In 2008, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature together with Universidad de San Carlos de Guatemala) and the National Science and Technology Council launched a project to assess and characterize secondary plant succession and proposals for ecological restoration around areas with Pinabete (Abies guatemalensis Rehder) in the upper watersheds of the Coatán and Suchiate Rivers, department of San Marcos.
San Marcos, Guatemala, November 2012 (IUCN) – On September 21, 2012, pilot forest restoration sites and areas with natural regeneration of Pinabete, a Guatemalan fir tree, were visited in the upper Coatán and Suchiate watersheds. Accompanying the group were Josué Morales, Manager of the National Forests Institute, and members of the National Council on Protected Areas.
The visit was focused on forest restoration in degraded areas and adjoining Pinabete forest promoted by IUCN and USAC with important participation by the Ixchiguán municipal government. The municipality’s previous reforestation efforts, supported by different actors, had all failed and few Pinabete took hold. With IUCN’s support the municipal corporation signed an agreement establishing and approving a process of restoration and ecological succession prior to reforestation of Cerro Cotzic. This hilltop is important for municipal water catchment and regulation.
The area of this forest restoration experience is dominated by Pinabete, designated as being in danger of extinction under the country’s Protected Areas Law, legislative decrees 4-89 and 110-96. This is mainly due to sheep grazing, use for cooking and housing construction, and land use change from forest to agricultural production. In 1999 total area with this fir was estimated at 25,255 ha, generally fragmented in over 60 forests—80% under 100 ha and 55% less than 25 ha in size. Original distribution of the species has been placed at 558,858 ha, areas that could not be recovered.
In the Flor de Mayo community, Tacaná municipality, located 60 km from the seat of San Marcos at an altitude of 3,000 meters above sea level, visitors examined areas of natural regeneration and voluntary parcels of Pinabete forest restoration using nurse plants. The key is to be able to manage natural regeneration areas by creating a more favorable environment for growth of the species and preventing competition between trees due to high densities. Management of these plantations is not allowed under current legislation of the National Council on Protected Areas prohibiting management actions in these areas. Participants of the visit discussed the importance of conducting research on management of natural Pinabete plantations so that advocacy can be carried out for a legal mechanism enabling the appropriate management.
It is also important to reestablish ecosystems primarily degraded by human activities and animals. Thanks to the efforts by IUCN and USAC through investigation and systematization of local experiences, forest restoration activities have been implemented in these ecosystems, in some cases taking advantage of existing nurse plants.
Forest restoration is a human activity that imitates or accelerates ecological succession, the process in which an ecosystem regenerates naturally. Forest restoration can be considered human-assisted ecological succession.
The object is thus to recover degraded areas, expand forest cover in land with this vocation and restore ecosystems, enabling forest as the entirety of its species to carry out hydrological regulation. Productive activities for commercial use of Pinabete are also promoted in voluntary plantations.
Through the investigation process, IUCN and USAC have identified stages of succession and the main species of nurse plants in the zone, making it possible to start recovery of degraded areas in the upper basins of the Coatán and Suchiate, located along the Guatemala-Mexico border.
The main conclusions of visit participants about forest restoration were that recovering forests in upper watersheds is important because of their regulatory functions, especially water, and that given climate change effects, vulnerability increases with latent threats in the zones, including heavy rain and droughts. Among the other opinions expressed, it was felt that forest restoration could be applied in lower-lying areas and with different species when the aim is likewise to recover forest mass.
During the activity, INAB’s manager was shown the results of forest restoration using nurse plants such as arrayan, mozote, chicajol and others enabling a high level of Pinabete to take hold (over 80%). He indicated his willingness to have forest restoration included in the new forest incentives programs.
For more information contact:
Ottoniel Rivera Mazariegos
Regional Office of the Livelihoods and Climate Change Unit
IUCN Regional Office for Mesoamerica and the Caribbean Initiative
Tel: 00502-77604294 and 00502-5510-5890