Coffee vs. Conservation

Field Report #5
Location: Buenos Aires

Conservation zones are often in regions that are difficult to access and have been so for a very long time. If they were more accessible, people would already have been there, leaving their footprints, and there would be less worth conserving. So it is with Cusuco. Cusuco is challenging terrain both by foot and by vehicle.

Buenos Aires is the closest town to Cusuco. It’s the lowest “camp”. By camp I mean we eat three meals a day in a restaurant and stay with local families. But we still do science, though it’s a longer trek to the reseaarch areas than from the other camps. The area immediately around the town is a mix of fragmented forests, small holdings comprised predominately of coffee plantations with occasional plantain, yucca, or corn, but mostly coffee.

As a result of Opwall’s presence, I suspect the economy has grown. It seems people typically make $1-2/day growing coffee, but working for Opwall brings in significantly more. Muchulados (sherpas) make $8/day, cooks make about $10/day, guides can make up to $15/day. This year as well, any locally employed people receive healthcare as well.

The other day, Chip and I finished up our birding with a trip to the school. It was highly productive visit for Chip who has been working here for a number of years. He’d like to see more conservation efforts and was investigating the possibility of using the school as a cafe with hummingbird and oriole feeders to increase tourism in the park. While there we also learned of a NGO that was working on reforestation with a number of species being started on the school grounds. Unfortunately, the school and its students aren’t involved, but it’s a promising enterprise.

As I mentioned previously, initially the local people were eager to bring specimens to the camp. While that practice has been stopped, people have changed their behaviors due to Opwall. Since Opwall arrived 11 years ago, there has been a local movement to grow shade grown coffee. Many of the science staff (non-Honduran) here are outright skeptical about it, but from digging a little further, it seems that shade-grown is a recent phenomenon. People in town have gone as far as forming a cooperative. I am not entirely sure whether people are attempting to reintroduce cloud forest trees into their fields or if they are continuing to expand the plantations into the forest. I suspect it is a bit of both. Regardless, there is a wide range of shade in the shade grown coffee fields.

Every day, there is coffee served twice a day. Locally sourced coffee, which means for better or for worse Opwall is supporting some level of deforestation as they fight to conserve the forests.

Some of the most foundational work is done by the Habitat team. They use the same sites year after year where they measure changes to the forest. Louis and I helped out with the Habitat surveys our last day in BA. We did the bird work on the way out and habitat work on the way in. We were responsible for measuring the girth of all the trees within the plots with a dbh greater than 15cm. Rick did some other measurements including vegetation density, canopy coverage, and tree height. Some of these sites fall in coffee plantations. Some years the scientists return to find the sites have been replaced by coffee plantations. It’s a measurement of the human impact on this remote forest.

Fields and forest surrounding Buenos Airess. Cusuco National Park, Honduras. Photo taken June 25, 2015.

Fields and forest surrounding Buenos Airess. Cusuco National Park, Honduras. Photo taken June 25, 2015.

Team Bird Unite

Field report #1: Base Camp
Days 1-12.

June 6 – Day 1 – Arrived in at Cusuco National Park in Honduras where I will be operating as an Ornithologist for the summer field season. Currently seven of the ten team members are present. The final three will be arriving during week 2. Broke my smaller, lens upon arrival when my bag spilled open. Bugger.

June 8- Day 3 – Learning mostly by ear than by sight. Can only keep a few species in my head at a time as my head is quite muddled. Came down with what I thought were allergies that transformed into a fever and sore throat. I’m going birding anyway.

June 9 – Day 4 – Overdid it. Lost my voice. Now have laryngitis. Still birding.

June 10 – Day 5 – It’s raining an awful lot for the dry season.

June 13 – Day 8 – Project developed. I’ll be exploring three additional methods in my research (incidental camera trapping, nocturnal point counts/transects, and opportunistic sightings). I’ve been working with the ornithology team lead, the biodiversity coordinator and the stats team to develop a sound and exciting project. (I hope). The goal is to figure out the relative amount of time to pursue each method to rapidly inventory the avifauna of an biologically unknown cloud forest.

June 14 – Day 9 – Voice returned, then I lost it again.

June 16 – Day 11 – Training is over. Tomorrow the team splits and the real work begins. I’ll be spending the week (week 2 per the official schedule) in Base Camp running the lectures and completing point counts and opportunistic sightings.

June 17 – Day 12 – Teams have departed to Capuco, Guanales, and Cantiles – various camps throughout the park.

 Bird team and associates during an early season practice season. Louie (1), Rob (2), Kate (5), and Jack (6) showing birds to Jordan (3), Sophie (4), and Brittany (7). People numbered from left to right. Cusuco, National Park, Honduras. June 12, 2015.

Bird team and associates during an early season practice season. Louie (1), Rob (2), Kate (5), and Jack (6) showing birds to Jordan (3), Sophie (4), and Brittany (7). Peopled numbered from left to right. Cusuco, National Park, Honduras. June 12, 2015.

* Note: While in the field I will have no access to most social media, including facebook, twitter, and google+.