Aerial view of a tower in the Maya Biosphere Reserve’s Uaxactun concession that is used by community members to monitor forest fires. When the government of Guatemala created the Maya Biosphere Reserve in 1990 to protect Central America’s largest rainforest, conservationists felt betrayed that a big chunk was given to local communities for sustainable logging. They saw it as a lost chance to save the heart of the third most important biodiversity hotspot on the planet , home to more than 1,400 plant and 450 animal species, including jaguars, pumas, tapirs, spider monkeys, alligators, harpy eagles, and macaws. Today many think differently. Illegal cattle ranches — most of them linked to major drug cartels — have been wrecking the national parks containing the protected forests in the west of the reserve, causing some of the fastest rates of deforestation in the world. Almost a third of the forests in the largest park in the reserve, the 835,000-acre Laguna del Tigre National Park, has been lost since 2000. But the once-maligned community forests are still intact, a shining beacon of conservation covering nearly 900,000 acres of the eastern half of the reserve. Deforestation rates there are a fraction of 1 […]

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