Mexico is the fifth most biodiverse country on the planet and home to a wide range of flora and fauna found nowhere else on Earth. It is particularly rich in forest species – including over 1,000 native tree species — but has one of the world’s highest deforestation rates. The Rainforest Alliance is working with community foresters across the Central American country to stop the destruction, helping to secure a sustainable future for their forests, their children and their cultures. Recently, our senior manager of communications, Stuart Singleton-White, visited a community of foresters in Oaxaca, Mexico. He writes…
The Ixtepeji Community Forest Park sits 8,000 feet up in the Serra Madre Del Sur Mountains. To reach the park we drove 45 minutes out of Oaxaca, climbing increasingly windy mountain roads trimmed with crops and pine forest. This was not a ride for the timid or squeamish. Looking out from the bus window, I found myself facing a sheer drop with the valley hundreds of feet below. I was thrilled I wasn’t driving, particularly when trucks full of logs hurtled toward us as they descended the mountain.
The community forest park covers 52,811 acres (21,372 hectares) and is run by the local Zapotec community – previously, it was under the jurisdiction of the Mexican government. Today, almost 80 percent of Mexico’s forests are owned by local communities, meaning that communities have a greater say in how their forests are managed and more control over the economic activities that take place on their land. For the Ixtepeji, who have a community-nominated committee to manage many of those activities, sustainable logging is an important source of income. The community has earned Forest Stewardship Council certification through the Rainforest Alliance for its commitment to responsible forest management.
This means that the area of the forest open for timber extraction, approximately 9,474 acres (3,834 hectares), is operated on a 10-year rotation with selective extraction taking place in each area once a decade. While the community does plant trees, a great deal of the management focuses on the natural regeneration of the forest.
But it’s not only timber that provides an income for the community. Another 4,754 acres (1,924 hectares) is managed to allow the sustainable extraction of other forest products such as ferns, bromeliads and moss — a vital component of any Mexican family’s nativity scene.
In 2003, the community set aside 2,965 acres (1,200 hectares) of the park for the development of an ecotourism enterprise, situated in the heart of 6,229 acres (2,521 hectares) of fully protected forest. Today the development includes nine family-sized cabins and a block of eight rooms, perfect for tourists who are there to hike, bird watch or simply relax in a beautiful environment.
What I saw in Ixtepeji was a great example of sustainability in action. This is forest management that isn’t simply preserving protected forest. It is a dynamic and productive environment, conserving the best in biodiversity while ensuring a community is able to work in harmony with nature. The community is able to provide livelihoods to its members for the present and future while keeping its roots planted deep in the ancestral soil.