Bringing back mahogany


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From Southern Mexico down to the Amazon Basin, big-leaf mahogany has long been Latin America’s most important tropical timber species. But due to logging and deforestation it is rapidly disappearing. The problem has become so bad that recently, CITES, the international convention that controls trade in endangered species, required each producer country to assess how much mahogany it could sustainably log and limit exports to that level.

The community forestry enterprises (ejidos) of Quintana Roo in Mexico are practically the only ones who have seriously tried to harvest mahogany sustainably from natural forests. Thirty six ejidos harvest mahogany based on management plans, and some are even certified.

“Managing Natural Forests for Sustainable Harvests of Mahogany (Swietenia macrophylla): Experiences in Mexico’s Community Forests” looks at how they have fared and presents the results of research about how to make sure that mahogany regenerates after logging. The study by CIFOR’s Laura Snook and eight co-authors from Mexican government agencies and the ejido forestry organizations was published in Unasylva.

The ejidos have learnt as they go along. When they started twenty years ago, they logged more mahogany than they do now. But they cut back after inventories showed they couldn’t sustain such high levels. Some ejidos have also stopped planting mahogany seedlings along logging trails and in small clearings since they discovered that most don’t survive. Mahogany actually regenerates best where relatively large areas have been opened up by slash and burn agriculture or hurricanes followed by fires. It doesn’t regenerate well in the small clearings that result from just taking out one or two trees. So some ejidos are looking at slash and burn techniques to encourage mahogany growth. Planting mahogany seedlings in yards where logs are stacked for loading is another promising option.

It also turns out that you need to keep some huge trees (with trunks wider than 75 centimeters in diameter) to produce enough mahogany seeds. In the past, the ejidos have always harvested all the big mahogany trees, but they are reconsidering that in the light of these research results.

Industrial logging has exhausted much of Latin America’s accessible mahogany. But the ejidos of Quintana Roo are learning how to bring the mahogany back, and slash and burn agriculture may be part of the solution.

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Further reading

To send comments or queries to the authors you can write Laura Snook at:

The full reference for the document is: L.K. Snook, V.A. Santos Jimenez, M. Carreón Mundo, C. Chan Rivas, F.J. May Ek, P. Mas Kantún, C. Hernández Hernández, A. Nolasco Morales, and C. Escobar Ruiz. 2003. "Managing Natural Forests for Sustainable Harvests of Mahogany (Swietenia macrophylla): Experiences in Mexico’s Community Forests", Unasylva, 214 - 215, Vol. 54: 6872.

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