The Nature Conservancy and local partners have been working together to protect the Sierra Madre Volcanoes Region, an area renowned both locally and internationally for its beauty and recognized as one of the most biologically and culturally diverse regions of Guatemala.
The Sierra Madre Volcanoes region contains important remnants of broadleaf cloud forest, pine-oak forests and tropical pine forests. The chain of volcanic cones it comprises are "islands of biodiversity" with high levels of species found nowhere else on earth.
The site harbors, among others, the regionally endemic Cabanis´s or azure-rumped tanager as well as threatened resident birds like the resplendent quetzal and the horned guan. It is also considered a key migratory route for neotropical migratory birds. And the Sierra Madre Volcanoes provide refuge for one of the last remaining population of highland margay, offering a genetic link with other populations in Mexico and elsewhere in Guatemala.
Within its broadleaf forests — composed mainly of oak — and tropical pine forests, the Sierra Madre Volcanoes region is thought to contain more than 160 flowering plant families encompassing more than 750 species of plants.
Why The Conservancy Works Here
A gap analysis performed by the Conservancy for Central America identified the Sierra Madre Volcanoes as one of Central America's two most important conservation areas in need of protection.
With a high level of endemic species, yet also one of the most densely populated areas in Guatemala, this region is highly threatened by deforestation, habitat fragmentation, illegal hunting, the advancement of the agricultural frontier, and forest fires.
In addition, Lake Atitlán is a popular tourist destination. While this is an important source of income for the region, tourism also contributes to problems such as pollution (sewage and solid waste), uncontrolled development, and cultural fragmentation.
What The Conservancy Has Done
The Conservancy completed a sustainable development plan for the Atitlán Reserve surrounding Lake Atitlán. The plan sets forth activities to be carried out by local government and NGO partners, such as seeking economic incentives for conservation and creating new usage regulations for water and firewood.
In addition, the Conservancy helped cement a network of 25 private reserves by supporting the Private Nature Reserve Association of Guatemala, and a network of and 10 municipal reserves by working with Asociación Vivamos Mejor. These networks help private and communal landowners implement and share lessons learned for such projects as sustainable forestry, ecotourism and environmental education. The Conservancy has worked to elevate the profile of private reserves, encouraged other landowners to place their lands under protected status and provided technical assistance to the network, which has protected 15,000 hectares in the region so far.
Looking ahead, the Conservancy is working to protect the biodiversity of the entire region by establishing long-term financial mechanisms such as payments for environmental services such as water, carbon, biodiversity, soil conservation and natural beauty, the basis for the lucrative local and national tourism industry. These financial mechanisms will build on the previous work done by the Conservancy and local partners — creating and solidifying a system of protected areas, empowering and equipping an array of local organizations to carry out on-the-ground conservation projects.