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The work of FAO

Forestry mission in Mexico
Torrent and avalanche control

Forestry mission in Mexico

One of the largest FAO forestry missions is operating in Mexico, with D. T. Griffiths (U. K.) as Chief of Mission. The general object of the Mission is the economic development of forests and forest products. Particular emphasis is laid on conservation, for it is appreciated that true conservation is wise management, utilizing to the full a progressively increasing annual yield while protecting the capital. Full utilization and the elimination of waste is also a problem which causes the Mexican Government serious concern.

It will be appreciated that Technical Assistance officers do not work in water-tight compartments, but that most problems involve close co-operation between several specialists. All are also concerned with research and with a final recommendation for a well organized Institute for research in forestry and forest products. All assignments have some bearing on policy, legislation and training.

It is early yet to assess progress as work was slow in getting started. Mexico is a large territory, 4 times as large as France, with a great variety in its topography, climate, soil and forest types, and the Mission has been handicapped by lack of basic information on local conditions. Progress to date can best be indicated by dealing with each specialist separately.

Silviculture - As a result of a number of tours over a period of 8 months the silviculturist has studied most of the problems implied in this assignment; namely, reforestation in temperate and tropical forests and silvicultural and management practices in both types of forests. In addition, on the instructions of the Government, he has examined special problems in the Necaxa drainage area which provides electric power, and in the region of Aguas Calientes in the dry zone where an irrigation system exists. In the Yucatan peninsula, which contains the greatest part of the precious tropical species (mahogany and cedar) in forests extending over some 5 million hectares, he has made a special study of the forest economy in general.

The results so far are difficult to assess but this expert has submitted general recommendations for long-term planning of reforestation, which are still under consideration. Certain specific recommendations are already being put into practice, especially as regards choice of species for each natural region and provision for a special study of eucalyptus, acacia, mahogany and cedar.

Perhaps the main and most satisfying result so far has been a very fruitful co-operation with local technicians and an agreed common approach and perhaps a common doctrine on general policy.

Entomology - The entomologist has prepared a program of studies to serve as a basis for the control of forest pests in Mexico. He carried out a preliminary study of the causes of mortality of Cedrela odorata in Yucatan in conjunction with the silviculturist and initiated a series of field experiments based on his tentative conclusion that the primary injury is due to sun-scald. During his visits to Yucatan, he also inspected milling and logging operations and made proposals for dealing with ambrosia and powder-post beetle infestations. His recommendations for dealing with the latter were adopted with the result that infested piles in the yards were cleaned up by running the lumber through the dry kilns, and a dipping vat will soon be in operation.

In conjunction with his Mexican collaborator he initiated a demonstration where several methods of bark beetle control could be demonstrated and evaluated; the results cannot be properly evaluated until late this year. The entomologist also made a study of a severe defoliation of ash trees in the National Park at Uruapan and submitted recommendations for control which are being adopted. He also assisted in setting up in the Department of Forest Protection a central collection and note file system similar to that used by the U. S. National Museum.

Inventories - The specialist inventories officer, working with a very forceful Mexican technician, helped to start a permanent office of forest inventories which has functioned for several months. The organization of teaching and the training of personnel is well under way and 8 trainees are at present receiving instruction in the preparation of base maps, mechanical triangulation, photographic interpretation, the use of transferring devices and height determination. The office and training have been organized in connection with a pilot project for a forest inventory of Mexico State under the direction of the expert's Mexican colleague. Progress of work on this inventory may be summarized as follows:

Area to be studied

12,000 Km2

Base map prepared

9,000 Km2

Photographs integrated

12,000 Km2

Photographs transferred

5,000 Km2

Preliminary maps finished

3,000 Km2

So far however insufficient ground work has been carried out. A preliminary project has also been presented for an inventory of the State of Durango. Both Mexico and Durango States are in the temperate zone and nothing has yet been done in the tropical forests where inventories are particularly important.

Study of the Pine Lumber Industry - While under the Direccion General Forestal, an expert spent six months in the pine areas of Chihuahua and Durango acquainting himself with the problems of the local industry. Plans were prepared to modernize sawmills and various suggestions were discussed with lumbermen to rationalize their exploitation and milling systems. The interim report contains short-term and long-term recommendations. This expert was then employed in assisting the Forest Products Investigations expert in the first phase of a pulp and paper study, and then worked on the study of railway sleeper production. There are however further problems to be studied in the pine lumber industry, collaborating with the pulp expert and with the silviculturist so that his proposals take full regard for conservation and proper silvicultural management.

This expert has also made proposals, acceptable to the Mexican authorities and now being examined by FAO, for the provision of certain demonstration machinery (including modern gangsaws and machines for sawing staves, etc., out of slabs) to convince lumbermen of the advantages of modernizing their machinery. In connection with his studies in Mexico, he will shortly make a study trip to the USA, accompanied probably by a Mexican technician under a traveling fellowship, to visit pine regions where conditions are similar to those in northern Mexico, with a view to evaluating modern developments.

Forest Products Investigations For various reasons, little contact has been possible with industrialists, but the expert, whose contract has now terminated, prepared a firm project for a research laboratory comprising the following sections: documentation, anatomy, physical and mechanical testing of wood. The Government has allotted 170,000 Pesos for the purchase of the necessary equipment which should arrive later in the year. Instructions on the laboratory methods to be used in the study of the anatomy and the physical properties of wood has also been prepared.

