The integrity of the Maya forest is under constant threat by those
who are involved in forest as opportunists. These exploitive people
work in a variety of professions, all bordering on the disreputable.
The businesses may take the shape of legitimate enterprises, but the
end product is the erosion of the values inherent in the Maya forest.
The continuum of forest endeavors begins with legal
extraction of timber and non-timber products providing the entrance
into the Maya forest reserves. The roads, often only minimally developed
for legitimate activities, are invitations to all. Some of those
who use the lumbering roads have valid permits to extract chicle,
xate, and allspice. Others on the roads have less noble causes for
their entry. Secretive activities can involve extractions of the
same products that are permitted.
Illegal lumbering has been a continuing problem at El Pilar. In
2002 there was a sequence of illegal logging and wholesale felling
of hardwoods and tall trees in the north of the reserve. There has
never been any effort to rescue the resources and the logs remained
scattered and rotting.
There was a splendid tall mahogany that was a regular March spectacle
as it was a prolific seed producer. When the seeds were falling,
the magic of the tree and its potential to create more trees was
In 2003, that tree was felled with major parts of it trunk converted
to boards and hauled off from El Pilar for lumber while some remnants
were cast aside.
This shock came as we were setting to develop a new trail that
would include this magnificent high stand location we called Canan
Kaax, Mayan for 'well managed forest.' Now it is gone.
While there is natural beauty of the terrain, the forest, and
the monuments of El Pilar, the recent years have witnessed an erosion
of the standing values and a systematic loss of the resource and
beauty of the place.
Other incursions, and El Pilar is no exception, may include squatting
and clearing for agriculture, not permitted in any reserve but problematic
to enforce. And there are abuses of resources that are within the
Hunting at water sources, particularly springs that attract animals,
is a major problem at El Pilar.
All these incursions attract the unsavory characters who get involved
with trafficking in the illegal goods of all sorts and these are
threats to the integrity of the reserve.
The cultural resources left by the ancient Maya that dominate the
ridges and hills of the El Pilar areas and the greater limestone
regions of the Maya forest may seems ensconced deep in the forest,
but it is exactly that context that offers protection for the illegal
Looting of the temples, as well as the house shrines, continue
to be a part of the furtive activities of the Maya forest. More
than 65 looter's trenches were filled at the main monuments at El
Pilar, some still evident to the visitor. But within the bounds
of the El Pilar Archaeological Reserve, major and minor architecture
is still in danger.
A small perfect temple complex recorded in 1996 along the south
boundary of the reserve was recently looted in 2003.
This underscores the need for vigilance for the caretakers at El
Pilar and the education of the local and regional community in the
value of their cultural heritage. Unlike the trees that can be planted,
temples will never be replaced.