Monday, 17 November 2003: 1:30 PM
Fire management and restoration plan in the Sierra de Manantlán Biosphere Reserve, México
Fire is an important and controversial issue in protected area management in México. Public opinion perceive wildfires as one of the principal causes of forest degradation and government agencies in charge of forest management and conservation invest great efforts on fire suppression. However fire is also an ecological factor that has been part of forested ecosystem dynamics and the evolutionary environment of their rich biota. As shown by management experience and ecological research, both the excess of fire or its suppression can be a problem. There is a need to define fire management strategies oriented to improve ecological conservation and sustainable forest management. In the Sierra de Manantlán Biosphere Reserve (SMBR) in Western México we are working in a Fire Management and Forest Restoration Plan. Covering 139,500 ha of mountainous land, this protected area has an altitudinal gradient that goes from 300 to 2860 m above sea level and a complex vegetation mosaic that shows the transition from tropical dry forests to temperate forests of fir, pine, oak and broad-leafed trees. The reserve is divided in core zones dedicated to biodiversity and watershed protection, and a buffer zone for multiple uses that include timber and non-timber forest production, cattle raising and hill-side agriculture. The territory of the SMBR is owned by 31 agrarian communities and 80 private properties, that are managed under special land and resource use regulations, with integrated goals of ecological conservation and rural development. In this context, fire management and restoration will cope with the interest and goals of many social actors and complex ecological and social conditions. Wildfires in the SMBR are common: between 1995 and 2002 the average of burned area was estimated in 7,415 + 1,341 ha; 49 % of fires were less than 50 ha in extension and 63% occurred in pine-oak forests in sites above 1500 m altitude. Wildfires burn each year 5.6% of private forests and 2.2 % of communal forests. Ecological studies and field observations in the area show that there are different vegetation responses to fire and a diversity of fire regimes. To reach the biodiversity conservation and sustainable resource management goals in the SMBR, a strategy that combines fire control and prescribed burning is needed (e.g. temporal fire exclusion to restore fir and cloud forests, prescribed burning to reduce severe fire danger or to improve natural regeneration in pine-oak forests). The SMBR Fire Management and Forest Restoration Plan includes nine action lines: (1) wildfire prevention and control, (2) regulation or substitution of fire use in agriculture, (3) experimental prescribed burning in habitat restoration and management, and silviculture, (4) restoration of sites degraded by frequent fires and associated factors like agricultural clearing, poor logging practices and livestock grazing, (5) applied research on fire ecology, monitoring and information systems for fire management, (6) improving local capacities through training in fire management and forest restoration, (7) environmental education and public outreach, and (8) development of institutional arrangements and operational mechanisms to implement the plan. These activities are planed and implemented in collaboration by government agencies, local communities, regional education and research institutions and international and national donors.