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2011 Rain Forest Rescue Report

Guatemala was lashed with high winds and an unbelievable deluge when Tropical Storm Agatha struck this rugged Central American country in the spring of 2010.

Despite the challenges of weather and due in large part to donations from generous Arbor Day Foundation members, conservation efforts in this Central American country were undeterred. In fact, local partner Vivamos Mejor was able to announce planting the millionth tree in its valiant effort to stabilize the slopes around beautiful Lake Atitlan.

Steep Slopes
Trees that have been planted or preserved on Guatemala’s steep slopes protect villages, crop lands and the waters of Lake Atitlan.

A major Rain Forest Rescue emphasis during the past year has been to provide support to the people of Guatemala and their conservation efforts on the steep, volcanic slopes surrounding the precious waters of Lake Atitlan. Working in partnership with The Nature Conservancy and local organizations, the Arbor Day Foundation has helped establish and expand native tree nurseries, support conservation education efforts and fund scientific studies that contribute to understanding the hydrology that affects the country’s water supplies.

When local partner Vivamos Mejor planted the millionth tree, the event illustrated what has been possible in the five years since that reforestation effort was initiated. The project has been a model in involving community members in forest management and sustainable agriculture. It has helped stabilize hillsides with fast-growing native trees like pine (Pinus oocarpa), cypress (Cupressus lusitanica), alder (Alnus jorulensis) and two species of oak. Students and others have received hands-on training in nursery production, tree planting and sustainable forestry. To date, 20 municipalities and nearly 1,800 men and women have participated.

Steep Slopes
Replacing cropland with forest production is often the best choice for economic, social and environmental stability.

Guatemalans lost 156 people in the aftermath of Agatha and 500 schools and 300 bridges were destroyed or damaged. Nearly half a million residents faced property damage. Much of this was from mudslides that resulted from centuries of ill-advised logging and inappropriate agriculture. Rain Forest Rescue is protecting remnants of native forests and reforesting barren slopes or former cropland. In a report following the big storm of 2010, The Nature Conservancy reported, “Areas that were reforested or where existing forest areas are being actively conserved seemed to be in relatively good condition in relation to other areas in the Lake Atitlan area.” Trees also mitigated damages by reducing mud and rock slides that did occur.

Rain Forest Rescue is making a difference, but the need for further action is great. With support from Arbor Day Foundation members, progress will continue to be made in the effort to restore the vegetated mountain slopes of Guatemala and other tropical countries.