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Wildlife Conservation Units in Mexico: Sustainability or Fallacy?

Wildlife Conservation Units in Mexico: Sustainability or Fallacy?

Mexico is a diverse country. Between 60 and 70% of the planet’s biodiversity is housed in only 12 countries, one of which is Mexico. Some of the causes that make Mexico a country of great biodiversity are the topography, the variety of climates and a complex history, both geological and biological as well as cultural. These factors have contributed to a mosaic of environmental conditions that promote a variety of habitats and life forms (PROFEPA, 2011).


Cause of biodiversity loss

Quite often human economic activities are pointed as the main direct cause of the decline of our immense natural wealth, which have had (a supposedly direct) influence in the decreasing number of species, size and genetic variability of wild populations and in the irreversible loss of habitats and ecosystems. However, the exploitation of natural resources is not harmful per se, it is even justifiable.

Every living organism is part of a network of ecological relationships necessary for life, which make us dependent on our environment. In other words, the use of natural resources is necessary for our survival and therefore, for the ecological balance. This can be clearly reflected in the dynamics of food chains, without which there would be an ecological imbalance: an overpopulation of preys because of the absence of predators, overpopulation of deer without tigers, overpopulation of plankton without whales, bringing about obvious environmental impacts. No, the direct cause of biodiversity loss is not human intervention (bona fide for human development) but its lack of effectiveness. Thus, overcoming human activities’ lack of effectiveness, whether regulatory, of markets or of psyche to make use of natural resources without altering the ecological balance, is ‘the’ challenge.


Effectiveness of regulation

Having tried to move outside the utopia of left-wing environmentalism by justifying the use of natural resources, it is now appropriate to analyse the effectiveness or ineffectiveness of regulation (a well-known human intervention) to face ‘the’ challenge. Mexico has a number of regulatory tools for biodiversity conservation – such as the General Wildlife Law, the Norm NOM-059-SEMARNAT-2010 that lists the species and subspecies of flora and fauna at risk of extinction, in addition to the Conservation and Research Centre of Wildlife (CVIS, for its Spanish acronym), the Wildlife Conservation Units (UMAs) and the Protected Natural Areas (ANPs), among others.

The strategy of management and conservation of wildlife in Mexico adopts the concept of balance between the use of natural resources and the fair and urgent need to reduce poverty levels under an alternative scheme of opportunities for economic, social and natural development. Thus, in 1997 the Wildlife Conservation Units (UMAs) arose. Since then, the number of UMAs has grown exponentially. By 2002, there were 5.009 covering almost 10% of Mexico’s total surface, and by 2005, the number grew up to 6.659 units suggesting a tendency of growth of 500 units per year.


Sustainability of Wildlife Conservation Units

The UMAs sustainably use the specimens and by-products of wildlife based on a previously authorized management plan, which is carefully (in quotes) planned and designed to the local natural circumstances. In the Mexican state of Campeche, for example, there is an UMA aimed at raising moreletti crocodile, whose skin is highly valued in European markets; in Chiapas, natives of southern communities preserve their resources spurred by the economic benefits of ecotourism; in Sonora, there are some UMAs for sport hunting, which encourages their owners not to allow over-hunting, as their economic welfare depends on the existence of specimens for each season.

It is no wonder then that the vast majority of newspaper articles and public opinions about the UMAs tend to emphasize their promising advantages. It is logical enough to confuse their effectiveness with their wide acceptance reflected in their significant growth trend. The problem is that the concept of sustainability is already so broad that being ‘logical enough’ is synonymous with being ‘dangerously fallacious’.

So, let’s apply the broad concept of sustainability to the UMAs: Yes, the system is innovative, designed bona fide and perfectible. Yes, it activates the local economy and therefore is a tool for poverty reduction. No, ecological impacts are still uncertain. Sisk et al. * (2007) from the University of Arizona and the Department of Scientific and Technological Research of the University of Sonora show that in order to preserve and promote the number of target species for sport hunting, the owners of the Sonoran UMAs grow a range of non-endemic grass for food, which has led to ecological displacement of native species, altering the balance of the local ecosystem. This situation demands the intervention of specialists to focus the management of the UMAs in the right balance of sustainability.

Managing wildlife requires a strong technical capacity and scientific assistance from the government during both the planning and operational stages of the UMAs, aspects that have been reported as weak. If the technical collaboration and monitoring on behalf of the government are strengthened, the UMAs would definitely constitute an innovate instrument for bringing about Mexico’s development under the sustainable path. If not, quite the opposite.


Sisk, T., Castellanos, A. and G. Koch (2007) Ecological impacts of wildlife conservation units policy in Mexico, Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, 5(4): 209-212.


Read this article in Spanish, on the blog BioAgradable Palabras Eco-Lógicas

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