The region known as the Zoque Forest, or Selva Zoque, is located at the merging of the states of Oaxaca, Chiapas and Veracruz . The majority of the forest, however, is found in the Chimalapas region of Oaxaca (approximately 600,000 hectares) and is the focus of WWF's Selva Zoque Program.
||Location of the Selva Zoque
This region is of great biological importance on both national and international levels. It includes the largest expanse of well-conserved lowland humid tropical forest and cloud forest in northern Mesoamerica, and consequently has a formidable diversity of species.
Due to its location in a geologically and topographically complex zone and a dramatic rainfall gradient (as much as 3,000 mm annual rainfall in the north), the Selva Zoque contains as many as 15 different plant communities, from evergreen rainforest and cloud forest to pine-oak and tropical dry forests.
Despite a paucity of biological information, it is believed that the Selva Zoque is one of the most biodiverse areas in the entire country. For example, more than 300 species of orchids have been identified here —27% of the species and 60% of the genera in all of Mexico.
It is still possible to find highly threatened species here, such as the jaguar, spider monkey, white-lipped peccary, horned guan, quetzal and harpy eagle. With respect to water, it is a critical zone containing the headwaters of five hydrologic regions. The El Corte river watershed, the major tributary of the Coatzacoalcos river, provides hydrologic services to the municipal seat, Santa Maria Chimalapa and to the Cuauhtemoc district—the most important agricultural and cattle district in the state of Oaxaca. The Negro river watershed joins the drainage that feeds the Nezahualcoyotl dam, and its conservation is critical in preventing silting of the dam. The Uxpanapa river watershed, together with the Coatzacoalcos river, represents the primary source of water for Veracruz 's southern wetlands. The Espiritu Santo river watershed, for its part, directly affects the fish production in the Isthmus' lagoon system.
For the characteristics described, the Selva Zoque has been designated as “outstanding at a bioregional level” according to the World Bank and WWF. The region is also recognized by WWF and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as a Center of Plant Diversity and a Global 200 ecoregion —one of the world's 200 most important ecoregions for conservation.
Culture, Society and Economy
The region is of great cultural importance and its Zoque indigenous inhabitants are considered the cultural descendants of the Olmecs, the formative civilization of Mesoamerica.
Currently, the area is colonized by groups of Chinantec, Mixe, Mixtec, Zapotec, Tzotzil and Tzeltal origin, in addition to mestizos from various states of Mexico. The high rate of immigration has reduced the Zoque population to a minority fraction, resulting in a process of social stratification that is visible in the power structure and in the access to resources. The region has high levels of poverty and economic marginalization, with serious problems affecting health, nutrition and access to basic services.
The region's economy is based primarily on subsistence agriculture using traditional farming methods. There is some coffee, citrus and small-scale fruit tree production where conditions permit. Timber extraction, hunting and trafficking in forest species adds to family income.
Impacts and Threats
The principal impacts and threats to the Selva Zoque ecosystems include:
b) Population growth
c) Agrarian conflict
d) Cattle production
e) Subsistence hunting and illegal trafficking of threatened species
f) Forest fires
g) Development and infrastructure projects
||© Fulvio Eccardi
In the last 17 years, WWF has promoted a variety of activities to conserve the ecosystems of Chimalapas. It has collaborated with government agencies and different social sectors, in an effort to address the needs of community infrastructure, develop self-sufficient projects, and especially to find solutions to agrarian conflict.
The principal actions achieved and supported during this period include:
- Support of conciliation and mediation between communities and ejidos on agrarian issues in Chimalapas
- Training and support of local technicians in agroecology, community health, and law and justice for the defense of human rights
- Fomenting community organization to generate participation in the management of conservation and development issues.
- Negotiation and lobbying to address agrarian, political and social problems
- Community consensus building for the establishment of a Rural Ecological Reserve
- Institutional strengthening for communities and non-governmental organizations (NGOs)
With financial support from USAID and WWF-UK, the Selva Zoque Program is currently concentrating on formulating Watershed Management Plans for the Corte (Santa Maria Chimalapa) and Espiritu Santo (San Miguel Chimalapa) rivers. Both communities are participating directly in the drawing up of these plans, accompanied by a coalition of governmental institutions (CAO, CONANP, CONAGUA, CONAFOR, COPLADE, FIRCO, IEEO, PROFEPA, SEDER, SEMARNAT, SEDESOL, SAGARPA, SAI, CDI, SCT), and NGOs (WWF, Conservation International).
Successes and Progress
Among WWF's successes and progress are:
- Training community members on conservation issues
- Putting forth the Restoration Area declaration that includes areas affected by the 1998 wild fires
- Support of conciliation of agrarian conflict on Oaxaca territory between the states of Chiapas and Veracruz
- Publication of a book that puts together the biological and social studies that have been conducted in the region over the last four years
- Support and backing of the community assembly decision to develop community land-use plans
- Supporting the committee that declared Cerro Azul as a community conservation area
- Support of the development, consensus and publication of the Communal Statute for San Miguel Chimalapa
- Fomenting the participation of women and young people in the community decision processes
- Leading the effort to improve communication between communities and government institutions with the end goal of a broadly supported Master Development Plan 2005-2007
Another prominent success has been the positioning of WWF in the region as a widely-recognized conservation institution that is serious and dedicated to working with communities.
Plan Maestro de Desarrollo Regional de los Chimalapas