Nicaragua is the largest state in Latin America with over 130,000 km2 and approximately one-fifth of the land designated as protected area, including national parks, nature reserves, and biological reserves. Nicaragua falls within the tropics and is bordered by the Pacific to the west and the Caribbean Sea to the east. The country has three distinct geographical areas: the hot Pacific lowlands, with the most inhabitants, consisting of broad, fertile plains as well as beaches home to endangered turtles; the North-Central Highlands with a comparably cooler climate and much of the country’s agriculture; and lastly, the Atlantic lowlands, home to the Bosawás Biosphere Reserve, a vast stretch of rainforest abundant with endemic flora and fauna and rich with biodiversity.
Nicaragua’s export economy depends heavily upon agriculture, especially cash crops such as coffee, bananas, sugar, tobacco and beef.. However, one of its most important industries is tourism, which has seen a rapid increase in the last few years.
What are the threats to forest in Nicaragua?
As in many developing countries, land conversion for agriculture and livestock grazing has led to vast deforestation in Nicaragua. Some estimate that up to 75 percent of Nicaraguan forests have already been transformed into crop and pasture land and at least 50 percent of that deforestation has occurred since 1950. Increased pressure for domestic and export agriculture goods has led to detrimental clearing of forests. This deforestation places the country at greater risks for negative consequences from tropical storms, as seen by Hurricane Mitch in 1998. The severe floods and landslides during and after the storm, in both Honduras and Nicaragua, occurred mainly in regions with steep slopes that had been denuded of their forest cover.
Increased deforestation is also depleting the habitat of many species of plants and wildlife. As of 2001, four of the nation's mammal species were endangered, as were three bird species and 29 plant species. Endangered or extinct species in Nicaragua include the tundra peregrine falcon, four species of turtle (green sea, hawksbill, leatherback, and olive ridley), the spectacled caiman, and the American crocodile.
Additionally, pesticide and pollutant use is devastating to Nicaragua’s environment, in general, and forests, in particular. Excessive and/or ineffective use of pesticides to control malaria, along with widespread agricultural use of pesticides, has resulted in extensive environmental contamination. Pollutants have devastated water supplies, disrupting the population’s drinking supply, as well as damaging the country’s forests and wildlife.
Lastly, the exponential boost in tourism has placed increased pressure on the environment. While the sector offers vast opportunities for the economy, many current practices are not sustainable and could incur long-lasting effects to the country.
How do We Work?
The US Forest Service collaborates with the Government of Nicaragua, the US Agency for International Development (USAID), the US Department of State and local partners on a number of projects. The US Forest Service believes that it is important to work closely with our in-country partners on both the development as well as the implementation of projects. Our collaborators play an active role in all stages of planning and monitoring impacts of our projects. In this way, we can help build long-term capacity in sustainable natural resource management.
What is the Forest Service doing in Nicaragua?
The US Forest Service (USFS) works in partnership with USAID, the government of Nicaragua, and various non-governmental organizations to provide technical assistance and support to preserve Nicaragua’s rich forests, biodiversity and ecological landscape.
With funding from USAID, the USFS has provided technical assistance and other support to the Foro Miraflor, a community association of farmers, in implementing a sustainable agroforestry program in the protected area of Miraflor-Moropotente. This work includes numerous workshops on agroforestry, watershed management, integrated pest management, and soil and water conservation practices. More than 408 hectares were under improved management as a result of the first phase of this project. The USFS will expand this area and include more farmers during implementation of the second phase throughout 2009/2010.
In addition, the USFS will partner with a local university to implement a similar agroforestry project in the Tepesomoto-La Pataste Natural Reserve. Efforts will target a new community of producers to improve agroforestry practices. USFS also will provide assistance to farmers to enhance market access for new agroforestry products as well as capacity building for business planning.
The US Forest Service also supports Nicaragua’s efforts to address illegal logging and improve transparency. To date, the USFS has supported several workshops in Nicaragua in order to disseminate information about forest laws and regulations to officials from the forestry sector, lawyers, and the public. In addition, the USFS is currently writing and publishing a field identification manual for commonly traded Central American timber species for customs and other law enforcement officials. These efforts help Nicaragua meet its requirements under international treaties as well as promote improved law enforcement in forestry in order to conserve valuable natural resources for use in this and future generations.
The US Forest Service is interested in protecting migratory bird species, critical to the ecology of our forests, both at home and abroad. Nicaragua has been identified as a key wintering spot for the endangered Golden Cheeked Warbler; however, their habitat has been threatened by the advancing agricultural frontier and unregulated logging. The USFS has partnered with the Nature Conservancy and others to design interventions to help protect the Golden Cheeked Warbler and its habitat.
Lastly, USFS is initiating a natural resource based sustainable ecotourism project in neighboring communities of the Chacocente Wildlife Refuge. Sustainable ecotourism can be an excellent mechanism for conservation and improving social and economic conditions if implemented properly. The USFS will partner with a local NGO to train local community members on recreation management and environmental interpretation while at the same time building business and entrepreneurship skills.
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