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Prepared by Teobaldo Eguiluz-Piedra

Statistics on Mexican forest resources

The latitude and the steep and rugged topography of Mexico caused by tectonic movements and intense volcanic activity give this country a great array of environments to support its enormous variety of individuals. Mexico is characterized as a megadiverse country in plants and animals, and together with Brazil, Indonesia, Colombia, Madagascar, Australia, Ecuador, Peru, India, China, Congo and the United States, contains between 60 and 70 percent of the biodiversity of the planet. Mexico is very active in preserving its diversity with more than two million hectares of protected land in 176 units of the National System of Natural Protected Areas. The system consists of biosphere reserves, national parks, natural monuments, natural resources protection areas, sanctuaries, protection areas of plants and animals. An additional twenty million hectares are protected in its seas, coasts and wetlands.

Almost 70 percent of the Mexican territory is potentially classified as forest land. These 141.7 million hectares consist of: 38 million hectares of temperate forests, 16 million hectares of tropical forests and 87.7 million of desert type vegetation, like cactus, shrubs and bushes (CONAFOR, 2002). As only 22 million of the 54 million hectares of tropical and temperate natural forests are commercial forests, Mexico is ranked in 11th place worldwide for areas with productive forest lands. Each year these forests grow from 25 to 30 million cubic metres of wood. Only 8 to 9 million cubic metres are legally authorized to be cut, but more than twice this volume is illegally logged for firewood and charcoal in rural areas. Despite of the oil richness, rural Mexicans still depend on wood for fuel, fences and construction materials.

The forest land in Mexico is divided into small fractions and so is not suited to most forestry project due to high wood production costs. Mexico has 2 407 275 forest properties, 1 219 166 of which are less than five hectares. Furthermore, 80 percent of the forest lands belong to Ejidos and Communities, 15 percent of the forests are private properties and 5 percent is government property. Despite the legal possibility that has existed for the past decade to buy ejido land for commercial plantations for large forestry projects, the response from industry has been slow as arguments have centred around lack of land property security.

Mexico has more than 10 percent of its inhabitants living in the tropical and temperate forests. More than 12 million people live in the forests, about 5 million of which are native indian communities representing at least 43 races and dialects. Most of these communities are living in extreme poverty, in shacks, without good schools, clinics, drinkable water or steady jobs. However, outside religious groups are very active in many of these communities, which is a good indication of the possibility to be reached by social programs enforced by the government.

Deforestation in Mexico and the moving forest frontier

Mexico has lost more than half of its natural forests. An average of more than 705 051 ha per year of forests was lost between 1997-1993. This rate then increased to 819 591 ha per year from 1994-2000, according to a recent study by Herrera (2003). During the last couple of years, the average number of hectares deforested reached close to one million per year. This is a tragedy, as along with the forest crop, top soil, habitats, biodiversity, time and money are lost. Man-made deserts are growing in Mexico, the commercial timber line is moving up the slopes and the forest frontiers are being pushed up the mountains by pressure from farmers, cattle raisers, fruit orchards, coffee plantations and local landless fieldworkers.

Deforestation in Mexico has been a collective misfortune caused by poverty, misconceived government policies, greed of some loggers, tree poaching, and poor technical supervision. Some forest management plans are causing genetic erosion through dysgenic selection, which eventually will degrade the forest productivity and sustainability in the long term. In the tropics, selective logging along the roads will end up with species substitution and genetic dilapidation.

The most common causes of deforestation and forest degradation are the following:

Deforestation in Mexico has been recognized by the government as a tragedy, and actions are being taken to revert it, through the programs enforced by the CONAFOR (National Forestry Commission), such as:

There is much to be done in order to prevent further deforestation and begin restoration in the years to come.

The CONAFOR (Comisión Nacional Forestal) budget for this year is more than US$307.63 million. With this budget, CONAFOR expects to cover its payroll, administration, and provide attention to almost three million hectares of productive forests for sustainable forest management. This budget has to be tripled if Mexico wants to win the race against deforestation and degradation of the forest's genetic resources. As forestry is a long-term activity, Mexico needs to develop long term strategic programs under permanent monitoring and consolidate sound government structures.

