Between 2001 and 2021, the country recorded the deforestation of 208,850 hectares, which is worrying if we consider that forest ecosystems are important because, among other environmental services, they sustain terrestrial biodiversity, help preserve the soil and capture carbon dioxide. This last function is essential to confront the current climate crisis.
The development of some projects involves clearing vegetation from forest land, a permission known as land-use change on forest land. This authorization requires adopting measures to prevent, mitigate and/or compensate for adverse environmental impacts, for example, by reforesting larger areas than the area cleared.
To diminish the adverse environmental effects of land use change on forest land, the forestry regulations have designed a series of legal requirements. Based on the professional experience of Santamarina + Steta in this matter, we would like to make the following recommendations:
- The best impact is the one that is not caused. When considering a property for the development of a project, it is recommended to prefer land that has already been cleared, for example, agricultural, urban, or legally impacted areas.
- All land with native vegetation in a good state of conservation is forest land. There is a mistaken notion that only temperate forests are forest ecosystems. This error could lead to illegal logging in jungles, wetlands, and arid and semi-arid zones by assuming that these ecosystems are not forest ecosystems. The dry and semi-arid vegetation typical of northern Mexico is perhaps the one that suffers most from this confusion because, since it is not made up of trees, it is common for it to be cut down without the corresponding authorizations.
- The land use change in forest land must be done through two authorizations. Whoever intends to cut down forest land must process and obtain an environmental impact authorization (AIA) and a land use change authorization for forest land (ACUSTF). Logging with only one or neither of these authorizations is illegal.
- The terms and conditions imposed by the AIA and the ACUSTF must be complied with. Both authorizations impose a series of obligations on the holder that must be complied with, for example, relocating fauna on the land, rescuing flora in some degree of protection, or reforestation on other lands.
- The land where native vegetation regeneration begins is also considered forest land. In these cases, it is recommended that a forestry specialist, duly registered in the National Forestry Registry, determine whether the land is considered forest land or not.
- It is not possible to cut or prune mangroves or vegetation within 100 meters of the mangrove. Mangroves are a protected species, so the environmental authority is legally prohibited from granting AIAs and ACUSTFs that allow the cutting or pruning of mangroves. It is possible to generate technical and legal strategies so that the authority reduces the 100-meter strip contiguous to the mangrove and allows the cutting of the vegetation.
- Owners of forest land that has been burned or illegally logged will not be able to obtain an ACUSTF for 20 years. In the preparatory stage of a project, it is advisable to verify whether the property where the project is to be developed had or has forest vegetation and, if so, that such vegetation has not been affected by fire or illegal logging.
- Penalties for logging without an AIA and/or an ACUSTF or failure to comply with the obligations of these authorizations may end the viability of a project. In addition to possible environmental, administrative, and criminal liability for those who commit illegal logging or fire, such infractions could result in the obligation to repair the environmental damage caused. This implies the execution of all necessary actions to return the forest land to its state before the damage caused and substantial reforestation measures. In addition, as already mentioned, in the 20 years following the infraction, it will not be possible to obtain an ACUSTF for the affected property.
Adequate legal and technical planning is the key to the development of projects on forest land to be carried out sustainably, in full legal compliance, and to help preserve these ecosystems.