Holcim Apasco Mexico: Ecosystem management.

“Rescuing species for future rehabilitation”

Holcim Apasco has seven plants and three of them, along with its mining sites, are located in a semi-desert area. Since the growth and reproduction of plant species adapted to these extreme climates is very slow, rehabilitation at such sites with native species is challenging. To address this challenge, the company initiated plant rescuing activities at its two sites Ramos Arizpe and Apaxco plant where native plant species are conserved and used to rehabilitate the spent quarries at a future stage. It is assumed that these rescued species get established faster than new species planted.

Objective
The objective of this initiative was to establish a rescue program to ensure native and endemic species were available for the rehabilitation of the quarries. This supported the overall rehabilitation concept to maintain native habitats.

Activities
The Ramos Arizpe plant conducted a survey to identify the native and important flora at the site in the new quarry area. Prior to beginning the extraction operations flora species such as Coryphantha poselgeriana, Echionocereus pectinatus, Epithelantha micromeris, Mammillaria potssii, Lophophora williamsii etc. were rescued from the quarry area and preserved in a nursery area for future rehabilitation at the plant site. More than 40,000 individual of almost 70 species have been rescued.

In preparation for rehabilitation activities and to gain confidence in this approach, plant has started with some rehabilitation activities on a test plot to experiment and develop techniques which can guarantee success in future.

Learning from Ramos Arizpe, the Apaxco plant rescued native species from a nearby highway construction project in 2007. The construction activity resulted in vegetation removal along a 223 km stretch. The plant rescued 3000 specimens, mainly Opuntia Cylindropuntia, Agave, Echinocactus, Yucca, Acacia and Prosopis. Similar to Ramos Arizpe, a nursery was also established at Apaxco plant site.

To ensure a successful rehabilitation at both sites, personnel have been trained to monitor and maintain the rehabilitated areas. Some of their activities include:

  • Regular irrigation and nutrient supply to plants
  • Protection against pest insects and mushrooms
  • Fencing to protect from animals and wind etc
  • Cleaning of noxious weeds

The scope of this project also included community engagement. To ensure a social and livelihoods element to the project, Holcim has integrated the project with the activities of the local agricultural and ecological training centers known as Centro de Capacitación Agropecuaria y Forestal (CECAF). The CECAF aims to contribute to rural development and the preservation of the environment, particularly through reforestation. They provide water to the community and have planted trees over 4 meters in height, as curtain in front of the Escoltec quarry which acts as a buffer between the quarry operation and the community.

Results
To date 45,000 specimens of plant species have been rescued with 90% survival rate at the RA plant. Learnings from the test sites have helped Ramos Arizpe adapt the rehabilitation plan to ensure viability of the plantings.
In 2007-2008, spent mined areas and the buffer area of 8 hectares at Apaxco plant was rehabilitated using these rescued species.

The results from these two practices are visible in the landscape of the restored areas. Both sites thrive with native species and invasive species are under control. Monitoring indicates good growth of the transferred plants. As a result of the healthy flora, faunal diversity is regularly observed. Based on the success of the initiative at these two sites, the plant has undertaken similar activity at all other sites as well.

Challenges

The main challenge was the buffer area at Apaxco, which was earlier used for recreation by the local community and animal grazing. But through extensive discussions and engagement, the community is not only involved in the clean-up and restoration activities, but also understands the need to rehabilitate the buffer area and eventually the quarry site. The company provided alternative locations for community use.

The plant is planning to create a botanical garden in the restored to raise awareness of the different species, their characteristics and importance in the ecosystem.