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A Talk on the Wild Side.

Protecting Central America’s Five Largest Wild Places: Moskitia

A view of the Moskitia region by boat. Credit: New World Trips/cc license

This week we are excited to feature a series of articles about some of the most important landscapes the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service helps to protect in Central America, that are home to an incredibly biodiverse array of wildlife. As part of “Central America Week,” we invite you to learn more about our cornerstone strategy with Wildlife Conservation Society to protect Central America’s five largest remaining wild places. We will also be spotlighting some of the charismatic species that live in these critical habitats. All of our Central America Week stories can be found here.

Ecology and economy, two systems run by separate entities, the former by nature and the latter by money, often appear set against each other like a prey and its predator. But thanks to innovative thinking and long-term landscape conservation initiatives, this notion of nature losing to the needs of people is changing, and its new identity is sustainability.

Environmental sustainability looks at the necessity of natural resource extraction for the benefit of a growing global economy and human population and discovers methods that will prevent environmental degradation so that the land will continue to produce the goods and services we depend on for life, while remaining healthy. In other words, when we take care of the land, it takes care of us.

This is why the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service funds projects in Central America that explore and initiate innovative, practical ways to assist the people of Central America in the stewardship of its natural resources for the benefit of wildlife and habitats, local communities and international global citizens.

For Central America Week, we are highlighting 5 of the largest remaining wild landscapes that we are working to protect in collaboration with the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS). One of these last wildernesses is the Moskitia, the largest protected area complex of tropical mountain moist forest north of the Amazon basin. It contains rainforest jungle, marshes, mangroves, savannas and a host of wildlife.

logoWithin its diverse ecosystems, biodiversity flourishes. The area boasts large populations of endangered species such as jaguar, giant anteater, harpy eagle, scarlet and military macaws, white-lipped peccary, spider and howler monkeys, giant anteater, Baird’s tapir and hundreds of migratory birds. Many of these indispensable species are known to only survive within these reserves and nowhere else in nature, giving it extraordinary scientific, cultural and intrinsic value.

Species Spotlight: 5 Fun Facts about Howler Monkeys

UNESCO has listed Rio Platano Biosphere Reserve of Honduras, part of Moskitia, as a World Heritage Site in Danger. The Moskitia landscape is threatened by deforestation driven by cattle ranching, oil plantations and other agricultural encroachment, with complex governance issues.

The Moskitia is also a melting pot of human culture and ancient civilizations inter-mingled between the reserves and parks. The area is home to several indigenous groups, including the Miskito, Garifuna Pech and Tawahka – each with their own unique languages, cultures and traditions.  It is a stunning example of wilderness and culture connecting and growing together. Imagine a food market, loud and brimming with chaos, colors and other worldly charm, right next to an untamed rainforest. The challenge is in assisting people to thrive by the reserves without having to illegally and unsustainably use the resources from protected areas.

For example, we focus on preventing illegal cattle ranching in protected areas like national parks and then work with ranchers around these protected areas to improve practices, including mitigating wildlife conflict and providing viable alternatives to dissuade them from illegal activities in the nature reserves.

We are also supporting efforts of the Honduran national protected areas agency to strengthen capacity for protected area governance in Rio Platano Biosphere Reserve in order to prevent illegal deforestation activities.

In Nicaragua, we supported an innovative and effective conservation template for the people living in Pearl Lagoon basin. There existed an equal emphasis on improving and protecting the natural resource base and on the development of sustainable economic activities. The project created a nexus between increased income and sustainable resource use by enabling local community members to derive an improved livelihood from their natural resources.

There is an undeniable beauty when land can flourish in such a way that people are nourished and provided for, and that is the hope for the Moskitia. We believe it is possible for the environment and economy to exhibit a mutually beneficial relationship. It is a lofty goal, but perhaps the most necessary of our time. It is our mission to find these ways and help each other to make it a lasting reality, for present and future generations.

Story by Betsy Painter, International Affairs. For more stories from Central America week, please click here.

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