After paying my dues for over a year as an intern for EcoLogic, reading stacks of reports and articles about the Lacandón Rainforest and the three Mayan communities that own it, and being just days away from finishing my grad program on sustainable international development, it was actually happening. I was finally getting the opportunity to meet the communities and the forest I had read so much about first hand. This past April, EcoLogic’s very own forest carbon ninja, Bryan Foster (aka CarbonPlus Director), and I traveled to Chiapas, Mexico to collect data for EcoLogic’s Sierra Cojolita REDD+ project.
|A landscape view of the Selva Lacandona.|
Because you’re all dedicated EcoBlogic readers, I’m sure you remember Dave’s excellent description of REDD+ -- a type of project that reduces the amount of carbon dioxide that’s produced when trees are chopped and/or burned down by working with communities to prevents deforestation. Over the next week, I quickly discover that reading dozens of academic articles and reports does not compare to experiencing the Lacandón Rainforest first hand.
|That's me on the left taking notes during our meeting.|
We arrived in the city of Tuxtla Gutierrez on a Wednesday, and spent two days meeting with other REDD+ folks, who, like Bryan and I, are crazy enough to dive head first into the complex and at times overwhelming world of carbon. It was exciting to meet our Chiapas brethren who were a fountain of information about all things REDD+ and Lacandón. But I was itching to get to our final destination, the actual rainforest, which still involved a nine-hour drive along the Guatemalan border.
|Enrique Chankin showing off some taro root from his garden.|
A couple hours later, we crossed the Lacantún River, and the landscape completely changed. The midday heat had subsided, and we were closer to the Cojolita communities. In this area the forest actually reaches the edge of the road instead of being lost to slash and burn. But this doesn’t mean this section of the rainforest isn’t threatened. Two of the three Mayan communities that own this land are struggling to meet their farming needs with the land they already have, and would like to clear more of the forest.
|Enrique Chankin giving us a tour of the rainforest near his eco-lodge, Top Che.|
|Tzetlal land that was cleared for cattle pasture. Montes Azules Biosphere Reserve in the background.|
Driving through Marqués de Comillas provided a frightening peek into what could be the future of the Sierra Cojolita that I would never have seen from my desk in Cambridge. The experience helped me thoroughly understand the critical importance of Na’Bolom and EcoLogic’s role in working with these communities to identify and pursue livelihood alternatives, like REDD+, to help minimize their need to deforest, and allow them to achieve the development goals they are so determined to attain.
|A waterfall we came across while touring the area.|
On Monday, as we drove back to the city along Chol territory at the edge of the Cojolita mountain range, Bryan and I saw a plume of smoke drifting over the trees in the reserve – a sign that slash and burn may already be underway. It is clear that Na’Bolom and EcoLogic have an important and challenging road ahead.
-Andrea Savage, CarbonPlus Associate
Andrea works for EcoLogic's CarbonPlus program by writing grant proposals and project reports, and following trends land tenure right throughout Mexico. She recently completed her Master's in sustainable international development at Brandeis University.