© Sergio Izquierdo

The Sierra de las Minas is a gem of biodiversity due to its wide range of elevation, spanning from 33 to 9,875 feet (10 to 3,010 meters) above sea level. The mountain range is home to the headwaters of over 63 different rivers, bringing clean water to people and wildlife, a particularly essential resource in the dry valleys below. Under FDN management since 1990, the biosphere is home to at least 885 species of birds, mammals, amphibians, and reptiles. It covers an area of 600,000 acres (2,426 km2). More than 17 distinct evergreen species are endemic to the area. Subtropical thorn forest dominates the lower elevations, whereas majestic cloud forests crown the mountainsides. The Sierra is considered as an irreplaceable seed resource for reforestation and agroforestry throughout the tropics. Also, it’s the largest habitat in the world for the threatened and strikingly colored Resplendent Quetzal (Pharomachrus mocinno), the symbol of Guatemala. With such natural wealth, it comes as no surprise that the Sierra is one of the internationally recognized biosphere reserves in UNESCO’s Man and the Biosphere program.

 

Besides biodiversity, the Sierra has a significant socioeconomic value. The rivers provide water to over 400,000 people, as well as for agricultural and hydroelectric use. Agroforestry operations are managed on 220,000 acres (1,000 km2) of the Sierra’s land, representing an enormous economic value. Moreover, the area’s many edible and medicinal plants benefit the local population, and the scenery and biodiversity make the biosphere a great potential destination for ecotourism.

 

Approximately 180,000 people, divided into some 200 communities, live within the Biosphere’s boundaries, the majority of the Q'eqchi' ethnic group followed by mestizos and the Poqomchi ethnic group. Generally, the people in the Sierra farm the land (coffee, cardamom, corn, fruits), although some work with forestry. We believe that lasting conservation results can only be achieved if we work with the people whose lives depend on the natural resources in the areas we seek to protect. Since the 1990’s, we have engaged the communities in conservation education and sustainable agricultural activities. Today, we can see how community leaders are much more environmentally responsible for the mountains’ natural resources. Also, we have carried out projects on sustainable development with local women, for example by donating high-efficiency stoves to minimize the need for firewood collecting. Other projects taught the use of local medicinal plants, as well as how to create and sell handicrafts made of natural materials.

 

Our impact:

 

  • We have establish “Sierra de las Minas Board”, integrated by local and national authorities (municipalities and CONAP) and civil society; this board has the responsibility on the strategic and primary activities over the Sierra

  • We patrol the forest and are on constant watch for wildfires. As preventive measures we do prescribed fires, brush clearing, etc. 

  • To protect the core zone we patrol the Biosphere and monitor any illegal squatting, poaching or extraction of natural resources. 

  • We have conducted several pioneering scientific investigations on the Resplendent Quetzal and its habitat, as well as on the ecological and economic value of the numerous springs located in Sierra de las Minas.

  • We designed and are supporting the management of regional biological corridors between Sierra de las Minas, the Quetzal Biotope, and the Bocas de Polochic Wildlife Refuge.

  • We developed and are implementing the Water Fund in the Motagua-Polochic area. This is an innovative system in which corporations that use water in their production donate money to the Fund, which in turn invests it into the protection of the Sierra’s river headwaters to ensure the continuing fresh water supply for 10 regional districts and more than 400,000 people. 

  • We are carrying out ecotourism projects in two uniquely scenic spots of the Sierra: the Albores/Pinalón cloud forest and Chilascó waterfalls.

  • We support low-impact alternative projects, such as growing organic coffee and cardamom, agroforestry, as well as the production of locally made handicrafts.

  • We have so far reforested and conserved a total of 86,500 acres (350 km2) through Guatemala’s Forest Incentive Program, PINFOR.

  • We are implementing monitoring systems to record biological conditions, water quality, meteorology, and forest coverage.  These measures assist us in controlling human encroachment and poaching activities.