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  • Political Landscapes: Forests, Conservation, and Community in Mexico by Christopher R. Boyer
  • Elizabeth Ferry
Political Landscapes: Forests, Conservation, and Community in Mexico. By Christopher R. Boyer. Durham: Duke University Press, 2015. Pp. 337. $99.95 cloth; $27.95 paper. doi:10.1017/tam.2017.174

By the early 1990s Mexico had lost half of the forests that it had in the nineteenth century, and was losing about one percent of the remaining forests each year. This is the finding with which Christopher Boyer begins his impressive and stimulating book. However, Boyer writes, "Deforestation is not inevitable." As he explains, "it has slowed considerably…sincethe 1990s," largely because of the rise of the community forestry movement (17). Since the 1990s, local groups, particularly ejidos and indigenous communities, which control around 60 percent of Mexican forests, have developed small-scale enterprises and alliances with environmental groups that have helped to slow deforestation and provide modest and partial livelihoods.

Boyer notes that most studies of community forestry in Mexico trace its roots to the 1980s. In contrast, Political Landscapes goes back further, to the late nineteenth century, to explain the dynamics among rural people, timber corporations, and forestry scientists, and the government that created the conditions for both [End Page 442] deforestation and the community forestry movement. The book focuses particularly on two states, Chihuahua and Michoacán. These states have much in common, such as the concentration of forests in the hands of indigenous groups (the Rarámuri and Purepecha, respectively) and parallel histories of land reform and large-scale development, but they also differ in instructive ways—ecologically, demographically, and sociologically. Focusing on two states allows Bray to see how policies and institutions from Mexico City touch ground, with effects both alike and unlike.

Bray divides his study into two phases, each characterized by a dominant model of forestry. In Part 1, "The Making of Revolutionary Forestry," Boyer explores the precursors, emergence, and fruition of the first model, from the 1880s to the 1930s. Chapter 1 focuses on the period of massive timber extraction and indigenous retrenchment in the Porfiriato period, before the Mexican Revolution. Chapter 2 describes how the revolution disrupted forest extraction, as well as the emergent tensions and rifts between timber companies, indigenous peoples, state agents, and farmers. At the same time, new institutional forms, such as Article 27 of the Constitution of 1917, provided tools and frameworks for the subsequent period of "revolutionary forestry."

Chapter 3 describes this period, underwritten by the 1926 forestry code and characterized by scientific management by experts in Mexico City, who tended to see rural and indigenous peasants and their practices as inherently destructive to the forest.

Throughout the book, Boyer gives a nuanced view of conflicting interests and processes, pointing out, for instance, the ways in which federal land reform was used to dispossess indigenous people of their lands, but also showing the partial counterweight of producers' cooperatives, whose rights were supported by the 1926 code (81–87; 91). By the 1940s the actions of these countervailing forces had yielded unsustainable conflicts, and revolutionary forestry shifted towards "industrial forestry." Boyer notes at the beginning of Part 2, "The Development Imperative," that the forestry code of 1949 moved away from the populist ideals of the revolution to a developmentalist, state-oriented vision of forests as a resource to be exploited by private companies and an enlightened peasantry for the good of the nation. Logging bans were frequently enacted against ejidos and indigenous communities, while private corporations, often tied to the ruling PRI party, held most logging concessions (167). Here too, though, many forces complicate this story, as Boyer demonstrates with many rich and instructive examples.

A forestry cooperative in Cusárere, Chihuahua, that aimed paternalistically at "educating" Rarámuri in forest management fell into political and social schism, but it also gave residents considerable autonomy (183–187). The company Michoacán de Occidente attempted to establish profitable concerns while also benefitting local people, but ultimately it failed at both (187–198). In the resulting vacuum, local groups established firmer control over their woods; arguably, the company helped to [End Page 443] consolidate worker solidarity and commitment to place that made...


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