on the butterfly’s wintering sites in Mexico — is fast becoming clear. In addition to deforestation, the oyamel is suffering from progressively hotter, drier conditions. If the damage continues and the trees can no longer provide a refuge, the iconic migratory butterflies will face yet another challenge.
Scientists are in a race to save these firs and the butterflies that depend on them.

While U.S. biologists urge gardeners to plant milkweeds to help restore the monarchs’ summer habitat, Mexican scientists are pinning their hopes on a plan to move the species progressively higher up local mountainsides in a race to save these firs and the butterflies that depend on them. “We have to act now,” says the plan’s architect, Cuauhtémoc Sáenz-Romero, a forest geneticist at the Universidad Michoacana de San Nicolás de Hidalgo. “Later will be too late, because the trees will be dead or too weak to produce seeds in enough quantity for large reforestation programs.”

When the rainy season arrived last summer, a few hundred seedlings were planted at 11,286 feet, where habitat suited to oyamel fir trees is expected to be by 2030. By then, according to retired U.S. Forest Service geneticist Jerry Rehfeldt, who co-authored a paper with Sáenz-Romero on global warming’s effect on oyamels, temperatures in the reserve could rise above pre-industrial levels by 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit by 2030, and suitable habitat could shrink by nearly 70 percent. The scientists’ research further suggests that by the end of the century, habitat that meets the fir’s needs may no longer exist anywhere inside the reserve. Trees would have to be planted at higher altitudes on peaks more than 100 miles away from the monarch’s migratory home.

The sacred fir is a poster child for the plight of trees around the globe. Trees provide habitat for countless species and underpin ecosystems as well as human economies, but as a group they are highly imperiled. A diagram in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s 2014 Working Group II report shows that of all life forms, trees are least able to respond to rapid climate change. Rooted in place, they have not evolved for rapid locomotion. Many take decades to mature and reproduce.

Monarch butterfly. Photo by William Warby/Flickr CC BY 2.0

Monarch butterfly. Photo by William Warby/Flickr CC BY 2.0

The breakneck speed of current global warming dwarfs anything in the fossil record, even what Lee Kump, professor of geosciences at Penn State University, has called “the last great global warming” 56 million years ago during the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum. At that time, over the course of a few thousand years, global temperatures soared 9°F as the supercontinent Pangaea broke apart. By comparison, if carbon emissions are not slashed soon, scientists warn it’s possible we could witness that much warming in a matter of centuries, if not decades. Without human help, trees and many other plant and animal species most likely won’t be able to migrate fast enough to keep pace with rapidly changing conditions.

There is a combination of challenges that scientists use to identify flora and fauna most imperiled by climate change — and the oyamel meets most of them. Already forced to retreat to higher altitudes when the world warmed after the last Ice Age, it’s running out of options as temperatures spike even higher today. Once more widespread, the oyamel fir trees are now fragmented into small, widely scattered populations that lack resilience and run a high risk of extirpation from random events. The extraordinary measures being taken on the tree’s behalf are a textbook case of how efforts to save species threatened by climate upheaval are fraught with complexity.

For the past several years, Sáenz-Romero and his colleagues have painstakingly prepared to move the oyamel to more suitable climes. Early studies determined that trees growing at a particular altitude are genetically different from populations at other elevations. Seed was collected along an altitudinal gradient to capture this genetic diversity, and then germinated. The planting this past summer was designed to test which of 10 genetically distinct populations — a shift upwards of almost 1,500 feet in altitude for some of the seedlings — would fare best.

Because conditions projected for 2030 do not yet exist in places where the seedlings were nestled into the mountainside, they face the risk of frost damage from the current climate. And since global warming is promoting more extreme weather of all sorts, from heat waves and droughts to downpours and cold snaps, they’re also likely to be confronted by climates with no contemporary analog. “Today’s trees are not adapted to this,” says Sáenz-Romero. “Even if we move the populations to the correct spot, there will be large casualties.” To further complicate matters, at about 13,000 feet, above the tree line, the soil is very poor. If it becomes necessary to move the trees that high, organic soil would need to be carted up the steep slopes to the planting sites.

