Largest Unprotected Cloud Forest in Central America at Imminent Risk of Deforestation

Guatemalan NGO, The Cloud Forest Conservation Initiative, and U.S.-based non-profit Conservation Imaging, Inc. join forces to raise $500,000 for land preservation of Cerro el Amay by May 1, 2016

Asheville, NC, March 08, 2016 --( Today a group of 10 individuals are embarking upon a unique journey into the largest unprotected tropical montane cloud forest in Central America, Cerro el Amay, nestled high in the mountains of northern Guatemala. This group will search for the source of a river purportedly never seen by humans, observe species never recorded by science, climb trees whose trunks are bigger than most cars, and most importantly, they will also be negotiating the future of 6,300 acres of this unprotected virgin cloud forest.

Cerro el Amay was virtually non-existent to any government, scientist, or outside conservation authority until in 2006 when, during his doctoral research, Dr. Philip Tanimoto, a spatial ecologist, created a geographic information systems (GIS) model to map the likelihood of where cloud forests should be found based on weather patterns, geographic density, forest cover and more, in his attempt to find a bird that was thought to be extinct in the region; a large turkey-like bird called the Horned Guan. In his search for a bird, in 2008 as part of his fieldwork, Dr. Tanimoto discovered the largest unprotected virgin cloud forest in Central America, Cerro el Amay, a habitat for multiple endangered species, including the red-listed Highland guan (Penelopina nigra), the endangered black-handed spider monkey (Ateles geoffroyi), and the critically-endangered Guatemalan spike-thumb frog (Plectrohyla guatemalensis).

Recent developments and changes to management of forestry commons by some of the stakeholder communities neighboring Cerro el Amay, threaten to derail these endangered species habitats and the entire cloud forest and it’s ecosystem in just a few months. In February, local K’iche’ Maya residents, who for thousands of years have lived at the edge of this forest, under duress of extreme poverty, voted to sell almost all of the remaining family parcels within Cerro el Amay, totaling around 3,700 acres. A buyer has already stepped forward that intends to clear-cut the forest for timber and to open the lands for cattle.

CFCI has been working with the local Mayan communities since 2009 to ensure the land remains preserved and have already purchased and protected 600 acres of this virgin cloud forest. CFCI has launched a grassroots movement, under the umbrella of and in tandem with U.S.-based non-profit, 501(c)3 organization, Conservation Imaging, Inc. These organizations are working together to raise $500,000 by May 1, 2016 to acquire the remaining unprotected land. In less than a week, they have already secured over $X0,000 which will secure hundreds of acreage, but this is only scratching the surface of the immediate need to protect against loggers or developers disturbing this habitat beyond recognition. The forest is already being clear-cut at the rate of an acre a day as one lot, over 110 acres, was sold and is actively being logged at the time of this release. Not only is CFCI looking to protect and preserve this cloud forest, they are also dedicated to empowering and supporting the surrounding communities with eco-tourism, research, education and sustainable community development.

Cloud forests are like rainforests in that they generally receive high levels of precipitation, however, in a cloud forest, much of that precipitation comes directly from the clouds that filter through the trees. They provide pristine headwaters, microclimate stability, as well as vegetation and fauna for surrounding areas and communities. Removing the trees disrupts a viable source of potable water, and also a habitat for species not found in other places. Devastation of the surrounding cloud forests in the region have caused desertification or massive landslides that have destroyed roads, villages, and farms having ultimately led to the demise of the already poverty-stricken indigenous people who live in and near the cloud forest and depend on it for resources, food, and clean water.

“Imagine giant buttressed trees with entire worlds, entire forests contained within their branches and spiraling down their trucks,” describes Rob Lenfestey, Jr., and board member at the non-profit, Cloud Forest Conservation Initiative (CFCI). “Massive sink holes and cave openings leading to seemingly endless caverns with crystal-clear underwater streams, rivers, and waterfalls; several new species have even been found in Cerro el Amay, including a terrestrial crab and a type of scorpion. Now imagine deforestation eliminating all of it, because the threat is imminent and real.”

To learn more or donate, visit:
The Cloud Forest Conservation Initiative
Jeremy Schewe
(828) 337-9905