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Beware Illegal Loggers: A Plan to Protect Totonicapán Forest Is Underway

Identifying the Problem

For a week in early spring the Guatemalan environmental police staked out a road that enters theSan Miguel forest to count how many illegal logging trucks were entering and exiting. The news was not good: on average, approximately fifty pick-up trucks left each day filled with logs and wood equal to thirty medium-sized trees.

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This means that via this access road alone, illegal loggers harvest almost 11,000 trees a year. And this is only one of four official entry points into the San Miguel forest; it is likely that almost 44,000 trees are disappearing from the forest every year due to illegal theft via these access roads alone. Many additional trees are taken illegally from several other access points along the forest perimeter, thus this number is likely only a fraction of the total number of trees illegally cut down and removed every year.

There are 52,000 acres of Totonicapán forest, and one acre contains approximately 400 trees. A medium-sized fast-growing pine tree takes approximately 30-35 years to grow from a seed. Hardwoods take longer.

Simple math tells us that if we don’t do something and fast the forest will disappear.

Finding The Solution

Fernando, a tecnico, explaining the process to students.In April, EcoLogic convened a meeting with the nine members of the Association of Natural Resources for the Totonicapán municipality, two representatives from the Guatemalan environmental police, and a representative of the National Commission on Protected Areas, to initiate the development of a plan to “Save the Communal Forest” from illegal logging. The participants formed working groups to identify and put in motion components of the plan addressing three critical areas:

  • Legal actions that can and will be taken against those who harvest trees illegally;
  • Media and education efforts to promote public awareness and support;
  • and, Continued accumulation and analysis of statistical data on illegal logging practices.

Since then there have been two additional meetings in May and June to continue building momentum. In August there will also be a larger gathering of those developing the “Save the Communal Forest” plan, which will include leaders and stakeholders from around the region, including members of our project partners, the Association of the 48 Cantons. The new United States ambassador to Guatemala is expected to officiate, and representatives of the Guatemalan federal judiciary, the police, and the military as well as the federal minister of the environment are also expected to participate in the hopes that the plan will gain the approval and support of local and national authorities.

Meanwhile, an environmental education campaign is already in progress. The campaign uses radio advertisements and interviews, newspaper articles, and local events in schools and community areas to spread the word and increase awareness about the serious impact illegal logging is having on the forest. For the first time, there will also be an “environmental week” in August when the municipality, EcoLogic and other stakeholders will sponsor events, contests, and celebrations to promote the natural environment and its importance to human beings.