Iliniza Cloud Forest

A lush realm of biodiversity draped in mist, where verdant foliage thrives amidst swirling clouds, offering a sanctuary for diverse flora and fauna.

The cloud forest near Black Sheep Inn is part of The Iliniza Ecological Reserve.  The reserve was declared by INEFAN in 1996.  Within its 149,900 hectares are the Iliniza Twin Peaks, Laguna Quilotoa and a huge tract of Cloud Forest (Andean Humid Forest).  The western cordillera is the last mountain range before the Andes unfold, dropping over 10,000 feet to the Pacific lowlands.  This high altitude jungle is a unique eco-system and home to diverse flora and fauna.  We have a reasonably complete Bird List for western facing Ecuadorian cloud forests.

You can hike or horseback ride to the cloud forest from Black Sheep Inn in about two hours each way, a beautiful route that takes you over the high paramó and puts you at the top of the sea of clouds.

The Ecuadorian National Park Service (INEFAN) declared the area an Ecological Reserve, yet there is still minimal education and no controls.  Recently they have posted a few signs that indicate some of the borders of the reserve. Many people who own property or live in this area don’t even know that it is a reserve.  There are large tracts of old growth, but deforestation here in Ecuador, as well as globally, stretches further and further.  We hope that with some outside help this Cloud Forest can be preserved for future generations.

Proposal for Preserving the Iliniza Ecological Reserve

The Problem

For more than 20 years we have been looking at ways to best preserve the unique and beautiful forests of the Iliniza Ecological Reserve.  While the Reserve is technically protected wilderness, there are little effective plans in place to maintain this unique environment.  (Updated 2010)

Proposal for Preserving Iliniza Ecological Reserve

We, Michelle Kirby and Andres Hammerman, have lived in Chugchilan since 1994 and have witnessed the exponential destruction of the Iliniza Ecological Reserve.  We can honestly say that of the cloud forest that we first encountered back in 1995, 70% has been destroyed. 

We have come up with steps for work within the Iliniza Ecological Reserve.  We have never done this type of conservation work before, so it is very likely that we are missing some steps or plans of action.  Our objective would be to preserve the forest and provide an alternative way of life for the pioneers who, for economic reasons, are forced to exploit the forest in what is clearly a non-sustainable way.  We would be happy to hear advice and experience from you.

Priorities for this conservation program would be community education and economic alternatives.  There also must be a number of surveys and research projects started before such conservation efforts can be effective.  We need to know what we are dealing with, first hand.

The reserve is very large- 149,000 hectares (357,600 acres), which means each of the projects are also large.  It would be good to start these projects in a small section of the reserve and then expand.  This list of projects could be augmented and prioritized differently.

Survey of Property Ownership
It is important to know who has legal rights within the reserve.  An in-depth study utilizing information from the Registry of Property surrounding and within the reserve is needed.  Interviews of people who live in or near the reserve are necessary.  It is important to inform property owners personally and in writing of restrictions that exist concerning their land.  It would also be good to know which properties are for sale.  This work would necessitate 1-2 people working full time for 2-3 months perhaps with a vehicle for the initial survey.  The data collected would need to be updated yearly.

Educative Programs
The Iliniza Ecological Reserve was established in December 1996, and still many people who live within the boundaries of the reserve do not know what this “reserve” signifies.  Educative programs in the local schools and communities defining the reserve and helping people understand the benefits and regulations of a natural area are long overdue.  If one person visited 5-6 schools a week, it would take 2 months to reach to all the schools that are either within the reserve and/or very close to the reserve.  It would be great to have a full-time person with materials and the ability to travel from school to school doing educational projects.  This work would necessitate 1-2 people with transportation, ongoing.

Currently, there are about 6-8 misplaced signs for the entire 149,000 hectares announcing that one is near the reserve.  Posting signs that delineate the boundaries of the reserve is a logical and necessary step.  Signs containing the following information: name of the reserve, size of the reserve, local authority, and perhaps a simple list of rules, regulations and restrictions would at least emphasize the existence of the Reserve.  Signs are meant to heighten awareness among the local communities that they live and or work in a protected area.  This work would necessitate 1-2 people working for 2 months, with vehicle.  Signs would also need to be maintained.

Sustainable Alternatives
The cloud forest is being destroyed by local people due to poor economic conditions.  People do not have much of an alternative, and are selling the wood or charcoal in order to feed and clothe their families.  Starting sustainable alternative incomes for the local people is extremely important.  These alternative projects need to be well organized, thought out, fairly administered, and initially funded.  Below is a list of some ideas for alternative income.

— Collecting Fees from Tourists

— Setting up a small Shelter/Hotel to receive Tourists within the Cloud Forest

— Marmalade Production from both Wild Blueberries and Raspberries

— Wild Herb Production

— Cooperative of Alpaca Herders

— Training Locals to be Forest Guides

— Trail Building

— Reforestation with Native Tree Species

Wildlife Survey and Study
The main purpose of a reserve is preserve habitat for wildlife.  Currently there are at least 5 endangered bird species living within the reserve.  It is important to maintain statistics on these animals and to research animal ecology and ecosystems.  An ongoing wildlife study and survey is extremely important.  The implementation of this survey would provide a base for further research.  This work would necessitate1-2 trained people working full time.

Patrols and Controls
Of course in a reserve this size, it will be hard to keep track of what is going on.  Some organization needs to check permits, and verify their authenticity, and penalize people who are breaking the law.  It is currently illegal to cut trees and take out wood as boards or firewood from the cloud forest.  Without patrolling the forest to make sure there is compliance with the established regulations the exploitation continues daily.

We here at the Black Sheep Inn do not know where to turn.  Our experience with INEFAN has been nothing more than one big headache.  We have worked with Peace Corps Volunteers in hopes of starting education programs, but very little has happened so far.  We need support from an experienced organization.  How do you save a forest?  How do you do so without upsetting the local communities needs and expectations?

Related Destinations

Local Indigenous Markets

Andean tradition thrives in this area and local markets provide many opportunities to observe how people have been trading for thousands of years

Local People

Traditional techniques of farming, building and animal husbandry are still in use.

Cheese Factory – in the high paramó

Local people were unable to transport fresh milk to the larger cities, the project built a cheese factory using Swiss techniques

Iliniza Cloud Forest

A lush realm of biodiversity draped in mist, where verdant foliage thrives amidst swirling clouds, offering a sanctuary for diverse flora and fauna.

Chinalo Furniture Workshop

About two kilometers down the road from Black Sheep Inn is the community of Chinalo, where the Don Bosco Mission is located.

Canyon Plateau

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Rio Toachi Canyon

A spectacular testament to the forces of nature, etched deep into the heart of Ecuador’s terrain, enchants with its vast expanse and rugged grandeur, inviting exploration and contemplation

Ilinizas Twin Peaks

The iconic twin peaks stand as a breathtaking geological marvel, captivating adventurers and scientists alike with their rugged beauty and unique formation.

Cotopaxi Volcano

Iconic Andean volcano, Cotopaxi, stands sentinel with its snow-capped peak, symbolizing both beauty and danger.

Laguna Quilotoa

Lake Quilotoa is a beautiful volcanic crater lake located at 3800 meters (12,400 feet) between the towns of Zumbahua and Chugchilán.