How Mexican forests are affected by global warming

Global warming, along with deforestation, is altering the rainy season and the amount of precipitation all over the country. Some temperate species are being affected by warmer temperatures and less precipitation. The pressure of climatic change on the forests is more intense on those species with restricted distribution areas, like Abies religiosa, Picea chihuahuana, several pine species and oaks (Ledig, et al 1997). This situation is alarming because pines and oaks represent the main source of commercial wood in the country.

Trading in carbon and sustainable forestry in Mexico has had a slow start since this concept began as a controversial issue in the 1970s. The idea was to trade green mass produced by carbon sinks in sustainable forest management for gas emissions of industrial waste causing the greenhouse effect or global warming. Tropical countries like Mexico could use this benefit because of the high increment rates reached in the tropical forest species (naturally regenerated or man-made forests). As trees grow faster, the rate of carbon sinks/green tissue increases, resulting in the availability of less carbon dioxide and more free oxygen.

The Kyoto Protocol, signed in 1997 by 170 countries, committed them to reduce gas emissions that destroy the ozone layer to 5.2 percent less than the levels released of CO2 during 1990, in a six-year term between 2008 and 2012. After the approval of the Kyoto Protocol, the average price per tonne of fixed CO2 increased to US$4, which corresponds to US$12 per tonne of carbon. In 1997, a community project of 13 000 ha was initiated in the State of Chiapas, Mexico with funding from the International Association of Automobiles (Moura Costa, 1998). Other carbon trading agreements are pending. This could be a top government priority to alleviate the lack of funding of sustainable forest management and plantations.

During this year and for the first time in history, the Mexican Forest Fund paid environmental services to small private owners of Coatepec, Veracruz equivalent to US$100 per hectare. The sum was paid to owners who are managing their forest properties to produce water for the municipality. This year, the Mexican Forest Fund will allocate US$20 000 000 to pay environmental services of 25 000 ha of forest to different owners in the country, in relation to this and other environmental services provided by the forests such as recreation, erosion control, habitats protection, etc. (Revista Forestal XXI, 2003a).

Reforestation and commercial plantations in Mexico

Until very recently, reforestation in Mexico has been more of a social and political issue rather than a productive activity. During the last 50 years, the Ministry of Agriculture has kept at least one nursery per state under production. This was the time when reforestation was measured by the number of seedlings produced in the nursery, and some foresters even had the convenient idea that the natural forests did not need reforestation at all. So, when the seedlings were planted somewhere, hardly anybody would take care of them.

Fortunately this wrong-doing has changed during the last decade. Now CONAFOR has two specific programs for tree planting: PRONARE (National Reforestation Program) and PRODEPLAN (Commercial Plantations Program). CONAFOR has two more programs to support natural regeneration (PRODEFOR) and genetic resources conservation (PROCYMAF); both provide funding and technical support for the natural temperate and tropical forests. Reforestation is done on less productive soils and commercial plantations are being established in highly productive soils, particularly in transition and tropical areas.

PRONARE in 2002, accomplished a national goal of reforestation of 210 000 ha with 246 million seedlings produced in 603 nurseries scattered around the country. This program was born in 1994 and the Ministry of National Defense became its corner stone with 44 highly productive nurseries located in 26 states. During 2002, the army produced 108 200 000 seedlings, mostly planted later by soldiers on ejido and communal land (see Appendix 1). The other 559 nurseries supported by the program are government, communal, ejido and private. They produced 137 800 000 seedlings planted mainly by the property owners supported by government funds allocated to generate rural jobs (CONAFOR, 2003).

The success of PRONARE has been noted at the nursery level. Nursery goals are easier to reach than the goals of seedling survival. PRONARE reports 50 percent survival per year, which is very low. However, the general feeling is that 75 percent of the area planted by this program is lost. The main reasons include: poor genetic stock, poor seedling quality, poor handling of the seedlings when transported to the sites, poor site preparation, poor tree care after planting, trees too young for the purpose, inadequate site-species matching, untrained tree planters, among others. PRONARE executives are well aware of these issues and they plan to improve survival and quality (genetic and physiological) of the seedlings within the next few years.

PRODEPLAN was created in 1997 to trigger the creation of commercial plantations in productive lands, regardless of the property type. This program pays back up to 60 percent of the direct investment of commercial tree planters if survival is no less than 70 percent eight months after planting. PRODEPLAN has very clear rules of operation for the beneficiaries, based on the objectives and goals of each project. From 1977 to 2002, PRODEPLAN has committed to support 758 projects to plant nationwide 197 018 ha of newly established commercial plantations (see Table 1). This program is becoming very active and every year the number of projects increases, particularly in the ejido and communal properties, who are returning croplands and non-profitable plantations like coffee, back to forestry.

