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Proteak Conservation Initiative in Tabasco, Mexico

June 2011

As a business leader, landowner and leading employer in the regions in which we work, Proteak is in an ideal position to act as an instigator and facilitator for conservancy projects.   In order to formalize our efforts in this area, we have created Proteak Conservancy to spearhead our conservation and community relationship projects.  This conservancy initiative has grown naturally out of our sustainable forestry practices, in effect since the founding of Proteak in 2001.

In April 2011 Proteak Conservancy concluded an initial survey of avian conservation opportunities in Tabasco plantations. Since avian diversity is often a good indicator of overall ecological diversity and ecosystem health, consulting ecologist Jarmo Jalava made site visits to four of Proteak’s properties in the area. Jarmo’s extensive experience and expertise with neotropical avifauna facilitated the undertaking of initial surveys of bird diversity and abundance at each site, in addition to more general ecological assessments.


Results

Aplomado Falcon (source: http://www.kiwifoto.com/blog/2009/03/16/along-the-mexican-border/)

In all, 93 different species of birds (both migratory and native) were sighted during three morning visits to four separate Proteak properties. At La Estrella, 52 species of birds were found, with the most exciting being a pair of Aplomado Falcons.  This species of lowland savannahs was extirpated from its U.S. range last century and has disappeared from most of its historic Mexican range as well.  It has been subject to reintroduction programs in the U.S. (Peregrine Fund 2011).

Keel-billed Toucan (source: http://room42.wikispaces.com/Rainforest+Vegetation)

Also notable were a Keel-billed Toucan in the native riparian forest, and several flocks of White-fronted Parrots and Aztec Parakeets.  Howler Monkeys could be heard calling from the nearby mountains.  American Crocodiles have been observed in the drainage ditch that bisects the property (Torres pers. comm.).

Yellow-headed Parrot (image source: Eduardo E. Iñigo-Elias)

At El Caobas, 58 species of birds were observed, including a pair of Yellow-headed Parrots, which have been in decline in many parts of Mexico.  In fact, this species has disappeared from most of the Pacific coast of Mexico (Howell and Webb 1995).  Due to decades of trapping for the cage-bird trade as well as habitat loss, many of North America’s parrots have disappeared from large parts of their ranges.  Although Mexican laws now prohibit the capture of wild parrots, continued illegal capture is still a serious concern for remaining populations.


Summary of Species Totals by Site and General Habitat Type

Teak (15 yr old) Gmelina Forest edge & thickets Native Forest Savannah, Grassland, Field Wetlands, ponds, streams, ditches Total
C-16 11 23 27
Caobas 19 7 37 4 60
El Posito 2 12 20 30
La Estrella 12 40* 23 1 52
Composite 11 2 39 46 46 5 93

* – riparian forest at La Estrella


Recommendations

Proteak’s plantations are established on reclaimed ranch and farmlands. Although Tabasco was once host to large expanses of primary tropical forest, the region has been heavily impacted by intensive agricultural and cattle ranching activities in recent decades. For this reason, various plantations still have patches of either primary forests or native vegetation. These remnants provide ecological services and conditions needed by a wide range of species, which is why Proteak is highly interested in conserving and protecting them. By establishing commercial plantations in these areas, a favorable synergy is created to restore ecological services and enhance conditions for habitat recovery.

Despite these positive efforts, the April 2011 survey raised new challenges. This is mainly because the majority of bird species and individuals were found in areas of native vegetation (forest, thicket, edge or grassland). Only a few species appeared to be utilizing the teak and gmelina plantations.

In commercial plantations with non-native trees species, the following factors contribute to the low incidence of bird species:

  1. Non-native trees do not host invertebrates that supply food to insectivorous birds and other wildlife;
  2. Teak and gmelina do not produce fruit or seeds that are consumed by native frugivorous birds and other wildlife
  3. Plantations are monocultures, limiting habitat conditions for species that have evolved in diverse tropical forests
  4. Plantations typically have a very sparse understorey and therefore do not provide the cover required to protect wildlife from predators.

These initial surveys and observations point us toward the following recommendations that will enhance Proteak’s sustainability performance.  Specific action-steps include:

  1. Protecting remnant primary forests and incorporation of patches of primary rainforest into our planted forests.
  2. Creating or leaving a buffer strip of native forests and thickets along the edges of all rivers, streams, channels, ponds and ditches to ensure improved water quality and broaden critical habitat for a great diversity of wildlife.
  3. Leaving a buffer of native vegetation to regenerate around the perimeter of plantations.
  4. Allowing strips of habitat between existing native forest patches to regenerate naturally in order to create wildlife corridors.
  5. Confining domestic animals and controlling hunting, particularly for extinction-prone species.

The size of the area necessary for native vegetation cover or to regenerate naturally to create wildlife corridors will depend to some extent on specific conservation goals for a given site.


Next Steps

Over the next several months, Proteak Conservancy will work closely with Jarmo Jalava to develop action plans and initiate pilot “site management for biodiversity” projects at selected Proteak properties.  This will include developing a cost-effective program to monitor and compare different management strategies at the pilot sites to determine their effectiveness over the long term though establishing permanent monitoring plots where vegetation composition and bird “point counts” are undertaken on a regular basis.

These pilot programs will be analyzed and tailored for implementation at additional Proteak properties in Mexico, Costa Rica and Panama over the course of 2012.  All of our conservancy initiatives include continued work with the communities in the regions of our planted forests, critical to the sustainability and success of our long-term conservation effort.