Northern Arizona University, Reserva Panamaes, Pro Eco Azuero, Smithsonian Institute
We work in the wet tropics of the Panama Canal Zone, the dry tropics of the Azuero Peninsula, and the coastal mangrove forests of Chiriqui. Over one thousand tree species, forests filled with the loud chorus of Howler monkeys, the beauty and diversity of beetles and butterflies, and the slow-moving mysterious sloths and anteaters, Panamanian forests are among the most diverse in the western hemisphere, only topped by the Amazon.
Indigenous managed forests, the urban jungle of Panama and Colon, and immense variation in between. While lots of agricultural lands with history of grazing and clear-cutting is being abandoned, forest dwellers of indigenous roots hold fast and oversee vast tracts of pristine tropical forests. Our partner NGO, Pro Eco Azuero, works with rural land-owners and schools to guide people in sustainable land-use and reforestation. After 15 years of educative programming, children that were once part of the school program are now managing landscapes and making different decisions than their parents – e.g., they are planting trees in areas that have been kept clear of trees for 400 years. Springs are returning, and water availability for urban use is increasing.
Our work focuses on monitoring of a 60,000-tree experimental reforestation planting in southern Panama. We are working to predict how longer dry seasons will impact different tree species and the invertebrate communities that they support. We also worked to train fifteen project managers of a 180,000-tree planting near Colon. These managers were trained in logistical efficiency, from mapping and planting unit creation, GPS and compass-use, tree planting techniques, and site preparation methods.
In addition, we are working in Chiriqui Province to bring funding to a mangrove restoration project in an area that has been heavily invaded by weeds and no longer has potential to naturally regenerate. We have an opportunity to plant 100,000 trees per year with local communities that depend, in part, on the health of these mangrove ecosystems to support thriving local fisheries.