While mahogany has been commercially logged for centuries in Mexico and Central America, state-administered forest management regulations are a relatively new phenomenon, dating back only to the early 1900s. The earliest attempt to manage the mahogany resource at a national level occurred in Belize (then British Honduras) in the 1920s and 1930s. There a Forest Trust (subsequently Forest Department) was established with the aim of improving harvests and management practices for mahogany.
As transportation infrastructures and heavy machinery advanced ever deeper into previously inaccessible primary forests (see Harvests), harvest intensities increased. The main regulatory ‘tool’ available for restricting harvest intensity has historically been the minimum diameter cutting limit, that is, the minimum stem size that could be legally harvested. Paradoxically, instead of increasing over time to reduce harvest pressure, the minimum diameter cutting limit has consistently fallen to allow ever more intensive harvests driven by rising consumer demand for the world’s premier tropical hardwood. In Belize, the minimum diameter cutting limit fell in stages during the 20th Century from 106 cm to 58 cm; currently it is 60 cm diameter. In Mexico, the current minimum diameter cutting limit is 55 cm.
It was only during the 1990s in Bolivia and Brazil and in the early 2000s in Peru that regulatory frameworks were created to ‘manage’ mahogany harvests. Before then, mahogany was essentially mined from primary forests wherever loggers could access natural populations. To no small degree, new laws prescribing management criteria for mahogany were responses to the international debate about its commercial and conservation status culminating in mahogany’s listing on Appendix II of CITES in 2002.
The concessions system in Peru and federal regulation of harvest practices in Bolivia aim to encourage best practices forest management. While management plans are not specifically tailored for mahogany, some harvest regulations create extra protections. The minimum diameter cutting limit for mahogany in Peru is 75 cm; forest management plans there typically anticipate 40-year cutting cycles. In Bolivia, the minimum diameter cutting limit for mahogany is 70 cm diameter on 20-year cutting cycles. Further, 20% of commercial-sized stems must be retained as seed trees for regeneration and future harvests, and the minimum landscape-scale retention density of mahogany trees > 20 cm diameter is 0.25 ha-1 (25 trees per 100 ha).
In Brazil, mahogany’s exploitation began to be regulated in the early 1990s with the imposition of export quotas and with gradually increasing scrutiny of logging industry practices by federal and state authorities, including the requirement that production originate only from legally registered forest management areas. Export quotas fell from 150,000 m3 in 1990 to 50,000 m3 in 2000. The minimum diameter cutting limit for all timber species including mahogany during this period was 45 cm. As the logging sector specializing in mahogany continued to ignore or evade regulations governing mahogany harvests during the 1990s even while its inclusion on Appendix II was debated, the Brazilian government responded with a moratorium on new management plans including mahogany in 1996, and by suspending all commercial trade in the species in 2001.
In response to the Appendix II listing in late 2002, the Brazilian government established new and stricter management guidelines for mahogany in 2003. These raised the minimum diameter cutting limit to 60 cm; required that 20% of commercial-sized stems be retained for seed tree purposes; set the minimum landscape-scale retention density at 0.05 commercial-sized trees ha-1 (5 trees per 100 ha); and required cutting cycles of 25–35 years (see The Model). Additional provisions require 100% pre-harvest commercial census with spatial planning using reduced-impact logging practices.
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Grogan J & Barreto P (2005) Big-leaf mahogany on CITES Appendix II: big challenge, big opportunity. Conservation Biology 19: 973-976 (http://www.treesearch.fs.fed.us/pubs/30087).
Mejía E, Buitrón X, Peña-Claros M & Grogan J (2008) Bigleaf mahogany (Swietenia macrophylla) in Peru, Bolivia and Brazil. Case Study for the International Expert Workshop on CITES Non-Detriment Findings, 17-22 November 2008, Cancún, Mexico.
Snook LK (1998) Sustaining harvests of mahogany (Swietenia macrophylla King) from Mexico's Yucatan forests: past, present and future. In: Primack B, Bray DB & Galletti H (Eds.), Timber, Tourists and Temples: Conservation and Development in the Maya Forests of Belize, Guatemala and Mexico, pp. 61-80. Island Press, Washington, DC, USA.
Weaver PL & Sabido OA (1997) Mahogany in Belize: a historical perspective. General Technical Report IITF-2, USDA Forest Service, International Institute of Tropical Forestry, Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico. 31 pp.