Tahoe activists aim to protect rainforest: Film made by local group to be screened at festival | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Tahoe activists aim to protect rainforest: Film made by local group to be screened at festival

A Tahoe-based conservation group, Rainforest2Reef, has completed a film that shows how humanity can exist harmoniously in the most environmentally sensitive regions on the planet.

“Guardians of the Selva Maya” documents a reforestation project in the Mexican indigenous community of Pustunich, nestled in the heart of the second largest rainforest in the Americas – a region that 60,000 species of plants and animals call home.

The film will be shown at the Wild and Scenic Environmental Film Festival starting Saturday in Nevada City.

In a project sponsored by Rainforest2Reef, the Pustanich villagers planted several thousand seedlings last year to replenish neighboring forests that had been ravaged by logging. The conversation group intends to eventually plant a half-million trees, said executive director Cheri Sugal, who lives on the North Shore.

“We made the film with (the villagers) so that they could really speak to the world about why this was important,” said Sugal, who runs the nonprofit from her Kings Beach home with Tahoe City resident Marisa Lopez. “Everything is spoken from their perspective. … It’s so deep and profound, and yet so simple. They understand the responsibility.”

The film depicts the work of Rainforest2Reef on a personal level, with shots of the villagers planting trees in the nursery and interviews with the children, men and women of Pustunich about the significance of the project.

“I remember that approximately 25 years ago there was a lot of vegetation here and large trees,” said Moises Cervantes Martinez of Pustunich in the 8-minute film. “There was a lot of rain, a lot of animals. Now, if we venture out for three, four, five kilometers, we don’t see even one animal. We need to create some awareness about that, so that our children will have some sort of inheritance.”

While the film focuses on a local reforestation project, Rainforest2Reef’s efforts to conserve the environment go much deeper.

Since its founding in 2000, Rainforest2Reef has signed agreements and initiated partnerships with local villages to protect more than 300,000 acres of forest in Mexico’s Calakmul Biosphere Reserve. Pustunich is one such village.

The group negotiated with local landowners, or ejidos, to stop logging in return for annual payments sponsored by Rainforest2Reef, that are more than double the income logging brings in.

“[The villages] are in extreme poverty,” Sugal said. “And they definitely need help. But at the same time, they understand the importance of protecting the forests.”

In conserving so much land, Rainforest2Reef – which was founded on the vision of a Bay Area couple, David Leventhal and Sandra Kahn – has played an integral part in protecting one of the last viable jaguar populations in Central America.

Rainforest2Reef is also in the process of measuring the amount of carbon that the Calakmul forests offset, in the hopes of selling carbon-credits on the market. Since the land that the group is conserving is so vast, Sugal said they expect a carbon-offset program to be a major source of funding in the future.

“Hopefully what that means is that the international community is paying, essentially, the poorest people in the world to maintain [the forests]” she said. “Rather than asking them to give up their livelihood.”

Conserving the rainforests in Mexico is an endeavor with global significance, Sugal said.

“There’s a lot of connection between the forests in the U.S. and the forests of Latin America,” she said. “There’s a very strong connection. I mean, everything is connected and it’s just important that we start to see those connections a little more clearly.”

An avid snowboarder who works part-time as a snowboard instructor at Alpine Meadows and with Babes in the Backcountry, Sugal said Rainforest2Reef is just starting to reach out to the local businesses and communities in Tahoe.

“We’re just really starting to make those connections here,” she said. “And realizing that there is interest and there is potentially support here locally.”

For more information, visit the group’s Web site at http://www.rainforest2reef.org.

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