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Protecting the “Land of Many Trees”

EcoLogic works with local communities in a range of beautiful landscapes across Central America and Mexico. We want to take you on a virtual journey to our largest project site, nestled in the stunning Cuchumatanes Mountains of western Guatemala.

The name “Guatemala” comes from the indigenous Náhuatl word “Quauhtlemallan,” meaning “land of many trees.” It is an apt name for the lushly forested country, which ranks among the world’s top five hotspots for biodiversity. But the “land of many trees” is in danger of losing its namesake. Forest loss in Guatemala has been accelerating rapidly since the 1980s. In 2006, the United Nations Center for Biological Diversity estimated that 73 thousand hectares of forest are lost annually—equivalent to 200 football stadiums every day.

Cuchumatanes Mountains landscape

Rural villages are nestled between the jagged peaks of the Cuchumatanes Mountains in the western highlands of Guatemala. (Photo: Dave Kramer)

EcoLogic works with different local partners in three project sites in Guatemala, collaborating with rural and indigenous people to turn the tide on deforestation while building pathways out of poverty. Our Indigenous Peoples for Thriving Ecosystems in Northern Guatemala project is located in the Cuchumatanes Mountains, which extend through the departments of Huehuetenango and Quiché in the country’s western highlands.

Little girl in Ixcan, Guatemala

A little girl in her family’s home in a Maya community in Ixcán, Quiché, Guatemala (Photo: Lee Shane)

As rapid deforestation, pollution, and climate change pose ever-greater threats to Guatemala’s invaluable natural riches, the site has emerged as a critical place for conservation. The Cuchumatanes are the highest non-volcanic mountain range in Central America, and are home to some of the richest biodiversity within Guatemala. But none of the mountain region is conserved as a legally protected area—putting it at very high risk for further environmental degradation.

San Mateo Ixtatán, a town high up in the mountains

San Mateo Ixtatán, one of the municipalities in the project site, is nestled high in the Cuchumatanes mountains at an elevation of 2,540 meters (or 8,330 ft) above sea level. (Photo: Dan Grossman)

EcoLogic has been working with a coalition of communities for our Indigenous Peoples for Thriving Ecosystems Project in the area since 2005. The project’s long-term goal is to ensure the integrated management of the area’s watersheds, which are critical for the health of both the natural environment in the Cuchumatanes and the rural people who live there. We work with 75 communities in Huehuetango and Quiché, or about 2,600 people. The area is as rich in culture as it is in nature: the vast majority of the local communities are indigenous Maya, and languages spoken there include K’anjob’al, Chuj, Mam, K’iche’, K’achikel, K’ekchi’, Pocomchí, and Popti’. Our partner communities in the Cuchumatanes are also overwhelmingly poor—reflecting the sad reality that more than 90% of Guatemala’s indigenous population lives below the poverty line.

Municipal tree nursery in Santa Cruz Barillas, Guatemala

Municipal tree nursery that EcoLogic helped establish in Santa Cruz Barillas, a town in Huehuetenango, Guatemala. (Photo: Dan Grossman)

Unfortunately, poverty and environmental degradation are two sides of the same coin. Local communities are compelled to over-exploit dwindling natural resources in order to simply meet their basic needs. We recognize that to conserve the area’s rich biodiversity, we also need to address local peoples’ struggle to make an adequate living and feed their families. Slash-and-burn agriculture and over-harvesting wood from the forests for fuel are two of the biggest threats to the environment that are rooted in local communities’ extreme poverty.

Slash and burn agriculture in Guatemala

Acrid smoke from slash-and-burn agriculture fills the air. EcoLogic is working with rural communities to implement more sustainable agriculture techniques, like agroforestry. (Photo: Dan Grossman)

Since August 2014, EcoLogic has worked with our partner communities to develop an extensive plan for conservation of the endangered pinabete, or Guatemalan fir; established management plans for two microwatersheds, which will be carried out by locally-led committees; and trained more than 350 community members on the importance of water conservation, how to use agroforestry to protect forests and soils and improve crop yields, and how to reforest degraded areas. 60,000 seedlings are currently growing in greenhouses—and once they’ve been planted, parts of the Cuchumatanes will look like “the land of many trees” once again! We have also helped several entrepreneurial community members learn how to produce fair-trade honey, which has proven to be a sustainable and rewarding source of additional income. Now that we have established a partnership with the renowned national honey cooperative COPIASURO, we look forward to seeing our honey initiative grow.

Don Genaro Perez in his agroforestry plot

Don Genaro Pérez, a farmer in the tiny community of Santa Maria Dolores, has adopted agroforestry on his land and grows inga trees alongside his crops. (Photo: Lee Shane)

EcoLogic will continue to work hand in hand with local people to protect this beautiful threatened landscape and improve these rural communities’ quality of life. Our project will ensure the long-term sustainability of key watersheds and biodiversity, help communities better manage rural forests, and, ultimately, develop a model for balancing communities’ natural resource consumption with the limits of the local environment that can be replicated and scaled up across Guatemala—and perhaps beyond.

Learn more about our Indigenous Peoples for Thriving Ecosystems in Northern Guatemala project in the Cuchumatanes Mountains > >

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