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Entries in community forestry; tropical dry forest (3)


Students with Biltmore Sticks in Dry Forest

Large group of students at Santa Cruz, El Rincon (see What I Do), each with his or her Biltmore Stick (see Biltmore Stick), waiting to be divided into field crews so that they can count and measure several important tree species in the surrounding tropical dry forest. I'm the one with the Red Sox cap. [NOTE: Have no idea who took this photo. Maybe Miguel Alexiades (thx, Miguel)]? 


What I Do

Last week I gave a three-day workshop on community management of forest resources in Santa Cruz, El Rincon with Miguel Alexiades, Patricia Negreros, and Citlalli Lopez. About 40 students from several different institutions and communities participated. We had a first day of basic concepts and made Biltmore sticks (see Biltmore Stick). The second day we went to a nearby tract of tropical dry forest and ran inventory transects and counted and measured trees. Super steep site, and some of the slopes were in excess of 100%. I slipped a lot.

And then we took the data and made a big table showing the density and basal area of different tree species and drew size-class histograms of the most abundant/valuable ones. The final - and most important - step in the whole process is to try to figure out what all of this means in terms of management, i.e. what needs to be done to insure that a species continues to grow and reproduce while it is being exploited. This is what I am try to do in the image above (thx, Miguel). This is what I do for a living. Helping communities define a conceptual path through a forest of data to make things better. For all beings. Gassho. [NOTE: The last day of the workshop ran very late, and we were still talking about diameter distributions and regeneration rates at 9:00 PM].



Alebrijes are whimsical, brightly painted figures carved by artisans in the Central Valley of Oaxaca. These popular handicrafts first started appearing in the market in the early 1970's, and currently hundreds of thousands are produced each year.  All of these  figures are carved from the wood of one species of dry forest tree, Bursera glabrifolia, or "copal".  The intense commercial demand for this wood has virtually eliminated the tree from the forests of the Central Valley.  When I first started getting interested in alebrijes, local craftsmen were buying copal wood (at exorbitant prices) from middlemen who harvested the material (illegally) from dry forests over two hours away.  

In response to this situation, Silvia Purata, a Mexican ecologist and former Kleinhans Fellow (currently with People and Plants International), and I started looking for communities with significant quantities of dry forest that could be managed for Bursera glabrifolia. We found a suitable site at San Juan Bautista Jayacatlán, north of Oaxaca City.  Field operations were initiated in collaboration with the community in 2001 to collect the baseline inventory and growth information needed to put together a forest management plan.  These data were painstakingly collected over the next two years, and a management plan was developed and submitted to the Secretary of the Environment and Natural Resources (SEMARNAT).  And then we waited...

Upon inquiring about  the delay, we were told that there was a bit of uncertainty in the decision-making process because  "no one had ever solicited a management permit for dry forests in Mexico".  After a bit of discussion (thx, Silvia), the permit was finally granted to Jayacatlán and, as a result, the first sustainable source of Bursera glabrifolia wood was created.

Shortly after the SEMARNAT permit was granted, the first "sustainably harvested" copal tree was felled at Jayacatlán.  I was there with a video camera.  [NOTE: The toast offered to the tree says "With the permission of the forest, and the owners who are here with us, we offer a toast to start work on the management and exploitation of the forest resources found here"].

Further information about the alebrijes project can be found here.