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Center for Native Peoples and the Environment
Understanding the potential

Understanding the potential role of Mayan traditional ecological knowledge for ecological engineering of forest restoration in Mexico

Dr. Stew Diemont works with Mayan farmers in villages in Mexico, Guatemala, and Belize. Together they are determining how traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) can be a part of local to regional conservation and restoration design. Both ESF undergraduate and graduate students work with Stew for undergraduate and graduate theses and doctoral dissertations. Mayan farmers, Stew, and ESF students have found that management strategies passed down over centuries show detailed understanding of ecological processes and seamless connection of human and natural systems. This TEK appears to be a sustainable model for rural to urban ecosystem design. Mayan farmers accelerate forest restoration through selective planting and management of certain tree species. The successional agroforestry systems, which bring together field, bush, and tree species in one highly productive dynamic system could reduce energy consumption to produce food and raw materials. Early data shows that low intensity burns in the Mayan agroforestry systems sequester carbon in the soil. This past summer, community members from Lacanja Chansayab, Chiapas, Mexico, ESF students and Stew set up a long term experiment to compare Lacandon Maya forest restoration strategies to restoration strategies commonly employed by governmental agencies. To understand restoration mechanisms, they sampled soil beneath trees used by the Lacandon to accelerate forest restoration. Stew takes ESF students to Mexico each year as part of his Ecosystem Restoration Design. As a project for this course, students are working to create a field guide for children in Lacanja Chansayab, Mexico. The field guide will be in Lacandon Maya, Spanish, and English. The field guide, an idea of Adolfo Chankin, a community member in Lacanja Chansayab, will teach children the TEK of the Lacandon Maya, while they are learning to read in elementary school.