Wildlife Conservation Society commends President for acknowledging community efforts

New York (September 11, 2014)—
Guatemala’s President Otto Perez Molina recently congratulated the community members of Uaxactún, a village in the Maya Biosphere Reserve, for their contributions in conserving the country’s natural and cultural heritage, according to the Wildlife Conservation Society.

On September 5th, the president traveled to village of Uaxactún to thank its residents in person. The visit represents a milestone for Uaxactún community members since it is the first time a Guatemalan president has visited the remote forest village. Mrs. Sarah Dickson, the United Kingdom’s Ambassador to Guatemala and Honduras, and Ing. Benedicto Lucas, the Executive Secretary of Guatemala’s National Protected Areas Council (CONAP) also attended the event.

Uaxactún residents have worked with the Wildlife Conservation Society and CONAP since 1996 to strengthen natural resource management and to develop innovative conservation approaches for the Maya Biosphere Reserve, the largest protected area in Central America. Uaxactún was also the first community to establish with the government of Guatemala a conservation agreement, a contract formulated to guide donation investments and technical support to conserve nature and improve livelihoods.

According to President Perez Molina “Uaxactún provides a replicable model of how local communities can conserve Guatemala’s natural patrimony while ensuring opportunities for economic growth and social development for local inhabitants.”

“We thank the president for recognizing the contributions of Uaxactún in safeguarding the forests and other national resources of Guatemala,” said Roan McNab, Director of the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Guatemala Program.

The village of Uaxactun currently co-manages the largest community forest concession of its kind in Central America, an area covering 208,059 acres (83,558 hectares). The village was granted rights to the forest block in 1999 for a 25-year-period by CONAP. In order to comply with the legal and financial requirements of managing a community forest concession, the village incorporated the Organization for Management and Conservation (OMYC).

Uaxactún secured its conservation agreement in Guatemala in June 2009, when OMYC partnered with the Wildlife Conservation Society, CONAP, the community development council (COCODE), and Conservation International as a donor. Honorary partners included Rainforest Alliance and the Association of Forest Communities of Petén (ACOFOP). The second phase of Conservation Agreement was signed in 2011 with the financial support of the Foundation for Maya Cultural and Natural Patrimony (PACUNAM).

The agreements help finance key conservation actions to mitigate threats, while also investing in social development priorities identified by local community members and leaders. All agreements are voted upon by village assemblies prior to implementation, to ensure Free, Prior and Informed Consent of the beneficiaries.

The Darwin Initiative of the United Kingdom will support this third phase of the conservation agreement in Uaxactun for a 2-year period (2014-2016), building on previous support from the UK Department for International Development (DFID). This third phase will consolidate advances obtained in the previous phases, helping OMYC to improve natural resource management, forest fire prevention, and territorial control to prevent illegal activities while strengthening basic education opportunities for local youth.

“The success of Uaxactún demonstrates that community management can be a powerful and effective method for achieving tropical forest conservation while also improving local livelihoods,” said Dr. Julie Kunen, Executive Director for the Latin American and the Caribbean Program.

Fast Facts:
  • At over 209,000 acres Uaxactún’s forest concession is the largest tract of tropical forest managed by a single community in Mesoamerica
  • The Uaxactún conservation agreement provides OMYC with $43,000 annually, as well as technical accompaniment by the Wildlife Conservation Society
  • The annual investment of the Uaxactún conservation agreement is approximately $0.21/acre
  • Uaxactun village has pledged to prohibit all cattle ranching, in-migration and settlement by outside families, and deforestation and fire across their concession area
  • OMYC’s main sources of income include sustainably harvested timber, xate palm fronds for the international floral industry, allspice, and breadnut 
  • The Uaxactún forest continues to serve as a key biological corridor at the heart of the tri-national Maya Forest of Belize, Guatemala, and Mexico, providing a refuge for jaguars, puma, white-lipped peccaries, tapir, howler and spider monkeys, and millions of migratory birds from the Northern Hemisphere 

JOHN DELANEY: (1-718-220-3275;jdelaney@wcs.org)
STEPHEN SAUTNER:(1-718-220-3682; ssautner@wcs.org)
Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS)
MISSION: WCS saves wildlife and wild places worldwide through science, conservation action, education, and inspiring people to value nature. VISION: WCS envisions a world where wildlife thrives in healthy lands and seas, valued by societies that embrace and benefit from the diversity and integrity of life on earth. To achieve our mission, WCS, based at the Bronx Zoo, harnesses the power of its Global Conservation Program in more than 60 nations and in all the world’s oceans and its five wildlife parks in New York City, visited by 4 million people annually. WCS combines its expertise in the field, zoos, and aquarium to achieve its conservation mission. Visit: www.wcs.org ; http://www.facebook.com/TheWCS; http://www.youtube.com/user/WCSMedia Follow: @thewcs.