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Forest Society

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, Uaxactun’s 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.

uaxacruins.jpg (20690 bytes) 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, Uaxactun’s 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 NASA’s 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 government’s 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 Guatemala’s Peace Accords, specifically the "Agreement on Socioeconomic Aspects Agrarian Situation".

Uaxactun’s 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 village’s lifestyle. After months of internal deliberations and outside pressures the organization started the process to receive a concession within the MBR’s Multiple Use Zone.

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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 Guatemala’s 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, Uaxactun’s Forest Society is determined to find an alternative model that won’t turn them into loggers.

    Uaxactun has a 80 year history of forest use with no dependence upon timber. The community’s 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 village’s 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. ocelot.jpg (16331 bytes) 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.

     These include:

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 Uaxactun’s 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 OMYC’s 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 Uaxactun’s 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 Earth’s 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 Uaxactun’s 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 Uaxactun’s Forest Society- represented by OMYC- and the Wildlife Conservation Society, WCS. (OMYC is Uaxactun’s civilian society association. It stands for Management and Conservation Organization. WCS, a US based conservation organization, works in Guatemala’s 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 ....



Project's Relevance

Expected Results


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... the Uaxactun Ecotourism Project:


  1. To promote ecotourism as an alternative source of income for Uaxactún villagers
  2. To develop ecotourism as a source of income for the Uaxactún concession
  3. To promote the retention of forest cover in conjunction with sites within the area
  4. 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 wcspeten@guate.net

or in Gainsville, Florida afn02218@afn.org



El Chiclero Camp


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