No one doubts the need for reforestation in Mexico. Since colonial times, huge swatches of the country have been denuded of their native vegetation. Recent figures from INEGI suggest that Mexico has lost almost 50% of its native forests due to logging and clearance for farming and settlement. The majority of this loss is in the Volcanic Axis belt that stretches west-east across the center of Mexico at an average height of 3000 m above sea level, but tropical rainforest areas much further south have also been decimated.
There is, however, some encouraging news.
Data released by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) puts Mexico in a lofty 4th place worldwide for the number of trees planted since UNEP began its “Billion Trees Campaign” in 2007. According to the UNEP figures, only China, India and Ethiopia have planted more trees than Mexico.
The “Billion Trees Campaign, inspired by the work of the late Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Wangari Maathai, recognizes that trees bring multiple benefits to people, ranging from carbon sequestration and the provision of timber to soil erosion control, enhanced aesthetic value and opportunities for recreation. UNEP claims that 12 billion trees have been planted worldwide since the program began.
The short Youtube video – Taking Root The Vision of Wangari Maathai –”tells the dramatic story of Kenyan Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Wangari Maathai whose simple act of planting trees grew into a nationwide movement to safeguard the environment, protect human rights, and defend democracy—a movement for which this charismatic woman became an iconic inspiration.” (http://takingrootfilm.com)
But are the UNEP figures all they appear to be? Certainly, Mexico’s Environment Secretariat has organized, for many years, on-going programs of reforestation and conservation designed to stem the tide of logging that decimated Mexico’s natural forests over the past century. Official figures show that the pace of this effort has accelerated in the past few years. For example, between 2007 and 2011, Mexico’s National Forestry Commission protected, restored or reforested 21,000 square kilometers (8100 sq. mi) across the country, an area equivalent to the state of Hidalgo. The total area reforested in those five years amounts to more than 3500 square kilometers (1350 sq. mi).
On the other hand, critics of Mexico’s forestry policies, such as Greenpeace claim that up to 70% of all lumber sold in Mexico has been illegally harvested, and that less than 60% of trees planted in national campaigns survive their first few critical years.
Deforestation in the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve
One of the most critical areas, one where continued deforestation could be a real “game-changer”, is the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve which straddles the boundary between Michoacán and the state of Mexico. This is where millions of Monarch butterflies arrive each year from as far north as Canada to spend their winter. The butterfly itself is not endangered (there are non-migratory populations in many countries, and a year-round resident population in Mexico) but what assuredly is endangered is the “migratory phenomenon” of the Monarchs. Adequate forest cover at an altitude where winter weather is consistently within a narrow temperature band is absolutely crucial to the survival of this spectacular annual migration.
According to the National University (UNAM)’s Environmental Geography Research Center, at current rates of deforestation, the area of overwintering sites for the Monarch butterflies could be reduced by 75% in the next 18 years, leaving just 12,000 ha of suitable habitat. The protected area, established in 2000, covers 560 square kilometers (56,000 ha. or 216 sq. mi) but includes land cleared for pasture, settlement and cultivation. Researcher José López García claims the reserve is losing 3% of its forest each year. He blames clearance and changes of land use more than illegal logging. The rate of forest clearance has been exacerbated by a rapid rise in the population of the El Rosario ejido. El Rosario is the gateway to the most-visited part of the reserve, attracting thousands of tourists annually. The ejido’s population rose by an average of 5.65%/year between 2005 and 2010.
How will climate change affect Mexico’s forests?
Climate change is predicted to have several effects on Mexico’s forests. These include:
- tropical rainforests (in both Mexico and Brazil) will gradually decline in extent, rainforest soils will have reduced fertility and some parts will become tropical grasslands.
- the semi-arid areas in central and northern Mexico will become drier, and the total area of arid areas will increase
Globally, deforestation is believed to account for 17.4% of greenhouse gas emissions, so forest protection and reforestation are key strategies in efforts to mitigate the effects of further cliamte change.