Table 1. Commercial plantation projects supported by PRODEPLAN from 1997 to 2002






















33 446


9 985

17 124

39 725

13 830

43 938

38 970

197 018

Only a few industries in Mexico have initiated commercial plantations with success, most of them now are under the tax incentives given by PRODEPLAN. However, many small plantations were established in the past without support from this program. The total number of hectares planted with commercial purpose in the last two decades is 486 887, but these older plantations are decreasing at a rate of 66 321 ha per year (Herrera, 2003), and they are being cut but not replanted.

The forest industry in Mexico

The forest industry in Mexico has been severely damaged by free trade agreements. The industry flourished during the last century when it worked under the protective actions of the government, forests were abundant, with trees of better quality, positioned closer to the factories, and they sold their products in markets controlled and closed to the outside world. Most of these wood industries became obsolete in the 1960s and some years later closed down, particularly some woodpulp and paper factories. The few factories that remained open had to cope with new markets and policies in order to face new challenges. Outside the woodpulp and paper branch, the wood manufacturing industry was never significant in Mexico and was mainly composed of sawmills and a few plywood and particle board factories. The forest industry in the past played a very small role in sustainable forest management, mainly because the forest land property has been ejido. As a result, most of the forests they harvested are degraded and genetically eroded, due to the legally applied method of dysgenic selection.

Mexico started to promote free trade agreements in 1986 with a global vision until 2002. During this period, Mexico entered the global markets through 10 free trade agreements signed with 32 countries in 3 continents (North America, Europe and Asia). By 2005, Mexico will completely open up to free trading by signing an agreement with 34 countries of the American continent. This will represent a market of 792 million people, comprising 22 percent of the world market.

Despite the damage of the free trade agreements in the forest industry, and agriculture in general, other industries such as manufactures, auto parts, tourism and textiles have received great benefits. Mexico is the only country in the world with access to markets in North America, West Europe, the Middle East, Asia and Latin America. It is ranked number eight in the world as exporter and number one in Latin America. In 2001, Mexico received more than US$108 billion in foreign investment to support financial services, manufactures, transportation, communication, tourism and services.

Unfortunately, during the last decade Mexico has had an increasing deficit in forest products. From 1993 to 2002, the country accumulated a commercial deficit of approximately US$1.33 billion in wood products, except pulp and paper. During the last three years (2000-2002), the accumulated deficit in pulp and paper reached US$4.54 billion and this trend will increase in the following years (Santiago, 2003). This deficit is divided as follows: 68 percent paper and cardboard, 14 percent pulp, 10 percent sawn wood and boards and 8 percent wood manufactures.

It seems that during the next decade, the forest industry will have to revert this huge deficit by working closely with the government. The main issue to solve is the lack of competitive prices, mainly due to high wood cost, lack of credits and high interest rates. In addition, it is important that machinery and equipment be modernized, labour training be improved and investment in product development be increased. Among these issues, high wood costs would have to be reduced by commercial plantations, sustainable forest management and productive chain integration.

The future of Mexican forestry

The future of forestry is very promising, because Mexico has both the location and productive land for commercial forestry. Despite the will expressed by the Mexican government to declare the forests a matter of national security, the challenges undertaken by the National Forestry Commission (CONAFOR) will not be able to revert the forest losses in the near future. It will take at least two decades to consolidate the new policies and programs to overcome the forest tragedy.

CONAFOR was created in April 2001 by the government of President Vicente Fox Quezada. CONAFOR is a public decentralized organization whose goal is to develop, foster and promote forest production, conservation and restoration activities, as well as to participate in the creation of plans and programs to enforce sustainable forest management policies. CONAFOR's long-term policies are based on the Strategic Forest Plan for Mexico (2001-2025) and the present administration is enforcing the National Forestry Program (2001-2006) under the present development of four major programs supported by the government: PRONARE, PRODEFOR, PRODEPLAN and PROCYMAF.

In order to operate in the field CONAFOR divided the nation into 13 regions, based on combined criteria such as: climate, vegetation, watersheds, state boundaries and operational size (see Table 2).

