Uaxactun Ecotourism Project
The forest village of Uaxactun is
located 23 kilometers north of the Tikal National Park, declared a World Heritage Site by
UNESCO. Isolated by Tikal and set in the middle of the MBR Multiple Use Zone,
Uaxactuns 140 mestizo and indigenous families primarily subsist from the extraction
of non-timber forest products (NTFPs) such as chicle gum resin, xate palm leaves, allspice
and wild game meat.
||Several complexes of reconstructed Maya ruins loom
above two sides of the village and contain the first known Maya astronomical observatory
in Guatemala, structure E-VII-sub. The village of Uaxactun represents the last remnant of
a "forest society" that once flourished in Peten during the golden years of
chicle extraction. Adapted to co-exist with the forest by assimilating a great deal of
traditional Maya knowledge, Uaxactuns culture contrasts sharply with the
proliferating lifestyles of migrants that stream into Peten daily in search of open land
to grow cattle and corn.
Although Uaxactun villagers also plant corn and use
timber, they typically do so in quantities sufficient for their households, preferring
instead to preserve the multi-faceted nature of their forests. Set in the center of a 2.6
million hectare tri-national (Mexico, Belize, Guatemala) complex of protected areas, the
1.65 million hectare Maya Biosphere Reserve (MBR) in Guatemala is the heart of the largest
body of intact tropical forest in Central America.
The Maya Biosphere Reserve was created by national
decree in 1990 as an alternative to uncontrolled deforestation. Today the MBR faces
daunting challenges: human immigration, fertility-driven population growth and land
conversion for cattle contribute to the 1% annual deforestation rate within the reserve, a
figure for 1996. Recent data disclosed by NASAs satellite monitoring program of the
MBR indicates that this rate decreased to 0.35% in 1997. However, data that will
accurately reflect the impact suffered by the MBR due to forest fires between February and
May, 1998 is still being processed.
As a partial solution to deforestation and land
misuse in this national preserve the Guatemalan governments National Council of
Protected Areas (CONAP) initiated a process of granting community concessions in the MBR
Multiple Use Zone. This process was initiated in 1996 and is contained in Guatemalas
Peace Accords, specifically the "Agreement on Socioeconomic Aspects Agrarian
Uaxactuns Forest Society
now faces this challenge. Some members within the community actively rejected the
concession, while others seemed more interested in obtaining it. This discussion ensued a
process that culminated in the legal creation of OMYC, Organización de Manejo y
Conservacion, a democratic organization for the management and conservation of the forest
around Uaxactun and the villages lifestyle. After months of internal deliberations
and outside pressures the organization started the process to receive a concession within
the MBRs Multiple Use Zone.
Convinced that attaining the rights to
their historical area of influence will provide them with the best opportunity to protect
the forest and maintain their current lifestyle, villagers have recently solicited a
83,558 hectare concession connecting Tikal to Guatemalas northernmost suite of
protected areas: Dos Lagunas Biotopo, and El Mirador-Rio Azul National Park. As the only
human settlement within this key connective corridor of approximately 250,000 hectares,
many people in Uaxactun have recognized their critical role in maintaining the ecological
integrity of Tikal, and indeed, of the heart of the Maya Forest.
However, while most NGOs working
with other communities in the Peten have suggested timber management as the best way to
pay concession rents, Uaxactuns Forest Society is determined to find an alternative
model that wont turn them into loggers.
Uaxactun has a 80 year history of
forest use with no dependence upon timber. The communitys extractive activities have
generally complemented conservation due to the extensive distributions and forest
requirements of the natural products harvested. But villagers now face the challenge of
having to produce concession rents under the proposed agreements, without losing their
extractive culture, which has consistently supported forest protection.
The community has been lucky to
count with the accompaniment of WCS- the Wildlife Conservation Society- in this endeavor.
