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From the Ashes: Ocotal Recovers From Forest Fire

In late May, tragedy struck the mountain community of Ocotal outside of El Sauce. A fire set at a farm below the mountain, meant to clear a field, burned out of control consuming a large swath of the pine forest on the mountain. Armed with only small amounts of water in portable packs and their farming tools, the men of the community fought the fire by collecting fuel into isolated spots, containing the burn and halting its progress. Thanks to their efforts and the fortunate beginning of the rainy season, the fire was brought under control in two days. The around the clock battle was more than just an attempt to protect the community, the forest also represents an important resource for Ocotal.

The pine forest is owned by the community’s patriarch, Don Mauricio, and is an important source of income for him and his family. At first glance it might not be apparent how, but a closer look reveals that the trees have a secret; many of them are marked for logging. If this doesn’t fit into your conventional view of sustainable development, tranquillo! Like everything else in Ocotal, this project is aimed at maintaining a balance with the environment.

Six years ago, an action plan was put in place aimed at using the mountains natural supply of pinewood while preserving the environment and longevity of the forest. The plan fits in with newer views on ecological preservation that indicate efforts to regulate any and all change to a forest may pose even greater risk than occasional natural disaster like forest fires. More simply, by removing trees at a sustainable rate, the community is providing a safer alternative to natural forest fires and creating a positive economic impact at the same time.

For visitors to Ocotal, a walk into the forest offers a perspective on how fragile the balance they strike can be at times. The stark difference between tall and proud trees growing in most of the forest and the burned area is startling. The trees killed by the fire are unusable and they will not be replaced quickly. Yet, there is reason for optimism as community leader Gustavo Martinez-Martinez pointed out to a recent group of students. Among dead pine needles on the ground are small specs of green: new trees. Thirty years from now, he says, they will replace their dead parents, providing an important resource for Ocotal.

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