This expert also, in co-operation with the chief of the mission and the silviculturist, carried out a reconnaissance of the Michoacan paper pulp project. After completing this work with the Direccion General Forestal, the expert prepared for the Bank of Mexico a draft project for the creation of a cellulose research laboratory, which seems fully justified in view of the fact that Mexico imports at present some 120,000 tons of cellulose and paper products towards its consumption of about 300,000 tons. In connection with this work he toured in the Papaloapan basin and suggested a program of work suitable for the creation of bamboo plantations for the production of cellulose, and for the study of Mexican grasses similar to "La Canne de Provence" for the production of alpha cellulose. On his return to France on the conclusion of this mission he has been assigned by FAO to study and provide a report for the Mexican Government on cellulose research laboratories in that country.

A pulp and paper specialist has now been added to the Mission, to follow up the proposals of the Forest Products Investigations Expert outlined above. He will advise on the development of cellulose research; to examine all raw materials and existing projects, and to advise on a plan for future development of pulp and paper production. Another new member is a consultant on the general economy of the Desert and Semi-Desert Areas, which are of great importance to the country.

Torrent and avalanche control

The French Government was recently host to some 45 foresters attending a study tour on torrent and avalanche control. Recommended by FAO's European Commission on Forestry and Forest Products, this study tour across the Alps from Nice to Evian, 28 June to 8 July, was admirably organized by the French Forest Service. Representatives of the following countries attended: Austria, 'French Union, Germany, Italy, Iran, Spain, Switzerland, Turkey, United Kingdom (Cyprus), and Yugoslavia. Descriptive literature and maps showing the geology and vegetation of the regions to be covered by the tour, and also details of each of the projects to be visited, were distributed in advance. Many reports on particular topics of interest, presented by those taking part in the tour, were published and distributed.

The Director-General of Waters and Forests, France, in his speech of welcome to the delegates at Nice, gave a lucid account of the present forestry situation in these regions, emphasizing the close relationship of torrent control with soil conservation and land use generally, and with the whole manner of life in mountain districts. The French Government, he said, had been anxious to organize this study tour because France was the first country to try to solve problems of erosion attributable to torrents, and it had been French engineers and foresters who had laid the foundations for all present methods of control.

A full report on the study tour is being published separately but the following brief notes give an idea of the ground covered. In the southern Alps the members were able to study the problems of torrents which normally carry little water or are entirely dry, but which become exceedingly dangerous after local summer storms which sweep down into the valleys rocks and debris, large and small, which have accumulated in the upper reaches of the catchment areas. In Savoie and Haute Savoie, they saw torrents which carry a steady flow of water and which are constantly eroding their banks; when in spate, these torrents seriously endanger villages and croplands which lie along their courses, and roads and railway lines which cross them. In both these regions, it was also possible to study problems of protection against landslides and avalanches.

Two points in particular attracted the attention of members. One of the highlights of the tour was a visit to Serre-Poncon on the river Durance where the construction of a large dam is proposed to feed a hydroelectric plant and irrigate the lower valleys. The engineers in charge of this project explained the dangers that they foresaw if there should he any negligence in maintaining and extending the forested areas and control works which were the only means of holding in check the erosion caused by torrents emptying into the upper reaches of the Durance. The construction of this dam, they said, would completely change the aspect of the region, and present new problems in the control of torrents emptying into the river not only above but also below the dam. Study of these problems was still in an early stage, but clearly the construction of large dams of this nature brought new responsibilities to all those concerned with torrent control; this pointed evidently to the necessity of the closest co-operation between foresters and the dam engineers. In as much as the catchment area of a river forms a unit where the utilization of any one part affects the potential utilization of all the other parts, so too the river itself with its tributary system constitutes a unit which cannot be effectively developed unless every part is fully under control.

The second point to impress the members was the evident interest which the tour aroused in the districts through which, they passed. Local spokesmen frequently made clear the importance that rural communities attached to torrent control, They were well aware of the role that forests played in the protection of soil and regulation of water flow, and therefore bad an especial welcome for those who were responsible for protecting their forests, and for extending the forests as new erosion dangers emerged to threaten their possessions and their homes. Thus the members of the tour were made fully aware of the complex relationship between the particular problems which they were studying and the general background of living conditions in mountainous districts. As the Director of FAO's Forestry Division pointed out at the closing discussion session, torrent control is in itself a difficult operation, which, even at the price of large capital expenditure, is not always crowned with success. Success is certainly hazarded wherever excessive forest exploitation, over-grazing at the higher altitudes, or wrong agricultural practises are permitted on lands subject to erosion. The problem is fundamentally one of correct land use. On its solution depends the welfare and social development of the rural communities affected. They may decline and perhaps disappear; on the contrary, they can attain improved standards of living and well-being if their natural resources are cared for instead of being allowed to deteriorate.

For the present, the members of the study tour were confining their attention to what might be called the chronic diseases of the land and the possible remedies. Improvement of grasslands beyond the tree-line was not now their concern, but it was clear that, sooner or later, they must take into account all the complexities of land use in mountain areas. FAO's aim was that, in alpine regions, the interests of agriculture, forestry, hydro-electric engineering, and tourism, should all be harmonized.

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