WCS participates upon the villages request and hopes to be able to reinforce this
forest culture, helping Uaxactun villagers adapt to the inevitable currents of social
change before their appreciation for the forest is lost forever. Ecotourism &
Adventure Specialists supports the efforts of the Uaxactun villagers' association and the
Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS).
| Uaxactun has solicited WCS to accompany them
during the initial years of the concession by helping to diversify their capacities for
forest management and conservation of the game species upon which they depend. Over the
last two years WCS, has been the only NGO that has consistently participated with
villagers, supporting their desire to create a uniquely diverse model of forest management
based on NTFPs, ecotourism and a minimal low impact use of timber.
||Uaxactun villagers have always lived isolated from
basic services such as running water and electricity, but have nevertheless taken immense
pride in the freedom of their forest lifestyle. In order to help the village create
alternatives to timber and over-dependence upon NTFP extraction, WCS is suggesting the
implementation of 6 projects focused on helping the community gain control of the vast
resources they will soon manage.
Wildlife investigations will allow us to monitor
the status of key parts of the biosphere that have yet to be surveyed and to extrapolate
results that will benefit the entire MBR
Technical support for the concession will help
expedite Uaxactuns capacity to stand on its own
Support for the WCS office in Flores will allow
our cost-efficient operations to continue while adding two staff positions that are
essential for the proposed activities
A xate palm reforestation project will help
support OMYCs own initiative to solve the looming xate sustainability problem, and
will help to relieve the pressure of illegal harvesters in Tikal
|Support for a research station in Uaxactun and students from
prominent universities, as well as small grants for exceptional Uaxactun youth, will help
develop the information and inertia needed as new questions and challenges arise during
the concession years|
|The ecotourism component will help develop Uaxactuns full
potential to benefit from the increasing tide of tourism and the spectacular Maya ruins of
the area. |
It is our hope that this strategy
may prove to be successful, as during the recent El Niño exacerbated fire season,
proposed concession areas lost far less forest cover than core areas as villagers rallied
to protect their own resources. Nevertheless, additional challenges to the MBR Multiple
Use Zone now loom on the horizon. Anti-ecological agencies are developing petroleum
concessions that spatially overlap community forest concessions despite our own and other
concerned individuals and groups' active disapproval. Some officials have predicted that
communities with concessions will have a greater likelihood of controlling the negative
repercussions of seismic explorations and drilling, which in other areas of the MBR have
included organized invasions of landless peasants. It is up to the conservationist
community and those interested in safeguarding our Earths valuable resources to keep
our eyes open and to propose creative, long-term solutions to the threats the Maya
Biosphere Reserve and its last Forest Societies are facing today.
At Ecotourism & Adventure
Specialists we have made Uaxactun our partners in these solutions, by awarding them 5% of
our net earnings from trips to their village and the protected areas around them to be
used for concession costs and to train the Uaxactuns Eco-Cultural Guide Association.
The idea is to generate enough funds from different sources so that the concession rent
may be paid without having to touch the forest. Your help is welcome!
Uaxactun Ecotourism Project
Ecotourism and Adventure Specialists
works in close colaboration with several conservation organizations and communities who
live in and around protected areas. We are never at rest, as we know that in order for
ecotourism to become all it can be for our people and our parks, we need to work in new
and ever more creative projects involving as many different sectors as we can! One of
these growing partnerships revolves around Uaxactun in the Maya Biosphere Reserve. Our
partners in this ecotourism adventure project are Uaxactuns Forest Society-
represented by OMYC- and the Wildlife Conservation Society, WCS. (OMYC is Uaxactuns
civilian society association. It stands for Management and Conservation Organization. WCS,
a US based conservation organization, works in Guatemalas Maya Biosphere Reserve in
a number of different projects that include xate reforestation, aid to the Uaxactun forest
concession- a very sensitive issue in the village- and ....
the Uaxactun Ecotourism Project:
- To promote ecotourism as an alternative source of income for
- To develop ecotourism as a source of income for the Uaxactún
- To promote the retention of forest cover in conjunction with sites
within the area
- To train villagers to capture more benefits from existing village
industries geared towards ecotourists
You may contribute to this project!
All donations must be channeled through the
Wildlife Conservation Society- WCS*
Roan McNab- WCS Director, Peten, Guatemala firstname.lastname@example.org
or in Gainsville, Florida email@example.com