Land use/cover change in community-based forest management regions and protected areas in Mexico

Elvira Durán-Medina, Jean François Mas, Alejandro Velázquez

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

25 Scopus citations


The rapid deterioration of global forest cover in recent years has been well documented (Lambin et al. 2001). Although patterns of change in natural vegetation cover do occur due to natural causes (e.g., hurricanes, volcanic eruptions), it is widely accepted that the majority of today's environmental degradation is induced by human actions (Cincotta et al. 2000; Vitousek et al. 1997). Human beings are commonly considered the principal agents responsible for increased levels of desertification, deforestation, habitat fragmentation, and loss of biodiversity (Noble and Dirzo 1997). This is particularly the case in tropical regions, where patterns of land conversion from natural conditions to human-dominated conditions prevail (FAO 1996). As a response to this process of environmental deterioration, conservation policies have been adopted at the global level that promote, among other measures, the establishment of protected areas (PAs; known in Mexico as ANPs [Areas Naturales Protegidas]). However, the effectiveness of PAs is extremely variable, depending on the specific sociopolitical situation in a particular country, demographic conditions, and on the country's level of dependency upon natural resources. Bruner et al. (2001), evaluating the effectiveness of a global sample of PAs, concluded that this system represented the best model to guide future conservation policy. In response, Vanclay (2001) argued that the evidence that PAs represent the best conservation model is not convincing. Especially in the tropics, with some exceptions, PAs do not seem to ensure the permanence of natural capital (Hansen et al. 1991; Velázquez et al. 2001a). In regard to the effectiveness of PAs, it is important to search for alternatives or complementary strategies to guide both conservation policy and the rational use of natural resources that can generate income for poor, rural peoples (Liu and Taylor 2002; Mangel et al. 1996). This is of particular importance for those tropical regions that are major sources of genetic resources, which are also the areas suffering the most significant losses in native vegetation cover (Bocco et al. 2000; FAO 2001; Kiernan 2000). Mexico is a good example of a country that is home to a large chunk of the planet's biodiversity and that is also experiencing accelerated rates of environmental degradation (Velázquez et al. 2002). An alternative that has developed in Mexico over the last several decades as a strategy to deliver both conservation and increased rural incomes is community-based forest management. The reasons for this are varied, but two of the main ones are that (1) the greater part of the country's forests, and therefore biodiversity, is found in areas of the common property ejido and agrarian community land tenure systems (Alcorn and Toledo 1998; Thoms and Betters 1998); and (2) this land tenure reality laid the basis for historical community struggles and policy initiatives that led to a relatively successful sector of community forest enterprises (CFEs), more widespread in temperate forests than in rainforests (Bray and Merino-Pérez 2003; Merino-Pérez 1997; Merino-Pérez and Segura 2002; Negreros-Castillo et al. 2000; Velázquez et al. 2001a). These CFEs are carrying out logging of natural forests and creating community jobs, while also adopting strategies to conserve and increase forest areas. However, there have been few studies that have quantified the effectiveness of community-based logging in the key conservation indicator of forest cover, or compared them with the more conventional PA-led conservation model as a strategy for forest cover conservation (Berry et al. 1996; Kiernan 2000). Land use/cover change (LUCC) is an important indicator for quantifying the effectiveness of different land use and land management strategies (Kiernan 2000; Masera et al. 1999). It also generates a spatial-temporal model of the processes taking place (Lambin et al. 2001; Turner and Meyer 1994), which can support policy makers in their efforts to slow down and hopefully reverse environmental deterioration (Velázquez et al. 2002). This study provides evidence to support the hypothesis that areas under a common property regime and characterized by solid social organizational structures maintain forest cover areas just as effectively as PAs. It should be noted, however, that forest cover is only one indicator, and does not address possible changes in forest structure or composition for either community forests or PAs. Specifically, the study analyzed the land cover change processes that took place over two decades in the forests of two organizations ofejidos dedicated to community-based forest management. The results were then compared with those from a large sample of PAs in Mexico. © 2005 by The University of Texas Press. All rights reserved.
Original languageAmerican English
Title of host publicationThe Community Forests of Mexico: Managing for Sustainable Landscapes
Number of pages191
ISBN (Electronic)9780292706378
StatePublished - 1 Dec 2005
Externally publishedYes

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