Photo Archive:

Some Visual Impressions of Fire in Chiapas, Mexico

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Fire in Chiapas

Chiapas presents more than 8.000 plant species (State Government 1992), being a world hotspot of biodiversity and endemisms favored by its diversity of climates and ecological conditions (Miranda 1975; Breedlove 1981; Challenger 1998). This diversity of ecological gradients determines the existence of several ecosystems with different fire patterns. As in the case of other tropical regions, Chiapas also presents a high demographic pressure combined with low socioeconomic and educational status (National Institute of Statistics and Geography, INEGI 1997). Forest resources are suffering from over-exploitation (Valera-Hernández 1994), and there is an increased anarchical use of fire. The combination of all these factors leads to important land use changes that severely threaten the conservation of natural resources (Ochoa-Gaona and González-Espinosa 2000). Thus, Chiapas is one of the most problematic Mexican States in terms of forest fires, occupying the first positions in the list of Mexican States most affected by fires (frequently among the first three states, preceeded by Oaxaca, another megadiverse State) (WWW1). Furthermore, fire was considered as an important disturbing agent in the National Forest Inventory, and Chiapas was categorized as one of the most sensitive tropical areas on Earth in 1987, because of its forest fire problems (Villafuerte et al. 1997). This is even more important considering that another point in common between Chiapas and other tropical areas relates to the importance of global climatic phenomena, such as El Niño, which severely influence the depletion of tropical forest resources (SEMARNAT 1999). Even though the concern about fire in this tropical State has long been reflected in the large amount of existing legislation (see review in Román-Cuesta 2000), little effort has been made to determine the role of fire as a disturbing agent.
Fire regime in Chiapas is characterized by a large number of small fires (80 % of the incidences in fires between 1 and 250 ha). However, these small fires are only responsible for a reduced percent of the total burned area (22%). Large forest fires play an important role in Chiapas (8% of the incidences and 62% of the area burned in fires larger than 500 ha). Most of these fires are, however, surface fires of low intensity (83% of the incidences), which mainly affect non-forest land (shrubs and herbaceous layers). Among the structural causes that frame the problem of fire in Chiapas, the most important are: i) a marked seasonal distribution of rainfall; ii) a habitual use of fire in traditional land activities and a lack of alternatives to the use of fire; iii) a marked sensitivity to the presence of ENSO episodes, specially concentrated in rainforests; iv) a land tenure distribution that displays remarkable pressure on national lands; and v) particular flammability characteristics of the forests that concentrates fire in pine-oak ecosystems under non-ENSO conditions.

References and Further Reading

 

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Fig.1. Negligent agrarian burns are responsible for most of Chiapas' fires. Lacandone jungle 2003, Chiapas, Mexico. Monitoring section-Conservation International (CI)

 

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Fig.2. Tropical rainforest is transformed into "milpas" (corn fields) that will be abandoned after no more than 6 years. Lacandone jungle 1998, Chiapas, Mexico. Monitoring section-Conservation International (CI)

 

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Fig.3. Human settlements try to make their way of living in expense of forests. Lacandone jungle 1998, Chiapas, Mexico. Monitoring section-Conservation International (CI)

 

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Fig.4. Tropical rainforest is transformed into "milpas" (corn fields) that will be abandoned after no more than 6 years. Chimalapas 1998, Chiapas, Mexico. SEMARNAP 1998

 

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Fig.5. Negligence holds responsible for fire reaching the surrounding forests. Chimalapas 1998, Chiapas, Mexico. SEMARNAP 1998

 

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Fig.6. 1998 forest fires in the evergreen tropical forests, in the protected area of the Lacandone jungle, under ENSO conditions. Lacandone jungle 1998, Chiapas, Mexico. Manuel Villareal-Monitoring section-Conservation International (CI)

 

