miércoles, mayo 13

Protecting land using the ZOFEMAT

We'll tell you about some of our other projects soon, but let's start by talking about a mechanism that Terra is pioneering to protect land in Mexico.

If you come to Mexican land conservation by way of US land law, and US customs, it is often difficult to figure out how to proceed, because the laws, and the customs, of land ownership are so different between our two countries. Much of the infrastructure one expects in the US is missing—like clear laws for conservation easements, or government funds to support land purchase. And the land tenure itself is very different with the vast majority of the land being held by communal land owners, or ejidos.

But, sometimes these differences can be used to create mechanisms of land conservation in Mexico that are just not available in the US, and the ZOFEMAT is one of these.

ZOFEMAT stands for "Zona Federal Marítimo Terrestre," or the terrestrial federal maritime zone. This is a strip of land that extends 20 meters inland from the high tide line along all Mexican shores (it gets more complicated when you have cliffs along the shore, and the ZOFEMAT also can extend inland along the banks of rivers). In order to build anything in this zone, like a road, a dock, or a building, you need to have a permit from the government. (You can read the law if you like here, starting on page 46).

Where this gets interesting for us, is that Mexican law allows an NGO (non-governmental organization) to apply for permission to preserve the ZOFEMAT. This dedicates the land-sea interface to conservation, and specifically prohibits any activity that would interfere with this (like dredging a wetland to build a marina).

In outline, this seems like an easy process. But as we have found out, it is time consuming and somewhat costly to put this into place. First you need to survey the land, getting coordinates for the 20m strip, and put together maps showing exactly what land falls in the ZOFEMAT. For San Quintín, we estimate that the border of just the wetlands (not including the beaches and rocky shores) is 100 km. After you put together an application, it must be accepted by SEMARNAT (Secretaría de medio ambiente y recursos naturales), the Mexican Federal agency that regulates the use of coastal lands.

We are proud to announce that as of Monday, May 11, Terra Peninsular has the first concession on the ZOFEMAT created by a private NGO for conservation purposes. While we are using this concession to protect the wetlands in a bay, one could also imagine this being used to protect a beach from development, or even to protect the wetlands in the mouth of a river (which also has a ZOFEMAT at least 100m upstream from the reach of the high tide).

If you want know to more about our project, you can download this poster, which Sergio Mata presented at the CNPS Conservation Conference this year.

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