Forest restoration

I have been working on a piece of land that was grazed by cattle for decades before being abandoned 15-20 years ago. It is now a thicket of shrubs and guano palm. Small tree seedlings have established underneath a dense brush which indicates that succession is moving the system back to a forest from the pasture lands. I loosely call the property my farm although it functions in a more diverse way than a traditional farm.

Since 2013, I have been familiarizing myself with the soil, standing vegetation and topography. The goal is to utilize the current state of the land to allocate areas for (1) forest restoration, (2) timber production and (3) cacao production (see below for more details on each aspect of the farm).

Placing a road in a degraded area which will allow future access to timber trees and cacao.

Placing a road in a degraded area which will allow future access to timber trees and cacao.

We are implementing a minimal road network to allow access to the property while avoiding ecologically sensitive areas. With sound planning we hope to not disturb the land with more access roads in the future and limit the need for an extensive network of roads.

Forest restoration

Areas which have remnant trees and which create wildlife corridors from the nearby Santa Cruz National Forest are left undisturbed and given priority for restoration practices such as enrichment planting of native trees. Planting practices for restoration will not utilize a general design be try to mimic random seedling establishment in small gaps. Basically, I want to encourage tree establishment and growth while speeding up the succession process ever so slightly.

Connecting our land to remnant forest of Santa Cruz Forest – seen in the background.

Timber production and tree recovery

The coming year we are planning a planting of native tree species with valuable teak wood interspersed using a biodiversity experiment scheme (see my project in Sabah, Borneo for information on this type of work). This plan will allow long-term reforestation with the hope of offsetting the cost by harvesting teak in the future.

Highly degraded areas are covered with invasive shrubs in thickets that prevent tree seedling establishment.

Highly degraded areas are covered with invasive shrubs in thickets that prevent tree seedling establishment.

This project is being carried out in the most disturbed areas and will use more plantation style planting to quickly recover trees. Although the resulting area will lack many primary forest attributes initially, it will return trees to the land quickly and remain with trees even after timber is harvested. The timber production will hopefully provide long-term financial value as well as act as a stepping stone to restoration.

For timber production and tree establishment in these degraded area we remove the invasive shrubs leaving only trees. Then we line plant using a mixture of diversity levels.

For timber production and tree establishment in these degraded areas we remove the invasive shrubs leaving only trees. Then we plant into lines using a mixture of diversity levels. Even after shrub removal the land does not look excessively denuded.

Cacao production

I have been planting cacao into areas with a mixture of trees and invasive shrubs. Cacao requires shade especially in the first few years and the shrubs can be used for that purpose. The shrubs can potentially be completely removed in a few years. Even better cacao is native to Guatemala and the region of Izabal. The cacao can provide yearly economic returns that can hopefully lead to a cost neutral project and provide for the needs of the community clinic. It is a difficult tree to grow and sustain but returning this tree back to the area represents immense potential for the local economy and ecological restoration.

Planting cacao with the local Maya Q'eqchi. These people are my main support in the project and an invaluable source of local ecological knowledge.

Planting cacao with the local Maya Q’eqchi. These people are my main support in the project and an invaluable source of local ecological knowledge.