Inter-Ministerial Group for the Prevention of Forest Fires

It is people who are responsible for 97% of forest fires in Mexico

By Jorge Castaños Martínez

Director-General of Conafor / El Heraldo de México

February 14, 2020

We are seeing more heat waves and more intense droughts as a result of climate change and with them, more forest fires, like the ones in the Amazon and Australia, which received wide coverage in both the local and international media and whose environmental impact is untold.

In Mexico, a total of 7,410 forest fires were reported in 2019. These affected approximately 634,000 hectares, making them the worst recorded since 1998.

Jalisco, Oaxaca, Durango, Nayarit, Guerrero, Chihuahua, Baja California and Chiapas were the eight states most severely affected.

It is people who are responsible for 97% of forest fires in Mexico, be it out of negligence, unintentionally or on occasion intentionally, to clear the land for commercial use or subsistence farming, or even acts of vandalism and organized crime.

Based on hard data available through February 6, the situation has improved somewhat as we learn from the lessons of 2019 and seek to make the transition from a strategy focused on firefighting to one that incorporates:

  1. Preventive measures. In addition to promoting a sense of joint responsibility among farmers, the goal is to involve the most affected municipalities and use data from the fire prediction system in national and municipal decision-making processes for their prevention. Other measures include enforcing the law in forest areas, where changes in the authorized use of the land are illegal 95% of times, and increasing the amount of forestland under community management or where active conservation measure are enforced—the statistics show that fewer and less severe fires occur on land legally owned or managed, land managed by farmers who receive income under the environmental services program and land in the hands of native peoples who have respect for the natural world. We anticipate farmers participating in the Sembrando Vida program and inhabitants of Natural Protected Areas will join the cause.
  2. More efficient firefighting measures. These include improving the performance of fire management centers, adopting an incident command system, incorporating high-tech satellite detection and monitoring aids into the fire prediction system, training firefighters, maintaining open lines of communication with the Semarnatunion to ensure an amicable working relationship and improved safety conditions for unionized firefighters, and paying more attention to cities that border with farming and wooded areas.

Another front we are tackling is greater cooperation with members of the Inter-ministerial Group for the Prevention and Management of Forest Fires. Comprised of 21 government agencies, our goal is to preserve our forests so we can continue enjoying their social and climatic benefits.