Forests of Hope site - Selva Zoque, Mexico

Baird's Tapir, one of the rare mammals of the Zoque Forest
Baird's Tapir, Zoque Forest
Site name: Selva Zoque 
Country: Mexico
IBA(s): The site contains part or all of 3 IBAs — Uxpanapa (MX193), Chimalapas (MX157) and El Ocote (MX167).
Location: Across three Mexican state boundaries: Oaxaca, Veracruz and Chiapas.
Site Area: 960,000 ha

Values of the site

The Zoque Forest lies at the conjunction of the Nearctic (North and Central America) and Neotropical (Central and South America) ecological regions. Dominant vegetation types include lowland rainforests, tropical dry forests and montane pine and pine-oak forests. The area also has one of the largest tracts of undisturbed cloud forest in Central America. 
The Forest is believed to be the home of 534 bird, 178 reptile, 162 mammal, 134 fish and 85 amphibian species, according to the database of the Mexican Commission for the Knowledge and Use of Biodiversity Mexico (CONABIO, a federal agency). These include populations of large mammals such as the Jaguar Panthera onca, River Otter Lontra canadensis, the Endangered Baird’s Tapir Tapirus bairdii and Geoffroy's Spider Monkey Ateles geoffroyi. Important bird species found in the region the Harpy Eagle Harpia harpyja, Highland Guan Penelopina nigra and Horned Guan Oreophasis derbianus. Other bird species of note include the Scarlet Macaw Ara macao, Cinnamon-tailed Sparrow Aimophila sumichrasti, the Vulnerable Nava’s Wren Hylorchis navai and Near-threatened Rose-bellied Bunting Passerina rositae. These latter species are restricted to the Zoque Forest region.  The Zoque Forest is also a migratory corridor for 300 neotropical migratory bird species, including big raptors that cross from the Atlantic Coast to the Pacific; this adds to its importance for north-south migration to make it a migration hotspot. 
The Forest is also home to 300 species of orchid, representing 27% of known Mexican species and 60% of recorded genera.
The forest also provides important ecosystem services. It sits at the top of five water catchments important to a number of downstream communities in all three States. Land ownership is divided among ejidos (local communities with communal land rights), private ownership and federal land ownership. The management of the forest remains the legal right of the land owner. 
View of Selva Zoque. Photo by Roger Safford.
Key threats at the site include


  • Expansion of agriculture and pasture lands
  • Forest Fires
  • Illegal forest cutting
  • Unsustainable Forest Management
  • Expansion of road networ 
Deforestation is undertaken by members of the local community, illegal invaders and people coming from other areas to illegally extract wood from the forest. Underlying causes include the lack of financial incentives for forest conservation and few opportunities for economic development due to the remoteness of the area as well as population increase. As a result, deforestation occurs at a rate of around 1% annually in the Chimalapas region where data exists.
Additionally, the Zoque Forest overlaps three Mexican States: Oaxaca, Chiapas and Veracruz. Differing political views and priorities among States result in fragmented governance in the region and hamper a united conservation and management approach.

Historical conservation approach

Differing political views and priorities among States have resulted in fragmented governance in the region and have hampered a united conservation effort for the Zoque Forest. Most of the area has no legally recognised conservation status. However, the National Commission of Natural Protected Areas (CONANP) designated 101,288 ha as the Selva El Ocote Biosphere Reserve in Chiapas State, and is working towards designating another Biosphere Reserve in Veracruz State. The Biosphere Reserve is managed by the CONANP.
The principal action at a regional level has been to build an inter-institutional collaboration framework that supports a shared vision and strategies in themes like fire management, conservation of biological corridors, community-based and sustainable forest management, and to improve public politics in the region. Meanwhile, local communities have pioneered their own conservation management.  So far, 25,000 ha of community protected areas have been established by voluntary decisions and legal instruments such as local community agreements, federal or state certification of voluntary protected areas, and land easements that afford protection to priority areas in the Zoque Forest.
Pronatura has been working with several communities in the Chimalapas and Ocote regions within Selva Zoque for more than five years. They have been implementing fire management, restoration, community monitoring, agro-forestry and capacity building activities and helped the communities to establish forest reserves.
Nava Wren species endemic to Selva Zoque. Photo by M. Tood.
New conservation approach 
Pronatura is ideally placed to develop an integrated approach to the governance of the Zoque Forest, and has already initiated the formation of institutional forums involving local communities, government agencies and NGOs, to develop and implement programs and policies for integrated conservation and sustainable resource management.
A key component of the proposed governance approach will be to reduce the dependency of the rural population on forest that result in forest destruction, by encouraging the diversification of incomes. The wide range of sustainable production alternatives includes sustainable forestry, ecosystems services payments, livestock and agroforestry. These need to be promoted and successes replicated, integrating the global objectives of reduction of carbon emissions and degradation in the forest while generating the income and social benefits needed for local community development.
Financial support for the implementation of this strategy could come from the reduction of carbon emissions from deforestation and forest degradation. Chiapas State is pioneering the development of a state-level REDD+ program, supported by Pronatura and other NGOs. 

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