MCF Nursery Team: Aladino Meza, Andres Cuascota, Leila Lopez Krohnke, Roberto Vera
Meanwhile in Ecuador, Covid-19 has made life not so different than many of us are experiencing in the rest of the world. In fact, our partners are under strict stay at home orders that only allow them to travel for necessary tasks 1 day per week, with a 2 pm curfew. Besides the risk and disruption to daily life, this is occurring in the middle of the wet/planting season, throwing a wrench in what was the start of the new bio-corridor era of their reforesting program. Never the less, they are happy to be safe so far and send their best wishes to all of humanity, as we are in this together.
A silver lining: we now have time to tell their story in more detail – we’ll start at the tree nurseries: trees don’t grow on trees down there (well, at least in tree form). In a process that takes months, seeds are collected, germinated then cared for as saplings until they are ready to go in the ground. This is not creating mono-culture tree farms, MCF’s four-pronged mission – Ecological Inquiry, Habitat Conservation, Ecotourism, and Reforestation and Restoration – extends to their nursery operations, creating co-benefits beyond gourmet carbon sequestration. (Shameful advertising and seo-bot plug: by drinking Carbon Negative Organic Tiny Footprint Coffee you directly support everything that follows. You Drink Coffee. We Plant Trees.
Milpe nursery - Puyucunapi germination bed - Puyucunapi nursery
MCF operates three nurseries at their main nature reserves or Bird Sanctuaries: Rio Silanche, Milpe and Puyucunapi. While only 80 kilometers apart, the nurseries span a 1600 meter change in elevation (Silanche at 400 meters, Milpe at 1100 meters, and Puyucuanpi at 2000 meters) that creates significantly different micro-climates, necessitating a unique selection of tree species at each location. Each nursery grows the trees from seed to sapling and then distributes them to MCF’s reforestation parcels or other buyers (e.g. community members and municipalities) based on where they would fare best according to elevation and other biological factors.
Alandino – Andres (center) and Roberto (to his left) with MCF Staff
These nurseries offer an important economic impact within the community, as well, by providing jobs and opportunities. Directed by MCF forestry professional Leila Lopez Krohnke, local staff members Roberto Vera, Aladino Meza, and Andres Cuascota collaborate to manage the nurseries. In a unique twist, Aladino has many years of experience as a chainsaw operator, felling trees for the logging industry. These days, he says he’s glad to be part of rebuilding the forest, rather than helping take it down. Still, with all of his experience, he’s an expert on local species, seed collection, and overall forest health.
Niko Mejia, a forestry engineer, stands outside of the MCF educations center with a Macrolobium sp. nov. and a Pouteria sp. nov. two endemic tree species that are most likely not yet described to science.
These nurseries also offer an important space for scientific inquiry and experimentation. In the forests of Northwest Ecuador there are more species per acre than found in all of North America. To help protect this genetic information, MCF is creating a seed bank with an online database available to researchers around the world within their center for education and research at the Milpe reserve. The Foundation maintains many species from seed to sapling, and are currently looking at 8-9 that are potentially new to science. This variety allows them to have the right tree for the job depending on the elevation and relative soil degradation, while preserving one of the wettest, most biodiverse spots on the planet.
Roberto Vera collecting fruits from one of the numerous tribe of trees that produce “aguacatillos” or little avocados, similar in structure and related to the ones we use to make guacamole.
The species diversity within the nurseries is key in regenerating native forest within each ecosystem. Giving MCF the expertise and genetic material to start a new chapter, in partnership with other Ecuadorian conservation groups, international researchers and you the Tiny Footprint Coffee drinker, creating trans-altitudinal bio-corridors and flyways between their reforested areas, cloud forest reserves, river basins and other existing forest parcels. These forest restoration areas intersect with Birdlife International’s “Important Bird Areas” and Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund’s “Key Biodiversity Areas” in Northwest Ecuador.
Reforestation and Restoration
MCF sapling delivery – reforestation parcel ex ante conditions
MCF´s complex of nurseries support the work of planting the right trees in the right places, so that over a few years the soil and shade conditions allow the native seed stock in the ground, seeds air-dropped by birds, and seeds and spores floating in the air to regenerate and restore highly biodiverse forest. The saplings begin the transformation, catalyzing the power of evolution and the pacha mama (mother nature) to restore, heal and renew beauty, the cycle of water and the cycle of life. With a little bit of sunshine the greatest things on earth start in the soil and the muck, just like a fine cup of coffee.
As we like to say, “You can go there” (sometime, hopefully in the not too distant future). There is lodging, trails to hike, interpretive information. We can also hook you up with birding tours, suggested activities and even nature photography classes by Hans Heinz who shot the video above of a Club-winged manakin at the Milpe reserve. Their sharp chirp doesn’t come from their beaks like you might expect, rather it’s the result of their wings rubbing against each other like a cricket would, but with highly adapted wing bones that rub and vibrate against each other more than 100 times per second. MCF is protecting and re-creating the habitat for this incredibly unique bird, several other manakin species (one that moonwalks) and much much more. Listen closely to this video and you’ll hear the males trying to out-chirp one another to win the attention of the females. If you want to learn more about the Mindo Cloudforest Foundation, check out our Q&A for more stories and information about their reforestation projects. Follow the link below to learn more from them directly. If you so wish, there is a page on their site with a secure link to make donations.