Guatemala, March 17, 2015: A new report published today by the Climate, Nature and Communities in Guatemala (CNCG) project analyzes deforestation trends in the 2.1 million-hectare Maya Biosphere Reserve (MBR), the largest protected area in Mesoamerica. The report confirms that production forestry in the hands of local communities can conserve forests as effectively as strict reserves.

CNCG is a project financed by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) which works to support the Government of Guatemala in its efforts to mitigate the impacts of climate change and reduce its negative consequences. The project supports a wide range of activities in the MBR, as well as in other parts of the country.

Home to globally-threatened biodiversity as well as the vestiges of the Maya Civilization, the MBR is a globally important example of multi-use forest management. While a third of the Reserve is made up of core zone areas dedicated for strict protection, another 40 percent is a Multiple-Use Zone (MUZ) wherein a host of communities and two industrial firms manage 25-year forestry concessions.

Some 15 years since the bulk of forest concessions were granted, the analysis found that, compared to other management zones, the MUZ has experienced the lowest level of deforestation in the Reserve. Furthermore, the study confirmed that in active forestry concessions certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), deforestation rates were close to zero.

“The granting of rights to communities to manage high-value natural forests for timber and other forest products inside a protected area was a visionary move,” said Benjamin Hodgdon, lead author and Senior Technical Manager for the Rainforest Alliance. “As countries around the world increasingly devolve management control over forests to local groups, the case of the Maya Biosphere Reserve has tremendous importance as a kind of learning lab for countries across the global tropics.”

The study makes a series of recommendations for policymakers, donors and technical assistance agencies. Given the outcomes over 15 years, it is recommended that the concessions be extended beyond their current contracts, and that other areas in the MBR be explored for the granting of new concessions or the extension of existing ones. More broadly, it is recommended that increased investments be made in governance in all areas of the Reserve.

“This study demonstrates the importance of maintaining a diversified approach to effectively conserve biodiversity,” said Roan Balas McNab, coauthor and director of the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) in Guatemala. “We urge conservation planners to incorporate both community forest management areas and national parks in conservation landscapes where possible.”

“The MBR is a global model for forest conservation and social development,” said Patricia Orantes, CNCG’s director. “As we celebrate the 25th anniversary of the establishment of the Reserve, it is imperative that we base decisions about the future on scientific evidence of performance.”

The report was co-authored by The Rainforest Alliance, WCS, and the Center for Monitoring and Evaluation of the Guatemalan National Council for Protected Areas.