World Land Trust (WLT) is supporting conservation efforts to protect the biodiversity and watershed of the tropical forest of Güisayote in western Honduras. Güisayote lies in the Trifinio Region, at the meeting point of three countries, Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala.
How WLT is helping
WLT is funding a Keeper of the Wild (Carlos Ardón) to work in Güisayote Reserve.
WLT is also providing advice and guidance to build AESMO’s capacity. For example, WLT co-funded an exchange visit in June 2013, which enabled a group of AESMO representatives to visit conservation organisation FUNDAECO in neighbouring Guatemala.
To date few biological surveys have been carried out within Güisayote Biological Reserve. However, it is known that the reserve and surrounding forests are important habitat for Puma (Puma concolor), Jaguarundi (Felis yagouaroundi), Common Opossum (Didelphis marsupialis), Spider Monkey (Ateles geoffroyi), White-lipped Peccary (Tayassu pecari) and Nine-banded Armadillo (Dasypus novemcinctus), Spotted Paca (Agouti paca), Northern Raccoon (Procyon lotor), White-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus).
Bird species found in this area include Chachalaca (Ortalis vetula), Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis), and Quetzal (Pharomachrus mocinno).
The area is extremely important for the conservation of amphibians in particular the Honduras White-lipped Frog (Leptodactylus silvanimbus). This species is found only in the Department of Ocotepeque in extreme western Honduras, at elevations of 1,470-2,000 metres above sea level, and is classified as critically endangered by the IUCN Red List. The area is also likely to be home to Cerro Pital Salamander (Bolitoglossa synoria). Critically endangered, this salamander is native to Honduras and El Salvador, and has been recorded at the nearby El Pital Biological Reserve.
The mixed forest consists predominantly of broadleaf species and a mix of hardwoods and conifers such as Liquidambar (Liquidambar styraciflua), commonly called sweetgum. Oak and pine are recorded at lower altitudes than the broadleaf forest.
Trees include: Mountain Oak (Quercus skinneri), Mountain Cypress (Podocarpus guatemalensis), Saurauria species, Oreopanx xalapensis, Clusia species, and Calatola laevigata.
Smaller plants included bromeliads, orchids, araceas, ferns (tree ferns, in particular), mosses, lianas and vines.
Threats to the tropical forest of the Trifinio region
Güisayote was declared a Biological Reserve in 1987, which is the strictest category within the protected areas network in Honduras. Despite its status, the reserve is threatened by building, deforestation and mining - although recent proposals to establish mines to extract gold, silver and other precious metals were rejected following strong opposition from communities, municipalities, AESMO and other sectors of civil society.
Güisayote covers 34,594 acres (14,000 hectares), but 90 per cent of this area is in private hands and vulnerable to exploitation. Thanks to funding raised by IUCN NL and the Dutch Postcode Lottery, some land within the reserve was purchased by the municipalities in 2006 and 2009, but further acquisitions are essential if the area is to be fully protected.
Threats to the forest include:
- Illegal hunting
- Illegal timber harvesting
- Illegal mining
- Expansion of arable and livestock agriculture, and incursion of livestock
- Contamination of soil and water
- Forest fires
- Human activities, motocross, for example
Güisayote Biological Reserve
Güisayote Biological Reserve shares a border with El Salvador and protects dozens of mountain streams flowing into the Ulúa River (and onward into the Caribbean Sea - Atlantic Ocean) and into the Lempa River (and onward into the Pacific Ocean). The mountainous landscape of the reserve has diverse features including caves, waterfalls, natural valleys (Sensenti and Sesecapa) and viewpoints overlooking El Salvador and Guatemala. There is a mix of vegetation with trees, shrubs, bromeliads and ferns.
The reserve is protected by a team of rangers employed by the municipalities. Head Ranger and Keeper of the Wild, Carlos Ardón, is in charge of the team, which controls access to and from the reserve via a check-point and a visitor centre at the main entrance to the reserve.
Access is free for those living in the reserve and visitors are encouraged to make a voluntary donation which goes towards the management and maintenance of the reserve.
Visiting groups are accompanied by rangers, and some places are out of bounds including Laguna Verde and other parts of the core area, which is made clear to visitors before they arrive.
Conservation work in the reserve includes tree planting and reserve protection. (AESMO prioritises natural regeneration of trees on land in the core area of the reserve, but on occasion native species are planted for forest cover.) Tree planting helps the infiltration of water and improves water quality. It reduces soil erosion and also contributes to carbon sequestration. Rangers also take steps to prevent forest fires, and to restrict the unauthorised movement of livestock and people.