MEXICO CITY (AP) - The government has created a new federal reserve to protect
the last remaining tropical rain forest in North America, which contains thousands
of endangered animal and plant species.
Environmentalists, who have been calling for protective measures for years, praised
the government's move to set aside about 800 square kilometers.
"This is very important," said Homero Aridjis, a poet, novelist and leader
of The Group of 100, a prominent environmental lobby group.
The area-about one-quarter the size of Hong Kong-contains hundreds of Mayan archaeological
sites and endangered species, Aridijis said.
The Lancandon Tropical Rainforest, which borders Guatemala, has been disappearing
at a rate of 3.5 percent each year. "That's faster than the Amazon Rain Forest,"
The jungle contains thousands of endangered animal and plant species, including jaguars,
tapirs, ocelots, macaws, and spider monkeys.
"We estimate that the rainforest has shrunk by 70 percent in the last 30 years,
mostly due to logging and clearing for farming," he said.
Human pressure on the area has increased markedly over the last 20 years. In 1970
there were about 5,000 people living there-now that figure is about 300,000, he said.
Growing conflict between indigenous communities and farmers and ranchers in the area
has sometimes led to violence.
Civil war in neighboring Guatemala has added to the problems. Refugees have poured
across the border, and several confrontations between the Mexican and Guatemalan
armies have occurred.
Drug traffickers also use the area to ship drugs through Mexico from Guatemala. Poachers
capture macaws, monkeys and other endangered animals for sale to foreigners.
Those rare animals can fetch U.S. $10,000 or more in clandestine markets.
The presidential decree signed in August prohibits logging and other commercial activities
in the area, but does allow long-established Indian communities there to use resources
for their own needs.