Raging fires have burned 50 percent of Laguna del Tigre National Park since the beginning of March, consuming huge tracts of rain forest and wetlands in one of Northern Mesoamerica’s most important biodiversity areas.
A severe drought has allowed isolated fires, started to clear land and regenerate grassland pasture, to spread out of control in the Guatemalan park. There is widespread fear that the same thing could happen in other protected areas of the Selva Maya biodiversity conservation corridor, threatening the integrity and connectivity of the whole corridor.
"We are working hard to prevent continued loss in the area," said Roan Balas McNab of the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS). "But the best hope for the future is closer cooperation between all the different agencies here - government, NGOs and community groups."
Home to numerous globally threatened species, Laguna del Tigre National Park has been plagued by lawlessness and a lack of institutional control, inevitably exploited by landowners large and small. Fires are often started to clear land for cattle ranching or with the intention of degrading the forest enough for a downgrade in its protected area status.
Millions of board feet of valuable timber have been mined from the park prior to setting it ablaze.
WCS is leading two projects in the region with Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF) support. The first is designed to update the management plan for the area through a highly consultative process with stakeholders, while the other focuses on helping prevent and control fires during the current dry season.
Emergency measures being undertaken as part of the latter project include constructing protection hubs in the forest, organizing permanent patrols by natural resource police and park guards, and mobilizing community fire brigades to develop preventative fire lines around intact areas.
Halting the destruction in these areas is hoped to prevent a domino effect in the rest of the Selva Maya Corridor, a focal area for CEPF investment.