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Mexican foresters invoke less destructive logging

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Issue date: 
Dec 3, 2010
Publisher Name: 
Gerard Wynn
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NOH-BEC, Mexico, Dec 3 (Reuters) - Community leaders managing a fragment of ancient Mexican jungle say their approach to logging precious hardwoods protects rare jaguar and may guide nearby U.N. climate talks seeking a forest blueprint.

Community forest management means giving land ownership to local villagers, so that they harvest timber with an eye on the future and damage the forest less than industrial logging concessions which typically last 20 or 30 years.

Negotiators from nearly 200 countries are gathered in Mexico's Cancun beach resort, 155 miles (250 kilometres) north of the Noh-Bec forest community, where they are trying to design an extra incentive to reward careful foresters.

They are considering tradable carbon offsets which would represent the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide locked in the trunks of their trees. But that proposed scheme, called reduced emissions from deforestation and degradation (REDD), is bogged down like the wider, Nov. 29-Dec. 10 U.N. climate talks.

"We've got 50 million hectares (123 million acres) of community forests in Mexico and Central America which potentially could qualify for REDD," said Salvador Anta, community forests manager with Mexico's forestry body, Comision Nacional Forestal (CONAFOR).

The Noh-Bec forest community, or ejido, was founded in 1936 and is regarded as one of the best examples of sustainable forestry in Mexico. It harvests four mahogany trees per 2.3 acres (1 hectare) per year and leave a portion of their 59,000 acres (24,000 hectares) untouched.


The site is home to rare cats including jaguar and ocelot, said Bernabe Del Angel, a forest engineer and member of the community who named his daughter Mahogany, after the precious tree that is their main crop.

"This is an area with mature trees which are not found anywhere else in this region," said another community member, Luis Alfonso Arguelles, standing under a 400-year old red cedar in the protected portion of the forest.

"It's a group of about 100 trees not located anywhere else."

The community has profited from green certification of its timber, which allows it to export mahogany to countries with strict oversight such as the United States and European countries, commanding higher prices than the Mexican market.

While they can get a higher price than plantation mahogany, margins were still tight, said Del Angel.

Their $1 million logging operation earned each community member a 30,000 pesos dividend plus wages.

That compares with the value of one mahogany tree of about 20,000 pesos, illustrating why a clear-felling approach has been the norm and produced a surrounding "secondary" forest stripped of monumental mahogany and cedar.

"The answer is in the social organization of the place, which here is particularly strong," said Alberto Escamilla, the local CONAFOR manager, describing Noh-Bec.

Experts say community forest is not a panacea, as over-logging can still happen. There were questions on whether the rate of felling at Noh-Bec could sustain natural mahogany in the long-run, said Simon Counsell at the Rainforest Foundation UK.

"The important thing is that it gives local communities a reason to take care of the forest, that's got to be a good thing. In theory you'd like it replicated."

Mexico has lost 383,000 acres (155,000 hectares) to deforestation annually during the last five years, said CONAFOR officials. (Reporting by Gerard Wynn, Editing by Vicki Allen)



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