• Unauthorized human settlements
• Border highway
• Illegal logging
• Overuse of non-timber forest products
• Overhunting and fishing
• Lack of administrative personnel and park guards
• Forest fires
• Lack of management program
• Agricultural activities
• Exotic species
• Construction of hydroelectric dams
Unauthorized human settlements
Problems resulting from numerous unauthorized human settlements within Montes Azules Biosphere Reserve started to attract the attention of conservation groups, civil society, human rights groups, and government authorities in the early 1990s. More invasions occurred in indigenous communities during 2001 and 2002. During this time, these different stakeholders debated about how to best resolve the invasion problems in the area. They witnessed yet another invasion in 2001 in Lacantún Biosphere Reserve, the first in this previously untouched area. The settlers invaded an area known as "Arroyo Cristalino," deforested approximately 26 hectares, built 23 huts, and shortly after the initial invasion, they continued to expand their settlement and deforest additional areas to cultivate (CI 2002).
Invasion of "Arroyo Cristalino"
Over the last 15 years, deforestation, grazing, and agricultural activities have fragmented the Selva Lacandona, which connects with Guatemala's Selva Maya in Petén. Colonization, deforestation, and fragmentation were further accelerated when the border highway opened. Recent improvements to the highway, including asphalting, have created an additional threat to the fauna - animals are run over on a daily basis.
Roadkill caused by Border Highway
Deforestation is evident throughout the region. In Arroyo Cristalino, at least 50 hectares of vegetative coverage has been cleared. In communities like Quiringuicharo (in Marqués de Comillas region on the banks of the Lacantún River), one can observe large quantities of cut wood and boards drying next to the houses in the sun. This wood comes from the protected area (Anonymous, personal communication). Benemérito de las Américas is a large town close to the reserve, along the highway and river. Here too there are several sawmills; it is well known that inhabitants illegally use timber extracted Lacantún. During our visit to the area, we were told that during May and June 2003, PROFEPA inspectors stationed at the mouth of Lacantún River confiscated 65 logs and 7 m3 of mahogany.
Overuse of non-timber forest products
The community of Frontera Corozal uses non-timber forest products from the protected area. For the most part, they intensely harvest the palm fronds of xate (Chamaedora oblongata), the parlour palm (Chamaedorea elegans) (CCA 2002) and la pita (Aecmea sp). They also consume fruit from some trees, such as sapote, ramon, anona, pepper and cacao.
Because firewood is intensely harvested for domestic use and for some production activities (albeit inefficient production), we have identified firewood collection as a threat to the targeted species.
Overhunting and fishing
Wildlife hunting is a growing threat in the reserve. In addition to hunting for subsistence (which is legal), members of the Frontera Corozal and Lacanjá-Chanzayab communities hunt for commercialization. In Quiringuicharo and Benemérito de las Américas hunting is done mostly to obtain bush meat to consume and sell. Some species beginning to show population declines in the region include: Odocoileus virginianus, Tapirus bairdii, Tayassu tajacu, Mazama americana, Ateles geoffroyi and birds such as Penelope purpurascens, Crax rubra and Ara macao (Naranjo 2002).
Hunters' shelter with the Lacantún Biosphere Reserve
Another significant pressure is fishing in the Lacantún and Lacanjá rivers. Basic information on target species, such as reproductive cycles, is unknown and therefore no fishing seasons or size limits have been established. Some species are overfished and their populations do not recuperate. Inappropriate methods are also used; fisherman use poison (barbasco) or very fine nets. They catch juveniles as well as adults. The communities most involved in fishing and consuming fish are Benemérito, Quiringuicharo and Zamora Pico de Oro, which is on the banks of Lacantún with 1,700 inhabitants (INEGI 2000). It should also be noted that several endangered aquatic species are hunted, including the Central American river turtle (Dermatemis mawii) and the crocodiles (Crocodylus acutos and C. moreletti) (UICN 2003).
