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Mexican authorities raid illicit sawmills

December 07, 2007|From the Associated Press

MEXICO CITY — Police raided 19 clandestine sawmills near a threatened nature reserve where Monarch butterflies nest in the winter, arresting 56 people and confiscating enough illegally logged wood to fill 600 heavy trucks, the government said Thursday.

About 700 police and environmental agents detained mill workers, lumberjacks, truck drivers and others, said Augusto Cabrera, a spokesman for the attorney general for environmental protection.

Authorities reported seizing about 210,000 cubic feet of logs and boards, equivalent to about 6,600 tons of wood. The attorney general's office said it was the largest seizure of illegally logged wood in Mexico's history.

"This was in the area of the Monarch butterfly, in the buffer zone" created to protect the pine- and fir-covered mountaintops in Michoacan state, where the butterflies rest for the winter after migrating south from the U.S. and Canada, Cabrera said.

Before Wednesday's raids, the government had already closed 59 sawmills and charged 193 people with related crimes this year.

"That's the important thing -- that people are being charged," Cabrera said. "Before, [authorities] would seize wood and dismantle sawmills, but there weren't many charges." It was not immediately clear what charges and possible punishments the suspects faced.

A study in 2000 showed that 44% of the fir forests that shelter the migrating butterflies during their annual stopover had been damaged or destroyed over the preceding 29 years.

Illegal deforestation in and around the reserves threatens the butterflies, which rely on the forest cover to protect them from the cold, high-altitude winds. Huge numbers of Monarchs died during a cold snap in 2002.

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