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Fig.7. 1998 forest fires in the evergreen tropical forests, in the protected area of the Lacandone jungle, under ENSO conditions. Lacandone jungle 1998, Chiapas, Mexico. Manuel Villareal-Monitoring section-Conservation International (CI)

 

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Fig.8. 1998 forest fires in the evergreen tropical forests, in the protected area of the Lacandone jungle, under ENSO conditions. Lacandone jungle 1998, Chiapas, Mexico. Manuel Villareal-Monitoring section-Conservation International (CI)

 

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Fig.9. 1998 forest fires in the evergreen tropical forests, in the protected area of the Lacandone jungle, under ENSO conditions. Lacandone jungle 1998, Chiapas, Mexico. Manuel Villareal-Monitoring section-Conservation International (CI)

 

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Fig.10. 1998 forest fires in the evergreen tropical forests, in the protected area of the Lacandone jungle, under ENSO conditions. Lacandone jungle 1998, Chiapas, Mexico. Manuel Villareal-Monitoring section-Conservation International (CI)

 

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Fig.11. Consequences of 1998 fores fires' in the protected area of the Lacandone Jungle. Lacandone jungle 2003, Chiapas, Mexico Monitoring section-Conservation International (CI)

 

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Fig.12. Forest fires in the evergreen tropical forests, in the protected area of the Lacandone jungle, under the 2003 ENSO conditions. Lacandone jungle 2003, Chiapas, Mexico Monitoring section-Conservation International (CI)

 

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Fig.13. Forest fires in the evergreen tropical forests, in the protected area of the Lacandone jungle, under the 2003 ENSO conditions. Lacandone jungle 2003, Chiapas, Mexico Monitoring section-Conservation International (CI)

 

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Fig.14. Forest fires in the evergreen tropical forests, in the protected area of the Lacandone jungle, under the 2003 ENSO conditions. Lacandone jungle 2003, Chiapas, Mexico Monitoring section-Conservation International (CI)

 

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Fig.15. Forest fires in the evergreen tropical forests, in the protected area of the Lacandone jungle, under the 2003 ENSO conditions. Lacandone jungle 2003, Chiapas, Mexico Monitoring section-Conservation International (CI)

 

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Fig.16. Forest fires in the evergreen tropical forests, in the protected area of the Lacandone jungle, under the 2003 ENSO conditions. Lacandone jungle 2003, Chiapas, Mexico Monitoring section-Conservation International (CI)

 

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Fig.17. Forest fires in the protected area of Selva El Ocote, under the 2003 ENSO conditions. Fires were the result of negligent agrarian activities or illegal iguana hunting, and affected a total area of 20.000 ha.
Selva El Ocote, Chiapas, Mexico
CONAFOR, José Velázquez-CONANP.

 

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Fig.18. Forest fires in the protected area of Selva El Ocote, under the 2003 ENSO conditions. Fires were the result of negligent agrarian activities or illegal iguana hunting, and affected a total area of 20.000 ha.
Selva El Ocote, Chiapas, Mexico
CONAFOR, José Velázquez-CONANP.

 

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Fig.19. Forest fires in the protected area of Selva El Ocote, under the 2003 ENSO conditions. Fires were the result of negligent agrarian activities or illegal iguana hunting, and affected a total area of 20.000 ha.
Selva El Ocote, Chiapas, Mexico
CONAFOR, José Velázquez-CONANP.

 

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Fig.20. Forest fires in the protected area of Selva El Ocote, under the 2003 ENSO conditions. Fires were the result of negligent agrarian activities or illegal iguana hunting, and affected a total area of 20.000 ha.
Selva El Ocote, Chiapas, Mexico
CONAFOR, José Velázquez-CONANP.

 

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Fig.21. 2003 fires have affected areas with accumulated fuels from the 98's fires (fuel loads of 150 tn.ha-1). As a consequence, fire reached high intesities, being characterized by severe crown fires that left nothing else than bare mineral floor. Selva El Ocote, Chiapas, Mexico CONAFOR, José Velázquez-CONANP


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