There is an urgent need to support tropical forests to prevent their conversion into pasture and cropland — and to develop practical and tangible sourcing models that are economically, socially, and environmentally sustainable. The Brooklyn Bridge Forest — a delineated area of tropical forest in Guatemala — will be a landmark forest protection model, generating wood for the Brooklyn Bridge Promenade in perpetuity creating a first-of-its kind partnership between a major city and a forest of global ecological and cultural significance.
The most promising site for the Brooklyn Bridge Forest is the Uaxactún (pronounced "wa-shak-toon") Community Forest in Guatemala, a country known for its biological and cultural diversity. The community of Uaxactún currently protects about 200,000 acres of rainforest — an area as large as all five boroughs of New York City combined, which sits within the vast Maya Biosphere Reserve, a 6- million acre protected area (larger than the entire state of New Jersey). A sprawling rainforest at the heart of the ancient Mayan civilization, the reserve is home to jaguars, countless species of birds, and an extraordinary diversity of trees, plants, and insects.
The communities in and around Uaxactún live in the forest and have a longstanding agreement with the Guatemalan government: As long as the communities protect the forest, the government must respect the communities’ right to use the forest sustainably. Under this "community concession" system, the people of Uaxactún harvest fruit, medicinal and ornamental plants, chicle (a natural chewing gum), and a limited amount of timber: These activities are conducted under the careful watch of the Guatemalan government, the Wildlife Conservation Society, and a global forest monitoring group called the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC).
Under this long-term management plan, timber is harvested from a different portion of the 200,000-acre forest - 1 tree per acre every 40 years - using small-scale equipment and replanting trees in clearings and along roads. The communities’ low-impact timber harvesting provides jobs as well as resources for health and education. These opportunities in turn have given the communities a long-term stake in protecting the forest. Community-patrols defend the forest from the numerous threats in the Maya Biosphere Reserve, including wildfires, illegal logging and hunting, and in recent years, cattle ranching operations linked to international drug traffickers.
By sourcing from Uaxactún, New York City could support this forest-community in its proud tradition of forest protection, while obtaining durable and sustainably -sourced timber that will soon be needed to replace the Brooklyn Bridge Promenade. The funds raised through sponsorship would provide the community and its conservation partners with the resources they need to protect the forest for years to come.
Recent articles on rainforest conservation in the Americas:
A sprawling rainforest at the heart of the ancient Mayan civilization, the reserve is home to jaguars, countless species of birds, and an amazing diversity of trees, plants, and insects.
Maya Biosphere Reserve in northern Guatemala. The Uaxactún forest, shown in red, covers the same acreage as NYC's five boroughs combined.
Concept map showing 5,000 acres superimposed on Manhattan. Brooklyn Bridge Forest will protect a rainforest 40 times this size.
A jaguar caught on hidden camera in WCS wildlife research program.
Uaxactún village and community forest concession
The Uaxactún forest will become a global refuge that is jointly watched over by international sponsors, scientists, and ordinary citizens around the world.
Aerial view Uaxactún community.