PETEN, Guatemala – The Maya Biosphere Reserve in northern Guatemala is threatened not just by forest fires and climate change, but by encroachment from ranchers and drug traffickers, community leaders told reporters.
The reserve is under siege from “agricultural activities and ranching, and drug trafficking,” as well as “intentionally set fires and the possible expansion of an archaeological park in the so-called Mirador basin,” said Jorge Emilio Soza, a resident of San Andres and one of the founders of the Integral Forest Association (AFISAP).
Marcedonio Cortave, a conservationist and agronomist who has helped protect the Maya Biosphere Reserve for decades, told reporters who recently toured the area that there were numerous threats to the environmentally sensitive region.
“A lot of influence is being exerted by people who want to change the land use and turn it into pastures for cattle, and there are even associated interests from ‘narcoranchers,’ a scheme under which they make it seem that the profits are coming from cattle, but in reality they are sometimes generated by illegal activities,” Cortave said.
“The fires are being intentionally set to destroy the (natural) resources and advance the taking of land,” Cortave said, adding that some private interests were after the oil supposedly present in the area.
A report published last week said that nearly 8,000 fires had been identified in just the first five months of this year, leading to the destruction of more than 2,000 hectares (nearly 5,000 acres) of land.
The Maya Biosphere Reserve contains the largest forest in Mesoamerica, covering 21,602 sq. kilometers (8,341 sq. miles).