You are here

"Clandestine Cattle and Community Forestry: Unraveling the Conservation Paradox in Guatemala's Maya Biosphere Reserve" VIDEO Recording by Jennifer Devine, Latin American Studies Program (LASP) Seminar Series on 6 March


Jennifer Devine, Geography, Texas State University

A spatial paradox characterizes 25 years of conservation in Guatemala’s Maya Biosphere Reserve.  In the western half of the 8,300 square mile reserve, high deforestation rates plague national parks with strict land use regulations.  By contrast, deforestation rates are much lower in the eastern half of the reserve home to community forestry, but conservation outcomes between the 12 community concessions are highly uneven.  My research asks: what dynamics are driving deforestation in the strictest areas of conservation in the reserve?  And, what factors explain the unequal conservation outcomes defining community forestry?  Unraveling this puzzle using ethnographic and remote sensing methods illuminates the role drug trafficking and “narco cattle ranching” play in environmental degradation in Central America’s protected areas, and thus, the inseparable links between conservation and drug policy in the Americas. Furthermore, I argue the remaining forest cover in the Maya Biosphere’s east reflects twenty years of successful, albeit uneven, community forestry efforts that illuminate the political possibilities and challenges of community based resource management. Rather than blaming reserve residents for forest concession “failures,” as many stakeholders do, I illustrate how drug trafficking threatens the sustainability of community forestry in the reserve and how issues of impunity, insecurity and inequality in the rest of the region dramatically impact the protected area’s ecologies.

Jennifer A. Devine is an assistant professor of geography at Texas State University. Her research and teaching interests include US-Latin American geo-politics, community-led resource management, drug policy and impacts in the Americas, grassroots development and critical social theory. She received a PhD degree in geography from the University of California, Berkeley, in 2013. She has published and forthcoming articles in Latin American Research Review, the Journal of Peasant Studies, Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, Antipode, the Journal of Sustainable Tourism, and L’Espace Politique.