HomeNewsAvocados In, Butterflies Out - How Illegal Logging is Devastating Western Mexico
NEWS

Avocados In, Butterflies Out - How Illegal Logging is Devastating Western Mexico

ENVIRONMENTAL CRIME / 10 NOV 2021 BY KAI BERNIER-CHEN EN

Criminal groups across western Mexico have increased their control of illegal logging by threatening landowners, government officials and even entire communities to ensure near-total impunity.

According to a new study by the University of Guadalajara (UDG), illegal logging is one of the fastest-growing criminal economies in Mexico, with 70 percent of wood cut down between 2017 and 2019 lacking the proper permits. In 2019, the amount of forest destroyed was equivalent to an area twice the size of ​​Mexico City. In 2020, Mexico lost 127,770 hectares of forest, a 12 percent increase on the previous year.

The study revealed how gangs operate in the western Mexican states of Nayarit, Jalisco, Colima and Michoacán. Once they select an area of interest, they make a low offer to the proprietor of the land. If the offer is rebuffed, the gang violently takes over. The main recourse for landowners is to make a complaint to Mexico’s Federal Attorney for Environmental Protection (Procuraduría Federal de Protección al Ambiente - PROFEPA).

But such complaints are often futile. On the rare occasion that federal officials visit the area to follow up on deforestation or land grab complaints, they are threatened or even kidnapped, according to the UDG study.

SEE ALSO: How Drug Cartels Moved into Illegal Logging in Mexico

The academics spoke to local residents and authorities, who said that trucks could be seen carrying illegally felled mahogany, walnut, pine and oak to ports in Colima and Michoacán on a daily basis.

While customs agents have seized large quantities of illegal timber, much of it is still exported, often to China, where demand for wood is constantly growing.

The increase in illegal logging, accompanied by violence and extortion, threatens the livelihoods of 1,300 communities in Mexico that have created forestry companies to produce sustainable timber.

InSight Crime Analysis

The connections between organized crime and illegal logging are growing increasingly strong as criminal groups realize the profits to be made, often in combination with other illicit economies.

In recent years, InSight Crime has reported how the Sinaloa and Juárez cartels have turned to controlling illegal logging in northern Mexico, especially as marijuana profits have dried up.  

In western Mexico, federal authorities pointed to the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (Cártel de Jalisco Nueva Generación - CJNG) and the Cárteles Unidos as the main culprits for the violence behind illegal logging, as well as La Familia Michoacana. Another smaller group, the Correa, is reportedly actively involved in illegal logging in eastern Michoacán, where it has clashed with the CJNG.

SEE ALSO: Mexico's Cartels Fighting It Out for Control of Avocado Business

Much of this deforestation is also linked to the avocado industry. Known as “green gold,” avocados are in demand worldwide, and criminal groups are extorting producers and stealing shipments.

A common tactic is to clear the forest, sell the timber and grow avocado trees in its place. Last July, El Financiero reported that 20,000 hectares of forest in southern Jalisco had been cut down and replaced with fields of avocado trees. Criminal groups allegedly forced the landowners to make the switch.

This is not new. “Since 2000, Michoacán has suffered deforestation of close to 100,000 hectares, principally…for avocado cultivation and ranching,” Juan Manuel Barrera Terán, executive director of Community Resilience and Development (Resiliencia y Desarrollo Comunitario), a group fighting deforestation in Mexico, told Proceso.

Frustrated by a lack of federal reaction, some communities are taking action. On November 9, the mayor of the municipality of Zitácuaro in Michoacán declared he was creating an "Environmental Guard" to try and stop illegal logging.

Zitácuaro is famous for being one of the hotspots for the monarch butterfly in Mexico, which has recently seen its numbers plummet due to loss of habitat – again tied to avocado plantations.

share icon icon icon

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

What are your thoughts? Click here to send InSight Crime your comments.

We encourage readers to copy and distribute our work for non-commercial purposes, with attribution to InSight Crime in the byline and links to the original at both the top and bottom of the article. Check the Creative Commons website for more details of how to share our work, and please send us an email if you use an article.

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

Related Content

BRAZIL / 4 JUN 2021

A government registry in Brazil has been used to designate millions of hectares of Amazon forest as rural lands, in…

MÉXICO / 25 MAR 2022

According to the Mexican president, the recent arrest of the alleged leader of the Northeast Cartel followed by a major…

ENVIRONMENTAL CRIME / 6 JUL 2021

The future of a controversial highway in Honduras, thought to be a conduit for drug trafficking, remains uncertain as the…

About InSight Crime

LA ORGANIZACIÓN

Extensive Coverage of our Chronicles of a Cartel Bodyguard

23 SEP 2022

Our recent investigation, A Cartel Bodyguard in Mexico’s 'Hot Land', has received extensive media coverage.

THE ORGANIZATION

InSight Crime, American University Host Illegal Fishing Panel

19 SEP 2022

InSight Crime and the Center for Latin American & Latino Studies (CLALS) at American University discussed the findings of a joint investigation on IUU fishing at a September 9 conference.

THE ORGANIZATION

Impact on the Media Landscape

9 SEP 2022

InSight Crime’s first investigation on the Dominican Republic made an immediate impact on the Dominican media landscape, with major news outlets republishing and reprinting our findings, including in …

THE ORGANIZATION

InSight Crime Sharpens Its Skills

2 SEP 2022

Last week, the InSight Crime team gathered for our annual retreat in Colombia, where we discussed our vision and strategy for the next 12 months.  During the week, we also learned how to…

THE ORGANIZATION

Colombia’s Fragile Path to Peace Begins to Take Shape

26 AUG 2022

InSight Crime is charting the progress of President Gustavo Petro’s agenda as he looks to revolutionize Colombia’s security policy, opening dialogue with guerrillas, reforming the military and police, and…