Iliniza Cloud Forest

Efforts to protect the ecological reserve.

The Problem

For more than 10 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, no effective plans are yet in place to maintain the environment.  Please feel free to copy and forward this Proposal for Work to be Done to help The Iliniza Ecological Reserve, Cotopaxi Province, Ecuador, South America.

Proposal for Preserving Iliniza Ecological Reserve

We, Michelle Kirby and Andres Hammerman, have lived in Chugchilán 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 would contend that less than 50% of people who are destroying the forest know that they are working within a reserve.

This non-sustainable use of the forest must stop.

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 size 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 once a year. The annual update would be less time consuming.

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?

We are willing to help in whatever way we can.  We can act as a resource for local contacts steering volunteers in the right direction.  We could help people find housing.  We could keep a library of records and data collected so that there will be continuity in the various studies that are set up.  We can help with some of the local transportation, but we cannot provide a vehicle.  We could help with making and posting signs, as long as we know where to put them and are authorized to do so.  We can provide computer and internet access from the Black Sheep Inn, as long as it is not abused.  In short, we are more than willing to help with programs that are set up.

Please let us know if you can provide us with what is necessary to preserve The Iliniza Ecological Reserve.


Update 2001

On October 20th, 2001 we were invited to a meeting with two NGO conservation groups, Jatun Sacha and Proyecto Paramó, and representatives from INEFAN, the Ministry of the Environment and the local Municipal Government of Sigchos.  We hope that this is truly a beginning in the process to save this Cloud Forest.  Please write to us if you would like an update or would like to help.

Update 2004

Unfortunately, the above meeting produced no results, but we have been working closely with a new Peace Corps volunteer.  We have held a number of training workshops for a local guide program.  We are planning to put up signs on the upper Paramó portion of the reserve and we have started a small native tree nursery.  For more updates see the end of the Cloud Forest Letter.

Update 2009

We have been told that there will be an Iliniza Ecological Reserve office in Sigchos.


Andres Hammerman & Michelle Kirby
The Black Sheep Inn
An Ecologically Friendly Hotel
P.O. Box 05-01-240
Chugchilán, Cotopaxi, Ecuador
South America