Forest Guardians: How Ixtlán de Juárez Leads the Way in Community Forestry

Last Updated: June 19, 2024By

Forest Guardians: How Ixtlán de Juárez Leads the Way in Community Forestry

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Hey there! Let me take you on a journey to Ixtlán de Juárez, a magical place up in the mountains of Oaxaca, Mexico. It’s about 1,600 feet above the valley, where folks like Dexter Melchor Matías have made a lifestyle out of community forestry. Around 10 million people in Mexico live in forests, and half of them are Indigenous. Pretty cool, right?

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So, while wildfires are getting crazier all over the Americas and the world’s getting hotter, something interesting is happening in Mexico. Despite more than a quarter of the country being super dry, the number of wildfires hasn’t really gone up since 2012. How come? Let’s dive in!

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A Different Kind of Forest Ownership

Picture this: more than half of Mexico’s forests are managed by communities and Indigenous people. Nowhere else in the world do you see this kind of setup. Experts say this is why Mexico’s wildfires are under control. “Down south, they have more wildfires because of all the small private properties,” says Dexter, our forest manager friend. “They just can’t keep an eye on things like we do.”

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Globally, about 36% of untouched forests are on Indigenous lands. Studies show these community-run forests soak up more CO2 and cut down fewer trees. Plus, they handle water shortages better, which means less wildfire risk.

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Ixtlán’s Unique Approach

Ixtlán covers a whopping 19,000 hectares of snowy peaks, lush jungles, and everything in between. Instead of clearcutting, they log narrow strips of pine and oak so the forest can naturally regrow. This careful logging is managed by their community forestry business, which took back control from a private company in 1982.

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Across Mexico, 1,600 out of 21,000 forest-owning communities are into sustainable logging, mostly down south. For Ixtlán, it’s not just about making money. “We want to create jobs,” says Guadalupe Pacheco-Aquino, a conservation scientist. In one of Mexico’s poorest states, good rural jobs are like gold.

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Building a Better Community

Forestry in Ixtlán isn’t just about trees. They use profits to build roads, schools, and more. “These businesses work with the market but aren’t driven by it,” says David Bray, a professor emeritus. They’ve thrived thanks to good state policies, stable wood prices, and solid community governance.

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Ixtlán’s logging operations are directed by a mostly male community assembly. But things are changing, with more women stepping into these roles. Decision-making here follows Indigenous traditions, valuing group needs over individual ones and prioritizing elders’ wisdom. No political parties allowed—only technically skilled members representing all local families.

The Heart of the Community

Noemí Cruz Hernández runs the community’s furniture factory, where 40 workers turn high-quality pine into school furniture, thanks to the Forest Stewardship Council’s certification. They’re aiming for more independence with a new store in Oaxaca city. Besides furniture, Ixtlán has a community-run gas station, food store, water bottling plant, credit union, and an eco-inn, boosting sustainable economic growth.

Workers here get minimum wage plus benefits for 48 hours a week. “Our biggest problem is turnover,” says Noemí. “We train people, and then they leave for better jobs.” Despite setting up a local university focusing on forestry, many young people still leave for better opportunities.

Staying Close to Home

Joaquin Aquino, a driver, could’ve gone to Canada but stayed to care for his dad. He now works in eco-tourism. “Community forestry let me stay here,” he says. “It’s helped all of us and the surrounding towns. There’s more money, and protecting our forests means we have something for our kids.”

Economic hardships linger despite money sent from other parts of Mexico and the US. Yet, extreme poverty has halved since 2010. Sixteen-year-old Samuel Bautista Aquino, a tourist guide, dreams of studying plants and mushrooms at university. Ixtlán has 113 kinds of wild edible mushrooms!

Protecting the Future

Regular forest inspections keep illegal logging at bay. “We’ve never had issues,” says Dexter. Mexico’s community forests often have lower deforestation rates than protected areas.

David Bray highlights that with the climate crisis and biodiversity loss, community forestry shows how Indigenous control benefits both people and nature. “These forests capture more carbon than strictly protected areas, mainly by storing it in wood products,” Bray says. “When local communities manage their forests, both the land and people thrive.”

So, what do you think? Isn’t Ixtlán de Juárez an amazing example of how community and nature can work hand in hand? It’s a place where the old ways meet modern needs, creating a future where forests and people both have a chance to flourish.

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