In 1937 an offi cial from the Mexican forest service visited the rugged Sierra
Tarahumara mountains in southern Chihuahua, which even today remain
one of the nation’s most isolated places. Th e landscape that greeted An-
tonio H. Sosa was unlike anything he had seen in central Mexico. He ad-
mired the “immensity, beauty, and potential” of the untouched Ponderosa
and Montezuma pines that soared skyward everywhere he looked. Th e
area was also home to approximately 33,000 indigenous people known
to outsiders as the Tarahumara but who called themselves Rarámuri, or
“those who run on foot.” Sosa regarded them as the single greatest threat
to the region’s ecological integrity. In his estimation, the Rarámuri hated
trees with a nearly innate passion. He reported that they indiscriminately
cleared the best stands of timber to make way for their cornfi elds or per-
haps in the misguided belief that it would help to summon the rains. Since
the natives could not be trusted to care for the woods, he recommended
opening the region to logging by modern timber companies operating
under the watchful eye of forestry experts. “If these woods were subject to
a proper management regime,” he wrote, “they would never disappear; on
the contrary, they would produce immense benefi ts. However, they cannot
endure much longer if they remain abandoned to their present fate, bereft
of any oversight and completely at the mercy of the Tarahumara Indians.”
Sosa was hardly an impartial observer. He believed that the central
Sierra Tarahumara was ripe for commercial logging and that timber com-
panies, which had appeared in northwest Chihuahua four decades earlier,
would jump at the opportunity to extend the logging frontier southward.
It also seems clear that he misjudged the Rarámuris’ ecological impact.
Forests in the arid north did not grow as densely as the ones in central
Mexico with which he was more familiar, and native people typically made
only small clearings around their dispersed family settlements. In other
words, Sosa was observing a healthy ecosystem rather than a threatened
one. His words refl ected a rationalist ideology, typical of his day, in which
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