National Geographic : 1996 Aug
shelter some 60,000 reclusive Tarahumara and a smaller number of Tepehuan Indians. It also preserves an astonish ing diversity of wildlife. "We barely know what we have in the Sierra, but we do know what we've lost," says Mexican environmentalist Edwin Bustillos. "Grizzly bears are gone, and the wolf and the imperial woodpecker are prob ably well on their way." Scientists on both sides of the border agree that the Sier ra's mosaic of high desert, tropical forest, and stands of pine and oak-one of the rich est assemblages of habitats in North America -is vanishing fast. The culprits: overgrazing and intense logging. Efforts to save the region's last 2 percent of intact old growth forest are under way. But old habits-formed by dec ades of living hand to mouth, boom to bust-die hard. "Thousands of people live off the timber," says Pedro Beltran, a grizzled logging truck driver. "When the forest is finished, so are we. "Asies la vida,"he says, intoning what might be consid ered a mantra for all Mexico: "That's life." Meanwhile, in the craggiest corners of the Sierra such con temporary troubles can seem deceptively far away. In the Tarahumara's sunburned can yons, shamans still offer sacri fices of meat and corn to ensure good harvests. Work gnarled mestizo farmers still plant their crops by the phases of the moon. And daily life still plods along at a pace set cen turies ago by men and supplies jouncing overland on the backs of sweating mules. "I watch the satellites pass over at night," says Benito Parra, an octogenarian mule skinner. "They are very few. And they must have more important places to go."