CFCI IS THE PRINCIPAL PROGRAM OF CONSERVATION IMAGING, A 501(C)3 NONPROFIT (EIN #82-0492540)ESTABLISHED IN 1996 BY DR. PHILIP TANIMOTO.
IN 2005 AS PART OF HIS DOCTORAL RESEARCH, MR. TANIMOTO RECOGNIZED THE UNIQUE COLORS OF TROPICAL CLOUD FOREST ON FALSE-COLOR COMPOSITES FROM SATELLITE IMAGERY AND WONDERED IF THE ENIGMATIC AND ENDANGERED HORNED GUAN (OREOPHASIS DERBIANUS) MIGHT OCCUR THERE, AND AFTER EARNING HIS DOCTORATE, DECIDED TO SEE THE AREA FOR HIMSELF. FOR UNKNOWN REASONS, THERE WAS NO BIOLOGICAL SURVEY INFORMATION FROM THIS AREA--NO BIRD, AMPHIBIAN, REPTILE, OR PLANT STUDIES WERE AVAILABLE IN THE LITERATURE DATABASES. IT TOOK SOME SLEUTHING TO LEARN THE NAME OF THIS AREA--CERRO AMAY. THIS WAS THE FIRST STEP REQUIRED TO VISIT THE MOUNTAINOUS FOREST ON FOOT.
UPON CONTACTING THE GUATEMALAN COUNCIL OF PROTECTED AREAS (CONAP), DR. TANIMOTO LEARNED THAT MOST OF THE CLOUD FOREST BELONGED TO INDIGENOUS VILLAGES AND VISITING THE AREA WOULD REQUIRE INDIGENOUS GUIDES AND ACCOMPANIMENT BY A CONAP REPRESENTATIVE. CONAP FACILITATED THIS PROCESS, AND IN EARLY 2008, DR. TANIMOTO DROVE TO GUATEMALA FROM THE US AND FIRST VISITED THE CONAP REGIONAL OFFICE IN SOLOLA AND THEN THE SATELLITE OFFICE IN USPANTAN--CLOSE TO CERRO AMAY. ACCOMPANIED BY CONAP'S ELIAS BARRERA AND EXPERT BIRDER HUGO ENRIQUEZ, THE IMPORTANCE OF PROTECTING THE VIRGIN CLOUD FOREST QUICKLY BECAME APPARENT. IT WAS CLEARLY AN AREA OF REGIONAL IF NOT GLOBAL IMPORTANCE THAT WAS WITHOUT ANY PROTECTION WHATSOEVER FROM UNREGULATED ILLEGAL TIMBER CUTTING.
IN 2009, AT A WORKSHOP OF THE US INSTITUTE FOR INTERNATIONAL EDUCATION HELD AT HARVARD UNIVERSITY, THREE FULBRIGHT PROGRAM ALUMNAE— DR. TANIMOTO, JOHN MEYERS, AND JUAN PALACIO OBTAINED A GRANT OF $6,000 FOR ESTABLISHING THE CFCI PROGRAM UNDER CONSERVATION IMAGING'S MANAGEMENT. THE $6,000 WAS USED TO ESTABLISH CONSERVATION PROJECTS IN THE VILLAGES OF LA GLORIA, LAJ CHIMEL, TIERRA BLANCA, AND CHICAMAN, WHICH LIE CLOSE TO CERRO AMAY. THESE PROJECTS WERE SIMPLE NURSERIES AND PLANTATIONS OF NATIVE TREES THAT WERE LATER USED TO REFOREST DENUDED WATERSHED AREAS.
PRESENTED BELOW, IN REVERSE CHRONOLOGY, ARE SOME OF CFCI'S ACTIVITIES AND ACHIEVEMENTS.
July 2018: CFCI welcomed three new board members over the last year! Mariana Rivera joined just as she was finishing up two years as a Peace Corp Volunteer in the Cerro Amay area! With her, she brings a wealth of experience and compassion.
Robert Otiz-Dietz is passionate about tropical conservation. His background is in real estate, herpetology, and parrot husbandry. His goal is to find excellent projects for conservation and fund them to completions.
Leanna May Peterson is a specialist in holistic human wellness. A dedicated and caring professional, she works with us to support new, community-based sustainability projects in the Cerro Amay area.
Several new initiatives were started in the last year. At the village of La Parroquia, we worked with an association of thirty farmers, providing ten macadamia trees to each member, allowing them to learn about macadamia production. We also established three new macadamia plantations at El Soch. Two of these are monoculture, and one is inter-planted with coffee. The climate is perfect for macadamia--abundant moisture and no freezing temperatures, despite the moderately high elevation. In December, 2017, Dr. Tanimoto met with the new Chimel Tourism Committee, which is comprised of Chimel land owners / peasant farmers. Lic. Victor Aguare is facilitating new initiatives there, including a new community tree nursery at Laj Chimel. CFCI provided money for materials and for thousands of tree seeds.
