Mexico's forests falling fast

Posted: 18 January 2002

A new study of satellite images shows that Mexico is losing forest cover almost twice as fast as previously estimated, making it the country with the second-highest deforestation rate in the world, according to Mexico's Environment Ministry.

For years, the government had estimated that Mexico was losing about 1.5 million acres of forest annually to logging, fires and expansion of farms and ranches. But according to a multi-agency study of satellite images taken between 1993 and 2000, annual forest loss in those years averaged about 2.78 million acres.

Over eight years, Mexico lost forest equivalent to the area of Ireland. Scientists estimate that Brazil has the world's highest deforestation rate, followed by Mexico and Indonesia.

In March last year (2001), the Mexican government launched a campaign to protect its dwindling forests, even threatening to call in the armed forces to protect them. For the government, forest conversation is now tied to the security of the country since their destruction is costing Mexico around 12 per cent of its Gross National Product, or roughly US$38 billion each year.

Alberto Cardenas, Director of the New Forest Commission is reviewing legal issues related to forests, "to avoid the abuse of our forests." Environmental authorities believe that part of the problem of deforestation in Mexico, with 600,000 hectares lost annually, stems from organised crime. "It is known that the deprecators are an organised crime group with arms, radios, planes and related to other organisations and local cariques," said Victor Lichtinger, the Environment Secretary.

The government is also working to discourage farmers from deforesting land for agriculture, an activity previously encouraged by the Procampo Program of the Agricultural Secretarait which paid farmers for each hectare cultivated. "We are working...to give these funds to farmers that have sustainable practices," said Lichtinger.

"It is crucial for our nation that all of us work to stop the deterioration of forest areas which have lost 59 per cent of their total extent in the last 20 years. It is time that all of us make a commitment to protect the future of our children and their children," warned Cardenas.