Unlike this summer’s small assisted migration trial, a massive reforestation effort will be required before too long. Sáenz-Romero expects this to be undertaken by local communities that survive on monarch-based ecotourism, with the aide of governments and private groups abroad. However, the hardest part, he contends, will be convincing ecologists and conservationists in time that assisted migration is essential.

Assisted migration, also called “managed relocation,” has sparked one of the biggest controversies in contemporary conservation science. Until recently, most ecologists considered it a somewhat radical, if not impractical, concept. Some still oppose introducing a species to a new environment, considering it a risky endeavor given that invasive nonnative plants, animals and pathogens can pose a grave threat to natural areas. As University of Minnesota biologist Jessica Hellmann, one of the leading researchers on global change ecology, points out, “do no harm” is the profession’s guiding principle. Still, “attitudes have changed a lot,” she says. Just five years ago, many of her colleagues questioned whether assisted migration was even an area of legitimate research. Now, she says, “dozens and dozens of papers are being published in serious journals.”

Forest geneticists point to iconic tree species already being clobbered by climate disruption, including rare and genetically unique evolutionary relicts such as the giant sequoias. They also worry about potentially catastrophic declines in the productivity of widely dispersed stalwarts of the timber industry like ponderosa pine and Douglas fir. Land managers “need guidelines now,” says Rehfeldt, the retired USFS geneticist.

“As an ecologist, I’m nervous about assisted migration of the sacred fir,” says leading monarch biologist Karen Oberhauser, head of University of Minnesota’s Monarch Lab and co-chair of Monarch Joint Venture, a partnership working to protect the butterfly’s migration. “But it’s an important part of our toolkit when a species is faced with the total loss of its habitat.”

For full-scale assisted migration to become a reality, more ecologists and conservationists will need to actively support it, forest geneticists say. A large reforestation program for the oyamel or any other tree would be expensive, notes Rehfeldt, and unlikely to be funded if there is even a whiff of controversy.

Meanwhile, the race against time continues to prepare the sacred fir for whatever the future holds, lest it and countless other plants and animals become departed spirits remembered each year, like human loved ones, on the Day of the Dead.

Copyright Yale Environment 360. Republished with permission

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Hurricane Patricia spares cities, roars through rural Mexico

By Lizbeth Diaz
October 24, 2015

Hurricane Patricia, a Category 5 storm, is seen approaching the coast of Mexico in a NASA picture taken from the International Space Station October 23, 2015. REUTERS/NASA/Handout via Reuters

Hurricane Patricia, a Category 5 storm, is seen approaching the coast of Mexico in a NASA picture taken from the International Space Station October 23, 2015. REUTERS/NASA/Handout via Reuters

CASIMIRO CASTILLO, Mexico (Reuters) – Hurricane Patricia caused less damage than feared on Mexico’s Pacific coast on Saturday, but little was known about an isolated part of the shoreline dotted with luxury villas and fishing villages, where the storm and its 165 mph (266 kph) winds landed.

Thousands of residents and tourists had fled the advance of the storm, one of the strongest in recorded history, seeking refuge in hastily arranged shelters. There were no early reports of deaths and it appeared major damage was averted as Patricia missed tourist centres like Puerto Vallarta and the major cargo port of Manzanillo.

However, phone lines remain down where the storm hit in Cuixmala, the site of one of Mexico’s most exclusive getaways located between Manzanillo and Puerto Vallarta, and it is unclear how bad the situation could be there.

Mowing down trees, flooding streets and battering buildings, Patricia hit land as a Category 5 hurricane on Friday evening before grinding inland. It moved quickly but lost power in the mountains that rise up along the Pacific coast and was downgraded to a tropical depression on Saturday morning as it headed through central Mexico.