Our alliance with FUNDAECO has paid off in a big way. FUNDAECO has now started a Cerro Amay Program. This program is geared toward sustainable community development, collaborative conservation agreements, and land purchases for conservation.
June 2017: The amount and quality of or work continues to expand. Through our collaboration with FUNDAECO, we have purchased an additional 777 acres, which is well over a square mile, of virgin forest. On our own, we have purchased more than 200 new acres at approximately US $140 apiece. Want to pitch in to help us purchase more virgin forest? Email Dr. Philip Tanimoto (Executive Director) at firstname.lastname@example.org.
April 2016: With our fund raising activities, we CFCI purchased three land rights (derechos) consisting of 333 acres of virgin cloud forest. This means an end to clear cutting and full protection for all of the native biodiversity and ecological services! This year, we discovered a 100-foot waterfall and several new springs and caves. Finally, we have teamed up with Guatemala's premier conservation organization, FUNDAECO. FUNDAECO has been instrumental in establishing numerous protected areas throughout Guatemala and is generously lending organizational support to the Cerro Amay Program!
March 2016: Our second eco-trek was another resounding success! In addition to the activities of the 2015 trek, we made new discoveries and visited a previously undiscovered 100’ waterfall and a spring where the water came out of a cave in the mountain. We also replaced our nine automatic trail cameras in a new and very remote location so they can silently collect photographs of passing wildlife over the next several months!
March 2015: Our first eco-trek was a resounding success! The very first tourists to visit the nuclear cloud forest of Cerro El Amay visited from February 28-March 10, 2015. This amazing experience included plenty of cloud forest splendor including beautiful hikes, spelunking the surreal Dragon Cave, and ascending 130 feet up into the canopy of an ancient oak tree. Part of the proceeds from the clients was donated to the local property association to support their conservation efforts--we're a team!
February 2015. Dr. Tanimoto conducted a training workshop to teach local guides the technical skills required to access cloud forest caves and towering treetops. The workshop included all necessary knots, harnesses, ascenders, belay devices, ropes, carabiners, etc.
August 2014: Our Macadamia-Conservation Exchange program is off and running. We planted 650 macadamia seedlings, filling a 3.1 hectare (7.6 acre) plantation site at the village of La Gloria. Valhalla Experiment Station generously donated the macadamia seedlings. The villagers donated all of the labor. We orchestrated the project and paid for fencing to keep livestock out. The village agreed to permanently abandon a patch of agriculture located in the cloud forest zone so it be restored to cloud forest once again.
May 2014: We have established an exciting new conservation instrument--the Macadamia-Conservation Exchange (MCE). The key villages are those whose territory abuts and includes the virgin cloud forest. The MCE is a trade: we cover the cost and many of the logistics of establishing a brand new macadamia plantation within village lands. In exchange for this investment, the village agrees to abandon a patch of agriculture within the cloud forest zone so that it may grow back into cloud forest. We are implementing our first MCE at the village of La Gloria. It consists of 3.1 hectares of new macadamia plantation that will be planted in August, 2014.
February 2014: Jeremy Schewe and Rob Lenfestey joined Dr. Tanimoto in an exploration of the cloud forest and its caves, following up on work performed by Drs Tim Hatten and Philip Tanimoto in December, 2012 when they first descended into Dragon Cave. They entered Dragon Cave and explored deeper, finding beautiful speleothems including helical stalactites (helictites), popcorn, soda straws, curtains, flow stone, and stalagmites. A small stream flowed through. Based upon known cave locations, we estimate that 5,000 caves dot the cloud forest of Cerro El Amay.
New publication by Knut Eisermann, Claudia Avendano, and Philip Tanimoto: Birds of the Cerro El Amay Important Bird Area, Quiche, Guatemala. Cotinga 34:81-93.
Tierra Blanca: We established a native tree nursery project with a private land owner who went on to reforest a large area near the village of Caracol with the pine trees we grew. As of 2016, these trees had grown to a height of 15 feet!
La Gloria: In this village of 450 mostly indigenous residents, we completed a native tree nursery of Ocote pines (Pinus oocarpa) and Cedars (Cedrela odorata). As a result, we have begun reforesting an overgrazed buffer zone along the beautiful, clear Satan River. We have also provided forest protection signs that declare the forests of La Gloria a protected area where illegal timber cutting is not permitted.
Carrizal Spring School: With the help of volunteer students and teachers, we funded the construction of a tree nursery on the school grounds. It was a resounding success and the seedlings were planted to restore forest to damaged watersheds.
Laj Chimel: In the small village of Laj Chimel, we started a community nursery, where we have been growing thousands of native pines and endangered Guatemalan fir (Abies guatemalensis) trees. Here, we have also established the first flower nursery in the area. Chrysanthemums are widely used for ceremonies and decorations.
