Biomass in the Borderlands: Charcoal and Firewood Production in Sonoran Ejidos

By Taylor, Matthew J. | Journal of the Southwest, Spring 2006 | Go to article overview

Biomass in the Borderlands: Charcoal and Firewood Production in Sonoran Ejidos


Taylor, Matthew J., Journal of the Southwest


In 1998 I attempted to cross the rugged Sierra Madre Occidental from Sinoquipe to Cucurpe. Despite the aid of good Mexican topographic maps, I lost my way on dirt roads that forever forked on the ejido lands of northeast Sonora. Instead of the beautiful, unused road to Cucurpe, I found three men making charcoal from large mesquite trees growing in riparian areas. At the time I did not realize that mesquite charcoal is produced primarily to satisfy the U.S. demand for a flavorful grilling fuel. Years of subsequent research into the borderland mesquite trade followed this initial discovery. This paper, using mainly ethnographic evidence, documents the impact of a multimillion-dollar trade of wood and charcoal on the dry borderland region of northern Sonora. This impact and current use of the environment is placed in the context of long-term environmental change in the region. Moreover, the use of biomass energy in the borderlands is placed in the context of biomass use around the world, which is the basic form of energy for billions of people around the world.

Conrad Bahre's (1991) classic account of vegetation change in the area, Hastings and Turner's The Changing Mile (1965), and the special double issue of Journal of the Southwest that documents social and environmental aspects of the binational Sonoran Desert Reserves (Felger and Broyles 1997) document environmental history of the dry borderlands region. They stop short, however, of documenting the recent trade in biomass, specifically mesquite wood and charcoal. This trade strips vegetation south of the border to meet demands north of the border. These authors do, however, leave readers with a vivid image of the "mesquite nemesis." Mesquite is the nemesis of ranchers in the area because it invades cattle pastures (with the help of cattle) and competes with grass for valuable water and sunlight. One could reason, armed with knowledge of how the tenacious mesquite tree (in this case Prosopis velutina) (1) infested many grasslands of the Arizona-Sonora borderland since the introduction of cattle, that charcoal and firewood production on Sonoran ejidos may not adversely impact ejido environments and sustainability because encroaching mesquite trees are eliminated. Research conducted for this paper revealed, contrary to these expectations, that charcoal production and firewood harvesting for export do not utilize the scrubby type of mesquite that invades pastures and hillsides. Instead, carboneros (charcoal makers) and leneros (woodcutters) take advantage of large, mature mesquite and ironwood trees growing in riparian areas. This paper, then, documents the details of the production, use, and trade of mesquite wood and charcoal in the Sonora-Arizona borderlands and relates current use of mesquite to the changes in mesquite use and density over several thousand years. It then discusses the ramifications of mesquite harvesting on the environment.

METHODS

Results presented in this paper rely on qualitative information collected in cooperation with residents of the region over a five-year period. The often illicit and diffuse nature of the charcoal and firewood business, in addition to the booming drug trade in the area (Perramond 1996; Yetman and Burquez 1998) forced my gradual introduction to its main protagonists in remote, rural areas of Sonora. I chose to participate in daily activities and interview members in Ejidos La Arizona, La Cebolla, and San Juan in the Tubutama/Saric area, and Ejido El Berrendo in the Sonoyta/Lukeville area (figure 1). Rather than just interview people and expect candid results, I "soaked and poked" (Bernard 1995). In other words, I participated in daily ejido life. For example, one cold December evening I loaded 22,000 pounds of charcoal into the back of an eighteen-wheel trailer (figure 2, a & b). The carbonero handled the other 22,000 pounds, while four men stacked the forty-pound bags in the trailer ready for the journey to the border at Nogales. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Biomass in the Borderlands: Charcoal and Firewood Production in Sonoran Ejidos
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.