Experts said the storm’s speed meant it did not saturate the ground and trigger the major flooding feared. It was then broken up by high mountains, limiting the damage.

Electricity poles impacted by wind after the passing of Hurricane Patricia are seen in La Union de Tula, Mexico October 24, 2015. REUTERS/Edgard Garrido

Electricity poles impacted by wind after the passing of Hurricane Patricia are seen in La Union de Tula, Mexico October 24, 2015. REUTERS/Edgard Garrido

In Puerto Vallarta, where 15,000 tourists had been hastily evacuated on Friday night, hotel workers began sweeping up the debris and removing boards from windows as the sun peeked out of the clouds. The airport reopened to start ferrying tourists back home and buses crowded the streets.

Away from the more populated areas, however, residents described awaking to a scene of chaos after a terrifying night.

“We were sobbing, I thought everything was going to collapse around us,” said Jose Angel Perez, 58, who sells coconuts in the municipality of Casimiro Castillo in Jalisco state, which lay in the storm’s path. Whipping winds blew part of his roof away.

In its march north, Patricia was likely to make matters worse in Texas, which saw heavy rains overnight from a separate storm system that caused flooding powerful enough to knock over a freight train. Officials said moisture from Patricia would increase the intensity of rains swamping parts of the state by Sunday.

In Puerto Vallarta, most of the evacuated tourists had been able to return to their hotels on Friday night, officials said.

Mexico's President Enrique Pena Nieto leads a meeting with members of the government as a satellite image of Hurricane Patricia is displayed on a screen in Mexico City October 23, 2015.  REUTERS/Presidency of Mexico/Handout via Reuters

Mexico’s President Enrique Pena Nieto leads a meeting with members of the government as a satellite image of Hurricane Patricia is displayed on a screen in Mexico City October 23, 2015. REUTERS/Presidency of Mexico/Handout via Reuters

“Thankfully the damage wasn’t so bad” in the Puerto Vallarta area, said Alhy Daniel Nunes, a spokesman for the Red Cross of Jalisco state.

Patricia’s edges brushed Manzanillo port, a main transit point for Mexico’s car and mining exports. But there was no major damage and operations were set to resume on Saturday afternoon.


At one point generating sustained winds of up to 200 mph (322 kph), Patricia was the strongest hurricane ever recorded in the Western Hemisphere. Even though it lost some power before coming ashore, it was still a Category 5 storm, the strongest on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale. Such storms are relatively rare and are capable of causing devastating destruction.

Patricia’s ferocious core was relatively small, with hurricane force winds extending 35 miles (55 km) from the centre, the Hurricane Center said. This meant Puerto Vallarta and Manzanillo were spared the worst.

The hurricane’s centre hit land on Friday evening near the area of Cuixmala, the U.S National Hurricane Center said.

Founded by Anglo-French financier Sir James Goldsmith, the resort at Cuixmala has played host over the years to a colourful assortment of world leaders, musicians and eccentric billionaires.

Maria Pavon, a Cuixmala reservations booker based in the inland city of Colima, said there were no guests staying when the storm hit as they had all been evacuated. But there was no word yet on the state of the resort. She and colleagues had been unable to make contact as phone lines were down, Pavon said.

The area around Cuixmala is sparsely populated, but there are small towns, and it was not clear yet how much damage they had suffered.

Once inland, Patricia rapidly lost power. By Saturday afternoon, it had degenerated from a tropical depression into a remnant low with maximum winds down to about 30 mph (48 kph), the Miami-based Hurricane Center said.

Patricia was located about 45 miles (72 km) southwest of the city of Monterrey, heading northeast at 22 mph (35 kph), the centre said.

It could, however, pose a flood threat, the NHC said.

Patricia became a tropical storm on Thursday and strengthened with stunning speed as it closed in on the Mexican coast. Meteorological authorities compared it to Typhoon Haiyan, which killed over 6,300 people in the Philippines in 2013.

