Uaxactun and Paso Caballos, Guatemala


Finding communities willing to protect vast expanses of tropical forests is easier said than done. But two innovative conservation agreements pioneered by Conservation International and the Wildlife Conservation Society in the Maya Biosphere Reserve of Guatemala are doing just that. Support from the Conservation Agreement Fund will help ensure that these agreements continue to provide an effective model for community-based conservation in the midst of Central America’s largest and most spectacular nature reserve.

In 2009, the first conservation agreement was signed with the village of Uaxactun (“Wah-shock-tune”) protecting 200,000 acres of forest in the heart of the reserve. Replete with species such as jaguar, puma, crocodile, white-lipped peccary, and spider monkey, Uaxactun’s forests form a continuous corridor linking Tikal and Mirador-Rio Azul national parks, with connectivity to Calakmul Biosphere Reserve in Mexico.

The conservation agreement in Uaxactun provides annual resources that solidify the village’s commitment to long-term forest protection. Included are funding for patrols, fire prevention, education, and support for the harvest of non-timber forest products. The community also engages in a small amount of sustainable, commercial timber production. Conservation commitments include controlling fire, a ban on cattle ranching, and preventing all deforestation and immigration.

In 2010, a second conservation agreement was signed with the Q’eqchí Maya village of Paso Caballos. This agreement is aimed at conserving Guatemala’s last nesting stronghold of the spectacular scarlet macaw.

Unlike Uaxactún, the villagers of Paso Caballos depend on agriculture, and live in the midst of Laguna del Tigre National Park, a highly threatened section of the Maya Biosphere Reserve. In previous years, the mismanagement of fire – a common tool for clearing agricultural land and fixing nitrogen in the soil – caused severe damage to nearby macaw nesting habitat. But with the support of a modest financial incentive, villagers have successfully controlled fire and helped to keep illegal colonists at bay. Conservation incentives assist local farmers with controlled burns, provide improved education, and strengthen local community organizations. The net result in 2010 was zero acres of the park affected by fire, and most importantly, a community now dedicated to the protection of 35,000 acres of critical macaw nesting habitat in one of the most threatened parks in Central America.

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