The Sierra de las Minas mountain range runs from east to west through Guatemala's southeast highlands. The Sierra de las Minas Biosphere Reserve contains a substantial part of the range as well as an estimated 60 percent of Guatemala’s remaining cloud forest.
Sierra de las Minas
The Sierra de las Minas mountain range runs from east to west through Guatemala's southeast highlands. The mountain range encompass part of the Baja Verapaz and Izabal departments at the eastern part of Guatemala City.
The Sierra de las Minas range is 15–30 km wide and bordered by the valleys of the rivers Polochic in the north and Motagua in the south. Its western border is marked by the Salamá river valley which separates it from the Chuacús mountain range. The highest peak is Cerro Raxón at 3,015 m (9,892 ft).
Because the heart of the mountains is composed of jade and marble, mining has been carried out here for centuries (thus the name, which means mountain range of the mines).
Due to its size and great variety in elevation and precipitation, the range has many different habitats and land cover types, including:
Subtropical thorn forest: also known as Motagua Valley thornscrub, with Cactus species, Guaiacum species, Vachellia farnesiana and Bucida macrostachys
Premontane dry subtropical forest: with Encyclia diota, Ceiba aesculifolia and Leucaena guatemalensis.
Premontane tropical wet forest: including Attalea cohune, Terminalia amazonia, Pinus caribaea and Manilkara zapota.
Lower montane subtropical moist forest: with Pinus oocarpa, Quercus species, Alnus jorullensis and Encyclia selligera.
Cloud forest: including Alfaroa costaricensis, Brunellia mexicana, Gunnera species, and Magnolia guatemalensis.
Agroecosystems: with coffee, rice, maize, etc.
Pastures: with Tillandsia species.
Sierra de las Minas Biosphere Reserve
The Sierra de las Minas Biosphere Reserve contains a substantial part of the Sierra de las Minas Mountain Range: 2,408 sq km or 930 sq mi, including buffer zones and transition areas.
The Biosphere Reserve was designated in 1992. Protection of the area is particularly important because it contains an estimated 60 percent of Guatemala’s remaining cloud forest.
Because of its geographic isolation, and wide range of elevation, the Sierra de las minas is home to at least 885 species of birds, mammals, amphibians and reptiles, about 70% of all species found in Guatemala and Belize, including threatened birds like the resplendent quetzal (Pharomachrus mocinno), harpy eagle (Harpia harpyja) and horned guan (Oreophasis derbianus).
Felines with a significant presence are the Jaguar (Panthera onca), Cougar (Felis concolor), Onza (Puma yagouaroundi), Ocelot (Leopardus pardalis) and Margay (Leopardus wiedii). Other mammals in the reserve include the red brocket (Mazama americana), the Guatemalan black howler (Alouatta pigra) and Baird's tapir (Tapirus bairdii).
More than 17 distinct species of evergreen forest are endemic to the area. The area is considered as an irreplaceable seed resource for reforestation and agroforestry throughout the tropics.
Although human intervention (approximately 43,000 inhabitants live in the reserve) is critical to the range’s long-term protection, a great deal of the range’s habitats have been protected from agriculture by its distinctive natural features: steep hillsides, shallow soils, and changeable weather.
In 2002, Sierra de las Minas Biosphere Reserve was added to the UNESCO World Heritage Tentative List due to its natural significance.