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Crisis at Mexico’s National Commission for Natural Protected Areas: A text for beginners

Celebrities, citizens, experts, public servants and legislators have spoken up today for a practically unknown agency of the Mexican Federal Government. Here, I explain what is CONANP and why it should matter to you.

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The National Commission for Protected Natural Areas (CONANP is its Spanish acronym) is the federal agency of the Mexican Government in charge of establishing, managing and defending the different types of Natural Protected Areas (NPAs), which are the country’s nature reserves. Mexico has 182 NPAs that include almost 54 million acres of land representing over 11% of the national territory, and almost 173 million marine acres or 22% of the territorial waters.

Due to the history of land distribution in Mexico, a large part of the territory within NPAs belongs to ejidos (communal lands), communities, companies, organizations or individuals, although some portions are national lands that belong to all of us Mexicans. This reality means that much of the work of CONANP is to collaborate closely with rural communities so that NPAs can fulfill their objectives of protecting biodiversity, landscape richness, biocultural wealth and the natural processes on which our lives and our civilization depend: the water cycle, the generation of oxygen and the regulation of climate. NPAs also play a key role in the prevention of diseases of animal origin, such as COVID-19, as they help us limit our presence, allowing wild animals and their pathogens to develop far from contact with people.

In short, NPAs are the best investment to guarantee the stability and persistence of human societies. Without them life on Earth would continue, but our lives would become hell, which is why some countries assign up to 2% of their GDP to the environmental sector. In contrast, Mexico today invests only 0.02% of its GDP in NPAs, going from a historical maximum of $74.12 Mexican pesos per protected hectare to a current figure of $9.56 Mexican pesos per hectare (aprox. 0.18 US Dollars per acre), An 87%reduction and an insufficient amount that is about to fall even further.

Stretching those few pesos, CONANP is also charged with recovering and reintroducing endangered priority species such as Mexican wolf, black bear and jaguar, seeking to settle part of a centuries’ old debt of extermination with our companions in this planet: wild animals and plants on the verge of extinction.

To fulfill such a mandate, CONANP needs money to pay for obvious things such as vehicles, their maintenance and fuel, supplies that the park rangers, with the help of local people, need to monitor the status of NPAs, promote the conservation of species, fight wildfires and educate on the importance of nature. It also needs money for things that few perceive, such as lawyers who defend NPAs from mega-projects or the coordination of experts who design plans to expand, manage and improve the national NPA system.

Since the end of Calderón’s presidential term, and particularly throughout Peña Nieto’s, CONANP has suffered budget cuts that have left many NPA without directors or deputy directors, have left regional and local offices in a state of neglect that impacts the personnel’s morale, and have minimized its ability to conduct field operations.

The López-Obrador administration, far from reversing that damage and fulfilling the campaign promise to stop the voracious exploitation of land and species, seems determined to give CONANP its death blow. The budget assigned to CONANP in 2020 is the lowest in recent years and now it will be reduced to 25% of what little was left. Offices are closing, field staff do not have fuel to conduct fieldwork, there is not enough capacity for legal defense, no money for species recovery actions, and it’s impossible to even think of designating new NPAs to fulfill the international commitments Mexico has made in the face of climate change and global extinctions.

Having reached the limit, it is not surprising that society is saying: Enough! We need Natural Protected Areas and we need them to be able to fulfill their function! Although I admit even I was surprised by the large number of people who have joined this cause. That’s great, we are seeing a Mexico more conscious than ever!

Today, the Federal Government has the opportunity to meet up their citizens’ demand by achieving four key points to start the recovery of CONANP and to honor the 4th Article of the Mexican Constitution, which guarantees our right to a healthy environment:

  1. Cancel the 75% budget cut to the environmental sector, not only CONANP but also to CONAFOR (National Forestry Commission), PROFEPA (Federal Attorney for Environmental Protection) and CONABIO (National Commission for the Knowledge and Use of Biodiversity).
  2. Guarantee that NPA entrance fees, paid by tourists, are entirely returned to CONANP.
  3. Guarantee that fines for environmental crimes are invested in inspection and surveillance actions within and outside the NPAs.
  4. Establish clear, effective and transparent mechanisms that guarantee the adequate financing of NPAs year after year.

We at Wildlands Network and many others, are supporting CONANP and will continue to do so, no matter what.


CONANP Geographic Information System:

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Translated by Victoria Arellano Rivera

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