The government of Zacatecas has rejected the creation of a 2.58-million-hectare natural protected area in its territory in favor of mining, an industry that represents the state’s main source of income.
The Environmental Secretariat (Semarnat) published a study in 2014 that proposed the creation of a natural protected area and biosphere reserve in the Zacatecas desert, comprising 45% of the state’s territory and extending across the municipalities of General Francisco Murguía, Villa de Cos, El Salvador, Melchor Ocampo, Concepción del Oro and Mazapil.
The protection of the semi-arid lands was intended to preserve populations of endangered species such as the golden eagle (Aquila chrysaetos canadensis), the Mexican prairie dog (Cynomys mexicanus), the brown bear (Ursus arctos) and rattlesnakes.
But one of the first actions by the administration of Governor Alejandro Tello, sworn in on September 12, was to stop the biosphere reserve declaration, arguing that mining investments would be put at risk.
The state’s Secretary of Water and Environment says there are 300 mining concessions in the area. Granted 30 years ago, the concessions represent an area of 1 million hectares.
Three are yet to be developed, said Víctor Carlos Armas Zagoya, and would mean an investment of US $8 billion, creating 5,000 direct jobs and 10,000 indirect.
Declaring a natural protected area in the region would also “close the door” on renewable energy projects, mainly solar, that would represent a total investment of $800 million, said the secretary.
The six municipalities also rejected the protected area designation.
The Tello administration has presented its own proposal for a protected area of just 150,000 hectares, which mostly comprises the southern municipality of Monte Escobedo.
The governor has declared that his main intention is to protect the state’s economy, which depends for the most part on mining.