If a Tree Falls … Will You Make a Sound?

In Mexico's El Triunfo Biosphere Reserve, coffee plants thrive in the shade of giant Mexican elms (Ulmus mexicana). Many of these century-old trees are disappearing as landowners convert forest into farmland.(© CI / Photo by Molly Bergen)

I’ve seen them with my own eyes — once-leafy hillsides in the Sierra Madre mountain range in Chiapas, Mexico, stripped bare to grow crops and graze cattle. And every acre of forest turned to farmland is a blow to species that live there.

Species like the resplendent quetzal (Pharomachrus mocinno), which has been called “the most spectacular bird in the New World,” are at risk. And this isn’t just a problem in Chiapas. Wherever forests fall, species perish — and people everywhere, who depend on forests to fight climate change, protect freshwater sources and keep soil fertile, suffer.

But here’s the good news: Even as forests are under assault, there are those who fight back. I recently traveled to Chiapas to learn more about Conservation International’s work there, and even though I’ve worked at CI for more than two years, I was still amazed by what I saw.

Standing on a hillside in the community of Sierra Morena, the village’s coffee plantations were invisible under a canopy of native forest trees. CI partners with coffee farmers who choose to grow their crops in the time-honored, traditional way: in the shade. These trees offer sanctuary to species like the quetzal — which, in turn, control local insect populations.

Plus, through a loan from CI’s Verde Ventures program, farmers can combine their yields in local cooperatives and get more equitable prices for their beans.

Some coffee farmers are also being paid to plant trees that capture greenhouse gases — work that links to CI’s efforts to stand with governments, from Chiapas to California, that are fighting climate change.

While the quetzal’s future remains uncertain, the plight of other species is desperate. Yet CI and its partners have shown that even in a world of 7 billion people, we can save our forests and address climate change — with your help.

Protect an acre for $15 TODAY — to help safeguard forests, and the life that depends on them, around the world.

Molly Bergen is the managing editor on CI’s communications team. Learn more about CI’s work on coffee, climate and conservation in Mexico.


  1. Mark Phillips says

    Great story, Molly! It’s fascinating how interconnected and interdependent the plants, animals and people are to their environment. And to think that producing shade-grown coffee (which tastes better and sells for a higher price) also protects the native species and the farmer’s crops. That’s a win-win!

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