JAMES NATIONS is Conservation International's Vice President for Mexico and Central America. He holds a Ph.D. from Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas. Over the past 15 years, he has worked for conservation of tropical ecosystems in Mexico, Central America, and South America. For three years, he lived among the Lacandon Maya in Chiapas, Mexico. He studied alternatives to deforestation in Central America for two years as a Tinker Foundation postdoctoral fellow. He also lived in Guatemala for three years as a Fulbright Researcher and advisor to Guatemala's National council for Protected Areas, where his work was instrumental in the government's decision to establish the tree million acre Maya Biosphere Reserve. His research has focused on the interface between human communities and protected areas, specifically sustainable development, frontier agriculture, population dynamics, and human exploitation of tropical forests.
This presentation analyzes a series of trends that characterize the relationship between traditional communities and biological diversity in the Maya Tropical Forest of southern Mexico and northern Central America. The Maya Tropical Forest stretches from eastern Chiapas, across the Guatemalan Peten, into the nation of Belize. A traditional Maya territory for thousands of years, the region is currently experiencing rapid deforestation, oil exploration, logging, and colonization by both indigenous and Ladino populations.
Here, I focus on reactions of the traditional and indigenous peoples of the region, including ethnic revival movements, new political organizations, and the push for a Maya state. Faced with threats to cultural integrity and biological infrastructure from both outside forces and indigenous cousins, the region's communities are captured in a paradox that pits regional economic integration against raising ethnic awareness. The presentation offers an action plan for the conservation of the cultural and biological diversity of the Maya Tropical Forest.
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