Many grassroots environmental organizations operate in Guatemala in partnership with international conservation organizations. Among the best-known groups is Fundación Defensores de la Naturaleza (7a Avenida 7-09 Zona 13, Guatemala City, tel. 2440-8138 or 2471-7942, www.defensores.org.gt), which administers Sierra del Lacandón National Park, Sierra de Las Minas Biosphere Reserve, Bocas del Polochic Wildlife Refuge, and the United Nations National Park just outside of Guatemala City. Through private land purchases, Defensores has been able to acquire large tracts of land in Sierra de las Minas and Sierra del Lacandón with help from The Nature Conservancy.
The Nature Conservancy also works locally with the Fundación para el Desarrollo y la Conservación (Foundation for Development and Conservation), or FUNDAECO (7a Calle “A” 20-53 Zona 11, Colonia Mirador, Guatemala City, tel. 2474-3645). Together, they have bought more than 9,000 acres of tropical rainforest in the Caribbean coastal mountain chain of Cerro San Gil.
Another organization working to protect local ecosystems is FUNDARY (Diagonal 6, 17-19 Zona 10, Guatemala City, tel. 2333-4957, 2366-7539, or 2367-0171, www.guate.net/fundarymanabique/index.htm), named after the late Mario Dary Rivera, creator of the CECON biotopes. FUNDARY has centered its efforts on the protection of coastal environments, particularly the Punta de Manabique peninsula, with the establishment of the Punta de Manabique Wildlife Refuge on Guatemala’s Caribbean Coast.
The forests of Petén are understandably the center of much attention from local and international organizations. ProPetén (Calle Central, Flores, Petén, tel. 7926-1370, www.propeten.org), an offshoot of Conservation International, began operating shortly after the creation of The Maya Biosphere Reserve and is credited with implementing innovative approaches to bridge the gap between the need for environmental conservation and the needs of communities living in or near the reserve. Among its successful programs are the establishment of Las Guacamayas Biological Research Station dedicated to saving Guatemala’s scarlet macaws, forestry concessions with local communities in the Maya Biosphere Reserve’s buffer zone, and two Spanish-language schools owned and operated by local villagers.
Alianza Verde (Parque Central, Flores, Petén, www.alianzaverde.org), for its part, has done an excellent job of promoting low-impact tourism in Petén as part of its mandate to aid in the protection and conservation of the region’s precious natural resources. In addition to marketing efforts, Alianza Verde certifies ecotourism operations and aids in the training of tourism staff to improve Petén’s tourism offerings and visitor experience. It functions as an association of businesses, organizations, and individuals who make their livelihood from Petén’s valuable tourism industry.
Another important organization is the Asociacion de Rescate y Conservacion de Vida Silvestre (Wildlife Rescue and Conservation Association), or ARCAS (4 Ave. 2-47, Sector B5, Zona 8 Mixco, San Cristóbal, Guatemala, tel. 2476-6001, www.arcasguatemala.com). It works to protect and rehabilitate wildlife, including sea turtles on The Pacific Coast and animals falling prey to poaching for the lucrative pet trade in Petén, including cats, monkeys, and birds.
Several organizations operate in Guatemala’s eastern Verapaces and Izabal regions. Working to preserve the endangered quetzal, Proyecto Ecoquetzal (2a Calle 14-36 Zona 1, Coban, Alta Verapaz, tel. 7952-1047, www.ecoquetzal.org) works with local communities to provide alternative income sources such as ecotourism and promote sustainable agriculture in the remaining cloud forests of northern Alta Verapaz. Asociacion Ak’ Tenamit (11 Avenida “A” 9-39 Zona 2, Guatemala City, tel. 2254-1560 Guatemala City, tel. 7908-3392 Lívingston, www.aktenamit.org) is a grassroots, Mayan-run development organization focusing its efforts on education, health care, the creation of alternative income sources and sustainable agriculture.
Finally, Tropico Verde (Vía 6 4-25 Zona 4, Edificio Castañeda, Oficina 41, Guatemala City tel. 2339-4225 www.tropicoverde.org) is a watchdog organization monitoring the state of Guatemala’s parks via field studies. In addition to local monitoring, it helps bring awareness of local repercussions of international environmental issues such as Guatemala’s participation in international conventions on whaling, to name just one example.
© Al Argueta from Moon Guatemala, 3rd Edition. Photos © Al Argueta www.alargueta.com