Local governments in Latin America used to do little more than give out birth certificates, pick up garbage, and take care of town plazas, markets and cemeteries. Those days are gone. Mayors and town councils now have a big hand in health, education, and economic development, and – yes, you guessed it – even forests.
Bolivia granted municipal governments the right to request up to 20% of the national forests for use by local groups, and it passed on 25% of the forestry license fees to create municipal forestry units.
Honduras allowed municipalities to regain control over 28% of the country’s forests, which belonged to them but had been managed by the central government.
Guatemala requires municipalities to create environmental offices and has encouraged them to lead reforestation projects. Municipalities can keep 50% of the revenues from concessions and exploitation licenses.
Nicaragua’s new forestry law permits the national forestry service to hand over regulatory responsibilities to municipalities along with resources to do the work. For the first time municipal representatives sit on key forestry commissions.
Throughout the continent, local governments have gotten involved in planting trees, fighting fires, zoning, managing parks, granting permits, and charging fines. Hundreds and maybe even thousands of municipalities have their own offices and commissions working on forestry and the environment.
"Municipal Forest Management in Latin America", edited by Lyes Ferroukhi, uses case studies from Bolivia, Brazil, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua to analyze this trend. It shows how decentralization has given indigenous peoples, small farmers and foresters, and local environmental groups new opportunities to participate and to keep away unwelcome outsider interests. By the same token though, decentralization has also created more space for local elite and for local groups that oppose conservation, sustainable forest management, and indigenous peoples’ rights. Most municipal forestry efforts are small and incipient and lack solid technical support, and too often national forestry agencies see them as competitors, rather than potential allies.
Some municipalities get involved in forest-related activities because of pressure from local communities and NGOs. Others hope to get money from donor projects or forestry taxes and fees. More populated municipalities typically have more structured environmental units, although they are not necessarily more dynamic. Local governments tend to be less environmentally-friendly in places with lots of logging and deforestation.
Municipal interest in forests is here to stay. It needs to be improved, not ignored. The key elements are to make local governments more democratic and accountable and to provide them with authority, resources, and skills, and to use central governments to keep them from getting out of bounds. That may be easier said than done, but then again, what isn’t?
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The full reference for the document is: Ferroukhi, L. (editor). 2003. Municipal Forest Management in Latin America, Bogor, Indonesia: CIFOR, IDRC. (The case study authors are: A. Aguilar, R. Echeverria, L Ferroukhi, A. Larson, P. Pacheco, F. Toni, and M. Vallejos.)