Lack of budget, administrative personnel, and park guards
Undoubtedly, without a budget or personnel Lacantún has been marginalized; the 2001 invasion occurred because there was no security or management. If Lacantún continues as is-without budget, staff, or management-biodiversity will be lost to deforestation, forest fires, hunting, and wildlife species trafficking.
The 1998 fires demonstrated how vulnerable Lacantún's ecosystems were and forest fires are now considered a permanent threat. During our field evaluation, fires had affected 2,797 hectares. In Chan Kin, a neighboring protected area, fire affected 1,980 hectares (CONANP 2003a). These fires were caused by ranchers attempting to open up additional grazing pastures for their cattle and by slash and burn farmers.
Lack of a management program
Lacantún's management program has yet to be completed. There are several factors contributing to the delay. First of all, the institutions responsible for doing it have failed because of missing information and lack of research on the reserve. In addition, the role the Lacandona community (the actual proprietors of the land) will play has not been determined.
Without a program, managing and conserving the area is impossible, as is carrying out any reserve-related activities (which the program itself is supposed to establish). One element urgently needed within the program is fairly developed zoning in order to guide land use and establish restricted and permitted activities for each zone.
The agriculture and grazing frontier has yet to penetrate into the reserve. Currently, within the reserve there are only small areas of pasture and crops in the north and east, and in the recently invaded area (CI 2002). Surrounding the reserve, agriculture and grazing is confined to the areas around the border highway and along the Lacantún riverside road. Before the land invasion, Frontera Corozal was the only community involved in agriculture and grazing and they were not problematic because the indigenous people maintained their areas and the deforestation rate was slow.
The risk agricultural and grazing activities pose to the reserve is high. First of all, more agriculture leads to a higher wildfire risk because of slash and burn techniques used before planting during the hottest months: April, May, and June. Second, there has also been an expansion of cattle grazing and creation of pasture. Finally, communities such as Quiringuicharo are expanding their agricultural lands. The slow but continued advance of deforested areas into the reserve could be considered the start of its own fragmentation.
Some people living in Marqués de Comillas claim that members of the Quiringuicharo community are involved in narcotics trafficking. An anonymous researcher who, during his fieldwork, was intercepted by armed men protecting drug crops in Lacantún's area confirmed this. After visiting the community and passing by several Mexican army posts, ParksWatch experienced something similar. When we arrived at the border highway, we were thoroughly searched. We assume that the army personnel had identified us as potential traffickers because we were outsiders visiting the community.
Several exotic species have been reported in the area. The Africanized bee (Apis mellifera adansonii) is known to exist in the zone. It represents a threat to the scarlet macaw because in some cases it has affected this species' reproductive cycle (personal observation). There are two exotic fish in the Lacanjá River: Nile tilapia (Oreochromys niloticus) and the grass carp (Ctenopharryngodon idella) (Rodiles et al. 1996). Members of the Frontera Corozal community have also introduced several domesticated animals, including cows, horses, pigs, chickens, and dogs. It is also believed that the unauthorized settlers within the Lacantún's core zone have cattle, dogs, and chickens.
Construction of hydroelectric dams
For the last few federal administrations, infrastructure development for southeastern Mexico, and specifically Chiapas, has been a hot topic. Conservation organizations are concerned about the mega-electricity infrastructure projects proposed in Plan Puebla Panamá (PPP). The PPP recommends building six dams within the Usumacinta River Basin, some as high as 235 meters.
The hydroelectric dam project known as "Boca del Cerro" in the Usumacinta River involves the states of Tabasco and Chiapas in Mexico and Guatemala. The conservation community and local inhabitants are most concerned about this project because preliminary site studies have already taken place.
Boca del Cerro Dam would be 135 m tall and as a result, Usumacinta River would flood a large portion of Mexico's and Guatemala's border territories. Important archeological sites, such as Yaxchilán in Chiapas and Piedras Negras in Guatemala, would be flooded.
Community manifest against the Plan Puebla Panamá and the construction of dams