The Asociación de Reforestación en Ambos Nogales (ARAN) began in 2001 as the Ambos Nogales Revegetation Project, a collaboration of the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality: Office of Border Environmental Protection (ADEQ/OBEP), Centro de Estudios Tecnológicos industrial y de servicios N. 128 (CETis 128), and the Bureau of Applied Research in Anthropology (BARA) of the University of Arizona, working at the Arizona-Sonora border at Nogales and starting with an assessment with three objectives: (1) Study the level and effects of soil erosion in relation to air quality; (2) Determine the environmental problems identified in Ambos Nogales; and (3) Evaluate the potential for revegetation in the colonias of Nogales, Sonora. The assessment determined that revegetation could reduce erosion, improve the quality of the air, and improve general environmental conditions; and it also concluded that there was support in Nogales for a revegetation program.
Following the assessment, a binational group of representatives of schools and colleges, local and state government agencies, a maquiladora, promotora/health organizations, and a neighborhood association from Nogales and Tucson organized three pilot projects in Nogales, Sonora. The pilot projects were designed to explore ways to increase the planting and maintenance of native vegetation on hillsides and in local gardens. They also were designed to (1) produce visible action, (2) provide a mechanism for local involvement, and (3) identify challenges and opportunities. The focus of the projects was colonias (neighborhoods) and schools.
During 2003, teachers and students at a Nogales, Arizona elementary school and high school became involved in activities of the revegetation project. The elementary school was selected as the pilot site for developing a demonstration habitat and garden and associated curriculum for the revegetation expansion. A fenced area on the schoolyard was set aside for development of the habitat and preliminary site development activities were begun with a fourth grade class and the school’s science club. Project participants also began new educational initiatives and the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum, Tumacacori National Park, and several maquiladoras got involved. In May, the U.S. and Mexican participants in the revegetation project selected a name, the Asociación de Reforestación en Ambos Nogales (ARAN), and logo to reflect the binational nature of the organization (ambos is the Spanish word for both) and commitment to an ongoing partnership. Membership in ARAN is fluid, with some individuals and organizations playing an active role as partners in many projects and events and others becoming involved in particular projects or activities and then leaving when those end.
Since ARAN was formally organized, its goals have evolved and expanded. Its members continue to seek ways to re-establish native vegetation in Ambos Nogales and also to promote environmental stewardship, strengthen ties between U.S. and Mexican schools and communities, and encourage leadership development. A central goal of the partnership is to find ways to convert what are often treated as waste products into useful resources, adapting projects to take advantage of locally available knowledge, skills, and materials. In addition to developing schoolyard habitats and green areas in Nogales, ARAN members have helped to transform waste vegetable oil and grease to biodiesel, apply water harvesting to direct stormwater to beneficial uses while reducing runoff and erosion, use composting toilets to convert human waste to humus and reduce the potential for water contamination, convert waste paper to fibrous concrete blocks and panels for construction, and develop low-emissions wood burning stoves. ARAN members have also helped develop educational materials about environmental issues, such as protecting air quality and reducing exposure to toxic chemicals, for classrooms and community events.