Article | 07 Juil, 2020

Joint efforts to fight forest fires in the largest tropical forest in Mesoamerica

Since 2018, the state institutions responsible for managing the protected areas of the Selva Maya have strengthened their technical capacities in order to protect the natural and cultural resources of this forest massif.

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Incendio atendido por la CONANP y el Belize Forest Department en la zona fronteriza entre Guatemala y México en la Selva Maya.

Photo: © CONANP

Selva Maya, July 7, 2020 (IUCN). The Selva Maya Maya is considered the second largest tropical forest in America only after the Amazon, extending over Belize, northern Guatemala, and southeastern Mexico. It is a strategic block hosting an extraordinary diversity of endemic and endangered species, as well as important historical and cultural heritage sites of global importance. Thus the interest of the Government of Germany, through the German Development Bank (KfW), to finance the Selva Maya Natural Resources Protection project implemented by IUCN. This project aims to support the institutions of protected areas of the three governments, to fight forest fires that every year affect the region during the dry season.

Firefighting is Belize, photograph captured with one of the drones acquired through the Project. Firefighting is Belize, photograph captured with one of the drones acquired through the Project. Photo: © Belize Forest Department
The project, implemented by the IUCN Regional Office for Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean, is part of the Selva Maya program of the German Cooperation. Its primary objective is to maintain the ecosystem functions and cultural values ​​of this tropical forest, in order to promote the well-being of its people and offer environmental services of global importance. Among the activities identified to obtain its objective is the prevention and control of forest fires; activities which are implemented through state institutions that are responsible for managing the protected areas: In Belize, the Forest Department of the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, Belize Fisheries, Environment and Sustainable Development (MAFFESD); in Guatemala, the National Council of Protected Areas (CONAP – as per the Spanish acronym); and in Mexico, the National Commission for Natural Protected Areas (CONANP - as per the Spanish acronym).

The three entities have units dedicated to fight forest fires, which attend each emergency with dedication. Since 2018, they have benefited from the Project with different actions to strengthen technical capacities and with equipment, to protect the natural and cultural resources of the Selva Maya. Of importance is the implementation of trainings in topics such as first aid, fire control and management, use of technological tools for remote monitoring, among others. The Project also works on the application of Ecosystem-based Adaptation (EbA) practices and on improving productive practices and implementation of rural landscape restoration strategies aiming to improve the connectivity among protected areas. This objective is integrated into others such as the improvement of management effectiveness of the protected areas and the strengthening of coordination between Belize, Guatemala and Mexico for the sustainable use of the Selva Maya.

Concrete actions have been carried out that show the importance of regional coordination between the institutions, such as the joint efforts between CONAP and the FD to respond to emergencies using technologies for monitoring hot spots, and calculation of the fire scars at the end of the fire season.

Another example occurred in April of this year, where it was possible to completely eliminate the flames of a forest fire that spread over 37.5 hectares between the Calakmul Biosphere Reserve in Mexico and the Mirador-Río Azul National Park (25 hectares in guatemalan territory and 17.5 in mexican soil), thanks to the collaborative work between both governments.

The regional coordination is one of the greatest efforts of the Selva Maya Program aiming towards strengthening of the Strategic Coordination Group (GEC – as per the Spanish acronym) and the Operational Group of Trinational Coordination of the Selva Maya (GOC - as per the Spanish acronym). The GEC is composed of high-level regional representatives of the institutions responsible for the protection and conservation of protected areas acting as a platform for political awareness and decision-making; while the GOC is made up of the directors and deputy directors of the protected areas of the Selva Maya.

For more information contact: Adriana González, Communication Officer,