Highlighted area is that proposed for protection. Highlighted area is that proposed for protection.

Voluntary reserves an option for protection

Suggestion follows opposition to 111,000-hectare reserve proposal in Jalisco

Encouraging landowning communities to voluntarily create their own protected natural reserves may help solve conflict arising from a top-down approach and ultimately lead to the protection of more land, a forestry expert has suggested.

The idea comes as an ambitious state government conservation plan in Jalisco faces opposition and legal action from ejidatarios, or community landowners, as well as the indigenous community and private landholders.

The Jalisco government wants to establish a 111,000-hectare natural protected area in the El Cuale Sierra by decree.

However, amparos, or injunctions, sought by disgruntled locals could reduce the size of the protected area to around 70,000 hectares.

An environmental consultant who was formerly an official at the National Forestry Commission (Conafor) told the newspaper Milenio that governments need to adopt a different strategy in order to achieve their conservation goals.

If the objective is “to protect ecosystems, environmental services [and] biodiversity, why not look for mechanisms that the communities define themselves,” Salvador Anta Fonseca said.

Anta described direct community participation in environmental decision-making processes as an “indispensable premise to achieve conservation.”

Traditionally, protected areas have been imposed on communities by decree and without consultation, he said, adding that they usually include restrictions on land use that have a negative economic impact on locals.

“If there are sites that should be completely preserved, you have to talk about it [with the community],” he said.

When governments try to implement land protection initiatives, local communities can react unfavorably, Anta said, citing examples in Oaxaca where land appropriation has occurred.

Anta explained that there are already documented cases where communities have implemented their own measures to protect wildlife species including reptiles, amphibians and even jaguars, as well as medicinal plants and water sources. Community-agreed initiatives need to be strengthened, he added.

He conceded that voluntary reserves couldn’t match the size of government decreed biosphere reserves but said that when protected areas formed by neighboring communities are integrated, their magnitude increases.

He added that the Natural Protected Areas Commission (Conanp) representative in Oaxaca, where voluntary reserves have already been established, has now recognized that community conservation projects can play an important role in an overall environmental strategy.

Other states, including Nuevo León, Baja California, Quintana Roo and Veracruz, have also integrated community-led voluntary conservation efforts into their environmental programs, Anta said. However, he argued that there is scope for the strategy to be used more.

The forestry expert said that government monetary support for voluntary conservation projects “wouldn’t be bad,” especially in areas where communities have already shown that they have the capacity and willingness to protect large swathes of forested land.

Anta said that the current federal government “has made some important decrees in marine areas” but lamented that the weakening of Conanp and the federal Environment Secretariat (Semarnat) had led to an overall regression in environmental protection.

If the new federal government that takes office in December doesn’t strengthen the nation’s commitment to the environment and allocate more money to it, he said, Mexico could pay a high price that includes the loss of biodiversity and ecosystems.

Source: Milenio (sp)

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