May 23, 2012

Ambassador's Choice

Have you ever seen a mangrove forest?

A mangrove in the Gulf of San Miguel, Panama.

Mangroves have a cool tangle of roots that reach from above the water down into the sand below and provide a safe home for finfish and shrimp, and other vital species. I always wonder how they stay rooted given the ebb and flow of the tides. They look like they are out of movie. But they are real, they are amazing, and their health in the Gulf of San Miguel, Panama is not only crucial for the health of the ecosystem but it is also intimately tied to the health of the communities around them.

Eric Pinto, a fisherman in the Gulf of San Miguel, relies on the health of the mangroves to support his livelihood.

EcoLogic is committed to working with these communities to preserve the mangrove forests that provide a livelihood source for most of the villagers. But we can’t do it alone. Enter Ambassadors – a group of dedicated and creative EcoLogic supporters that each pledge to raise a certain amount of money within a calendar year. Now, that’s commitment.

As an Ambassador you get exclusive and intimate access to project updates through a weekly email called “The Ambassador Corner.” Since EcoLogic has such a breadth of projects spanning five countries, we let Ambassadors choose an initiative or region on which they would like to focus each year. This year, the majority of Ambassadors voted to focus on our work in the Darien Province of Panama.

I can probably guess why they chose to hear more about Panama. The Gulf of San Miguel is an extremely lush and richly diverse, yet particularly remote area (ever heard of the Darien Gap?). Because of this, many NGOs and governmental organizations choose not to work there – but not EcoLogic. We have been working with the communities of San Miguel for three years now, helping them care for their watersheds and get access to clean water, working to get the mangroves declared as a protected area, and providing educational workshops on sustainable fishing techniques for local fisherfolk associations..

In reality, all of us working for EcoLogic get to do amazing things because of the inspiring communities we work with in Central America and Mexico. But, I also get to work closely with a special group of creative, thoughtful, and impactful donors that can truly be called Ambassadors of EcoLogic’s work.

- Katie O'Gara, Program Officer for EcoLogic
Katie works with the individuals fundraising team and coordinates EcoLogic's Ambassador program. Katie will be attending the University of Michigan this fall in the graduate program, Natural Resources and Environment. 

May 18, 2012

Illustrating History

The children from 48 Cantones arrive early at the Riecken Library in Xolsacmalja. Running, sweating, pushing and shoving, they ask for the ball to get a few minutes of play in before the creativity workshop starts, three times per week.

They are punctual and responsible. And rarely ever absent. In those cases when a child doesn’t show up, someone from his or her household diligently brings me a handwritten note from the family explaining the child’s absence: “He had to plant in the cornfield today.”

The purpose of the workshop series is to publish a book that collects the stories from the oral tradition in the community, illustrated by children. The stories told are about the Maya Ki’che’ people, the Ajaw of the mountain and the water, and some old rules to save the forest, such as “Pixab”, “Pixan”, “Toj” and “Repuj”. All of these are concepts that direct us as human beings to relate to nature: the mountains, the forest, the water, and the animals.

To collect these stories, we go to the “Plxab” (Council of Elders). Every Thursday we walk down the narrow dirt paths to the house of somebody’s grandfather. The children sit and listen. Usually, they are speaking Ki’che’. So I sit with my notebook, the page blank, until Evelyn comes and translates the story into Spanish for me.

For the illustrations, we are experimenting with different techniques and visual mediums such as painting, drawing, collage, photography and photo montages. We will also go to the forest to listen to the sound of the pines, smell them, touch them, and of course, draw them.

Mr. Urbano, the teacher at the library, also taught us the kirigami technique, cutting paper to make airy and light forms, something that the children enjoy very much. We plan to paint a mural inspired by these simple forms for Reforestation Day in May.

The idea is that we can experience and appreciate the forest, and that all of its stories – which will be represented in the illustrations, can be heard in due time, enjoying the journey and along the way discovering some new perceptions that come from old stories. Because ancestral wisdom is passed down from generation to generation, and we don’t want it to stop with us.

- Special Guest Blogger and ArtCorps Fellow Isabel Carrió. Youth Leaders in Conservation listen, feel, express their thoughts through images and share the ancestral wisdom of their Mayan community, under the guidance of Isabel as part of EcoLogic's ongoing work in Totonicapán, Guatemala. The blog is reproduced from its original posting on

May 10, 2012

Greenhouse Gases - REDD Solutions

One of the things I like most about working at EcoLogic and in the international conservation field is the daily learning. Of course, sometimes it feels like a fire hose is full-force spraying me with way more ideas than I can possibly absorb, but I love it.