Asociacion de Desarrollo Integral de Chimel (ASODICH) nursery: Working with the indigenous Mayan association, we founded a native tree nursery of tens of thousands of pines, cedars, alders, and fir trees. The seedlings were distributed to association members to reforest damaged watersheds.
Basket Making Workshop: We organized an inter-community workshop on basket construction using native mimbre (a wild philodendron in the genus, Monstera) roots from the cloud forest. This was the first time that the villagers of La Gloria and Laj Chimel had ever collaborated, even though they are situated near each other. Contact us if you would like to purchase a pair of nested mimbre baskets. You will not find them anywhere else!
Forest insect survey, 2012. Dr. Timothy Hatten of Invertebrate Ecology, Inc., worked with us and conducted several days of field collecting for insects in the cloud forest. We conducted this research with the collaboration of Dr. Jack Schuster at Universidad del Valle de Guatemala. In this process, we expect to find new species of insects as well as new populations of Passalid beetles.
Forest Amphibian Surveys, 2012 and 2013. With the collaboration of Universidad del Valle de Guatemala, Lic. Alejandra Zamora surveyed the amphibians of Cerro El Amay. In the process, she discovered a population of the critically endangered (according to the IUCN) Guatemalan spike thumb frog (Plectrohyla guatemalensis) in addition to other species in the genus, Craugastor.
Forest composition Study, 2012. We completed the first ever study of forest composition and size distribution at Cerro El Amay. This project was completed by our board member, Dr. Luis Merino. We hope this is the first of many research components at Cerro El Amay, where we hope to conduct additional studies.
December 2011. Dr. Timothy Hatten joined Dr. Tanimoto and led a survey of cloud forest arthropods. With the endorsement of Dr. Jack Schuster from the Biodiversity Research Laboratory at Universidad del Valle de Guatemala (UVG), they collected hundreds of insect specimens for later identification at UVG. Drs. Hatten and Tanimoto made the first ever technical descent into any of the caves of the karstic Cerro El Amay. This cave, which is situated at 1,700 meters beside the Tierra Linda Trail, is filled with beautiful formations. It was later named Dragon Cave for one of the odd stalactites found inside.
January 2010. Elias Barrera and Dr. Tanimoto were led by indigenous guides, Juan Chivalan Ramirez and Virgilio Castro, through the cloud forests of San Pedro La Esperanza in a search for the Horned Guan. Elevations up to approximately 2,240 meters were surveyed. Although the habitat appeared suitable, no Horned Guans are detected. Some large caves were noted but not entered. Pedro Chipel joined us for part of the excursion.
June 2009. The Cloud Forest Conservation Initiative was established! Underwritten by a small grant from the U.S. State Department Fulbright Program, we established our organization beginning with two community programs. At the village of La Gloria, we made a good-will donation of $2,000 and began collaborating with villagers on several fronts. We donated a birding field guide and binoculars, enabling the villagers to hone their guiding skills. We donated vinyl and metal signs that instructed visitors to conserve the forest and its wildlife, and to put trash in its place.
An account of our Initial visit to Cerro El Amay, February 2008.
After making extensive arrangements by e-mail, Dr. Tanimoto drove his private vehicle to Guatemala from the United States to conduct a survey for the Horned Guan (Oreophasis derbianus) at Cerro Amay. He was endorsed by Sergio Vasquez, Director of the Solola Regional Office (Altiplano Central) of Guatemalan Protected Areas Council (CONAP), and assisted by biologist Ronaldo Cardenas. Dr. Tanimoto hired the late Hugo Haroldo Enriquez Toledo as a birding guide. We were assisted by Elias Barrera in Uspantán, Quiché Department, for logistical help. At Uspantán, they were joined by Ovidio Yat Sacul, an indigenous leader of the village of La Gloria, in a remote part of Guatemala called La Zona Reyna.
Arriving at La Gloria, we were told that no American had ever visited this town of 442 inhabitants. With the addition of Jose Caal Maxx and several other community members, we spent 3 days and nights camping in the cloud forest searching for the Horned Guan, without detecting the species. Elevations searched were as high as 2,100 meters above sea level--the highest point of land under La Gloria ownership. During this wilderness trek, we observed our first margay (Felis weidii) at Cerro Amay. This secretive spotted cat is uniquely adapted for life in the trees (where we observed it), where it hunts nocturnally for birds, squirrels, ringtails, and other possible prey.
Subsequently, we traveled to the village of Laj Chimel, where village leader Pedro Us served as our back country guide. Two days were spent searching for the Horned Guan above Laj Chimel as high as 2,500-2,600 meters asl. We did not observe the Horned Guan. Poaching of ancient timber was noted.
The expeditions of 2008 were the impetus behind the establishment of CFCI.
Sadly, Ronaldo Cardenas died in 2009 from influenza, and Hugo Enriquez Toledo died in a one-car accident in 2015 while driving on the ice-covered Trans-American Highway.