Table 2. Regions divided by CONAFOR




    Peninsula de Baja California

    Baja California Norte & Sur





    Pacifico Norte

    Durango & Sinaloa



    Michoacan, Morelos & Edo. de México


    Pacifico Sur

    Oaxaca & Guerrero


    Rio Bravo

    Chihuahua & Coahuila


    Cuencas Centrales

    Nuevo Leon, San Luis Potosí & Zacatecas


    Lerma Santiago Pacifico

    Aguascalientes. Colima, Guanajuato, Jalisco & Nayarit


    Golfo Norte

    Tamaulipas, Hidalgo & Queretaro


    Golfo Centro

    Puebla & Veracruz


    Frontera Sur

    Chiapas & Tabasco


    Penisnula de Yucatán

    Yucatan, Campeche & Quintana Roo


    Valle de México

    Tlaxcala & Distrito Federal

The future of the commission depends on the goals reached by the end of this administration in 2006. Hopefully the great effort and intense work of its authorities will result in consolidation of every program underway. On the other hand, the future of forestry in Mexico is very promising because forests have been socially and politically recognized as vital to produce water, control soil erosion, and regulate the climate. Forestry should not have been treated apart from agriculture by the governments in the past. In the future, agroforestry and multiple-use forestry practices should be promoted.

The forest industry must reconsider establishing its own commercial plantations with highly productive genetic material in order to secure competitive prices of wood in the future. The forest land owners must keep and promote modern management plans with the support of CONAFOR, particularly the ejidos and communities. Together these represent 80 percent of Mexico's forest land and have no access to credits or technical support to comply with the rules established by CONAFOR in order to participate in the programs each year. The challenge is great for all land owners and industries in general, with sound and effective government policies to enforce sustainable forest management for the country.



CONAFOR, 2002. Competitividad forestal. Marzo. Documento Interno.

CONAFOR, 2003. Pagina

CONAFOR, 2003a. Revista Forestal XXI. Vol. 6, No, 1.

Eguiluz Piedra, T. 1984. Conservación de las gimnospermas mexicanas: un asunto controversial. Dasonomia Mexicana 2 (4): 17-31.

Herrera and Herrera, B. 2003. Dinámica territorial y deforestación en México: Periodo 1980-2000. Universidad Autónoma Chapingo. Mexico. In Press.

Ledig, F.T., Jacob, V., Hodgskiss, P.D. & Eguiluz, T. 1997. Recent evolution and divergence among populations of a rare Mexican endemic, chihuahua spruce, following holocene climatic warming. Evolution 51(6):1915-1927.

Moura Costa, P. 1998. Breve historia da evolucao dos mercados de carbono. Silvicultura XIX (76): 24-33.

Santiago Pineda, A. 2003. Comercio exterior de los productos forestales maderables 1993-2002. Academia Nacional de Ciencias Forestales, A. C. Ponencia 10 abril. Coyoacán, Mexico.

Appendix 1. Military nurseries and seedling production goals during 2002



Goal 2002



Goal 2002

    La Fuente


1 600 000



6 875 000

    El Cipres

    Baja California

1 400 000



3 400 000

    La Paz

    Baja California

100 000



6 875 000



2 600 000


    Estado de Mexico

3 490 000



1 800 000

    Santa Lucia

    Estado de Mexico

4 800 000



1 000 000

    San Miguel Jagueyes

    Estado de Mexico

100 000



1 500 000

    El Cobano


750 000



1 500 000



2 500 000

    Los Horcones


1 000 000



1 500 000

    Boca Lacantun


2 300 000


    Nuevo Leon

1 000 000

    Ciudad Juarez


350 000



750 000

    Ciudad Delicias


1 300 000



450 000

    Santa Gertrudis


500 000

    Othon P. Blanco.

    Quintana Roo

2 000 000



5 000 000


    Quintana Roo

2 000 000



6 850 000

    Ciudad Valles

    San Luis Potosi

4 585 000



2 000 000

    El Sauz


4 000 000

    Ciudad Altamirano


500 000



1 000 000



1 000 000

    Santa Ana


500 000



1 000 000



1 375 000

    Cruz Grande


1 000 000

    I. de la Llave


12 500 000



600 000

    Pueblo Viejo


7 000 000



3 000 000

    San Jose Tecoh


2 850 000


108 200 000

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