The strongest storm on record was Cyclone Tip which hit Japan in 1979.

Copyright Reuters 2015

(Additional reporting by David Alire Garcia in Puerto Vallarta, Christine Murray in Mexico City and Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles; Writing by Gabriel Stargardter; Editing by Mary Milliken and Cynthia Osterman)

Continued …..

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A boy looks at a tree felled by wind after the passing of Hurricane Patricia in La Union de Tula, Mexico October 24, 2015. REUTERS/Edgard Garrido

A boy looks at a tree felled by wind after the passing of Hurricane Patricia in La Union de Tula, Mexico October 24, 2015. REUTERS/Edgard Garrido

By Alex Dobuzinskis

(Reuters) – Barrelling in from the Pacific, powerful Hurricane Patricia moved so quickly past the Mexican coast that it failed to saturate the ground and produce the devastating flooding that often comes with storms of this size, meteorologists said on Saturday.

A man walks along the city's historic boardwalk in the Pacific beach resort of Puerto Vallarta, Mexico October 24, 2015. REUTERS/Henry Romero

A man walks along the city’s historic boardwalk in the Pacific beach resort of Puerto Vallarta, Mexico October 24, 2015. REUTERS/Henry Romero

The Category 5 storm appeared to have caused less damage than originally feared after it made landfall on Friday south of Puerto Vallarta and north of Manzanillo as one of the most powerful storms on record with winds of about 165 miles per hour (266 km/h).

Cutting a path through a sparsely populated coastline dotted with fishing villages and exclusive villas, Patricia quickly met high, jagged coastal mountains that cut the storm’s force.

Early Friday, officials warned that Patricia could cause catastrophic damage after it drew strength in the eastern Pacific Ocean from the warm waters of this year’s El Nino climate phenomenon and reached a windspeed at sea of 200 mph, making it the strongest storm recorded in the Western Hemisphere.

While the major cities were largely spared, the extent of damage to the more remote areas was still unclear.

Patricia moved over land at a speed of about 20 mph (32 km/h), which is fast compared to other storms, meteorologists said.

“You always want a fast-moving storm as opposed to a slow-moving storm,” said Dennis Feltgen, spokesman for the National Hurricane Center in Miami.

“If this was moving slower, if it had stalled out over Mexico, we’d be looking at a catastrophic flooding event, but that’s not the case here,” he added.

In comparison to Patricia, Hurricane Manuel moved more slowly when it made landfall in western Mexico in 2013, and it was a heavily destructive and deadly storm, said Jeff Masters, director of meteorology at commercial weather forecaster Weather Underground.

Manuel killed more than 100 people in Mexico, mostly due to heavy rains which were particularly destructive in mountain areas, according to the National Hurricane Center

Western Mexico’s coastal topography also appeared to have blunted the force of the hurricane.

The ocean water off the coast where the hurricane made landfall is deep, allowing some of the water that the storm accumulated in its centre to drop and disperse before hitting land, Masters said.

If Patricia had struck a large area of shallow water just off the coast, the hurricane would have gathered a greater volume of water into a storm surge, Masters said.

Mexico’s jagged mountain ranges in close proximity to the coast were also credited with breaking the hurricane’s force by disrupting the circulation of air in the storm.

“High mountains like that just tear storms like this apart,” Masters said.

Copyright Reuters 2015

(Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles; Editing by Mary Milliken and Cynthia Osterman)


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America’s military’s biggest security threat

“Say what you will about the United States military, no organization on earth is more focused on maintaining its capabilities no matter what,” writes Natural Security columnist Chris Wood. “As a result, its upper echelons spend a fair amount of time considering what that ‘what’ might actually look like.”

Wood examines recent statements by United States Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on the biggest looming threats to America’s security — and the reaction to the threats by America’s neighbours, Canada and Mexico. Men with guns don’t even make Hagel’s list. Only Natural Security does. Read Wood’s column here.*

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