Of all the topics that make my head spin, forest carbon ranks as one of the most challenging to understand. And using the potential of forests to capture and store carbon as a response to climate change is almost as tough a topic. It’s not just because the literature is chock full of jargon and language that few normal mortals use to communicate (ex ante, anthropogenic, jurisdictional nesting …).

So where to begin? EcoLogic develops forest carbon projects– which take advantage of the fact that standing forests and new forest growth absorb carbon dioxide, then lock up the carbon via photosynthesis. And you thought you would never need to care about photosynthesis after cramming for a high school biology exam!
La Cojolita Mountain Range in Chiapas, Mexico.

First, climate change brought on by global carbon emissions is a big deal and constant changing of land ownership is a huge part of the problem, but also a potential solution for sustainable, effective change.

It’s not just about energy and automobiles spewing those nasty gases anymore. It’s also about recognizing that good old nature can play a significant role in solving the problem and that we are part of nature.
One of the biggest solutions proposed has been – REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation). So that’s where the second reason for EcoLogic’s involvement comes in. We believe REDD, which seeks to pay local people to keep forests standing – in other words not cut down trees and release the carbon from them – can achieve conservation on a landscape scale, farther than the eye can see across a sea of green!

We believe that it is vital to ensure local people can make informed decisions and understand what the heck it is they’re getting into and have their rights respected if they enter into contractual agreements to profit from the benefits of conserving their forests. Especially because the international climate policy “architecture” makes it necessary to interact with powerful state and federal governments that play a practical role in monitoring across large landscapes and national territories.

So the basic deal is that people who own or live near and care for a forest get money for agreeing not to cut stuff down, or trash the area under the forest canopy, because this keeps a ton of global warming-causing crud out of the atmosphere.

Bryan Foster, EcoLogic's CarbonPlus Director in the rainforest.
The money to pay them comes from a variety of sources such as international aid (sometimes ponying up aid money or agreeing to swap debt for nature initiatives) and markets like the one in California under its pioneering California Global Warming Solutions Act (AB-32). In the latter case, the dinero comes from a cap and trade compliance market, where companies reduce their smokestack (and other) emissions by becoming more efficient down to a certain point and then buy credits that others have to spare because of their emissions reductions or absorption awesomeness. California just happens to have gotten involved on the international scene, connecting Chiapas, Mexico, and Acre, Brazil to its AB-32 marketplace.

Sounds simple enough, right? Not exactly if it’s done right. EcoLogic works to help make it more accessible, but even our CarbonPlus director is on a steady diet of discovery and learning as he goes about his day-to-day (which today, has him deep in the jungle in Mexico, but more on that later).

To do REDD right and make it easier for local communities, we need to be legit. You can plant a tree or prevent the cutting of a forest and claim less greenhouse gases are reaching the atmosphere. Your claim would be basically true, but to be REDD certified, you have to meet three key stipulations. 1) You have to make sure the trees you protect are ones that would have been lost otherwise, in other words the trees actually need to be under threat of being cut down, and this new carbon credits incentive structure is keeping them from being cut down; 2) that there isn’t “leakage,” meaning people aren’t just moving their deforestation habits outside of the credited REDD project area; and 3) that there’s a reasonable assurance of permanence, in other words, the forest will stay standing for a long time after the official project has ended.

Xaté palm, which is frequently extracted from the rainforests to sell internationally.
Thankfully, groups like the Verified Carbon Standard (VCS) and the Commission on Environmental Cooperation (CEC, a tri-national commission between Canada, the US, and Mexico) are into what we do. We’ve helped folks in Honduras gain VCS validation, and we’re working in Chiapas, Mexico with three Mayan communities to conserve a biodiverse jewel, the Lacandón Jungle.

So that’s our carbon work in a nutshell. Intense – I know!

What do you think about our carbon work and the REDD project in Mexico?

- David Kramer, Senior Program Officer for EcoLogic
David researches and authors EcoLogic's proposals and reports to institutional funders. He also helps coordinate staff and partners in EcoLogic's participatory project design and evaluation.