Species PlantsBirds MammalsAmphibians Reptiles Freshwater fish

FAO (2004) 8000 669* 250 112 209 230

CEPF (2004) 8681 738 25 112 231

Endemic species

% endemism 14.64 075 160 35.71 909 11.74

*204 are migratory birds

BOX 1: Unsustainable use of pinabete, a threatened flagship species

Pinabete (Abies guatemalensis), a fir, is found in several departments in the east and west of Guatemala along the volcanic chain, in montane forests over 2500 m. The species is listed in Appendix 1 of CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora).

During December, pinabete suffers from uncontrolled cutting of the branches for use as Christmas trees. Regeneration of the species is naturally low, due to the small number of cones produced and the poor viability of the seeds. Cone production occurs in December, coinciding with the branch cutting. The practice thus considerably reduces the reproductive capacity of the species. Because of high demand for the branches and the multiple damage done to many trees at some sites, it has disappeared from some areas (Lopez 1999).

TABLE 2: Annual rate of deforestation in Guatemala (km2)

Year Area deforested (km2/year)

TABLE 2: Annual rate of deforestation in Guatemala (km2)

Year Area deforested (km2/year)

1977

637

1983

600

1989

556

1990

600-900

1993

900

1997

900

Apart from altering the ecological equilibrium, this forest destruction is threatening many species of trees and shrubs with extinction. Species such as Abies guatemalensis, Podocarpus oleifolius, Cedrela odorata, Swietenia humilis, Swietenia macrophylla and others are now considered threatened.

Many of the threats to Guatemala's forest are related to increasing human population and the unequal distribution of land, which forces poor farmers to view forests as a source of agricultural land. Population density has reached more than 300 people per km2 in many zones of the Altiplano, resulting in a drastic increase in land use, with conversion of forest into agricultural land, cattle ranches and human settlements. The majority of the population use firewood for cooking and heat, leading to additional pressure on the country's forest resources.

Guatemala has suffered from a lack of appreciation of the importance of forest genetic resources and their contribution to the struggle against poverty and hunger (Shimizu & Vivero 2004). The result is that the conservation and utilization of forests have not been viewed as strategic elements in the economic and social development of Guatemala. However, it appears that this perception is starting to change. In a recent report, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) positioned the forestry sector as one of the four sectors to spur economic growth and human development (PNUD 2003), and INAB, jointly with the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Food (MAGA) and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), released a policy paper in 2005 on how forest resources contribute to food security and poverty alleviation (INAB 2005).

The principal processes that affect forests in Guatemala are listed below. While several of these anthropogenic disturbances may be compatible with forest and tree conservation if managed well, in reality the impact is all too often negative.

i) Shifting agriculture (slash and burn). This process, combined with the increasing population and the opening-up of areas with roads, is producing fragmentation of the forest, a reduction in the size of the forests and a loss of biodiversity.

ii) Forest fires. These provoke a loss of forest biodiversity and weakening of the trees, making them more susceptible to disease.

iii) Illegal extraction and over-exploitation of a limited range of species. This has resulted in some species being in danger of extinction in Guatemala, e.g. Swietenia macrophylla (mahogany), Cedrela odorata (cedar) and Abies guatemalensis (pinabete). There are two types of illegal extraction: firstly, the extraction of species with high market value, both nationally and internationally (e.g. Cedrela odorata and Swietenia macrophylla); secondly, the extraction of timber by rural communities for local use, most commonly conifer species such as Pinus strobus and Pinus ayacahuite. iv) Use of fuelwood. Wood remains the principal energy source in Guatemala, although the percentage of the population reliant on fuelwood has decreased in the past few years.

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