Taking the Long View at the Lost Canyon Nature Reserve

Posted by Richard Leonardi 5th August 2019
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Astronauts have commented in the past that when orbiting the earth in the International Space Station, they start locating their country out the window on the first day, staring out at their continent on the second, but finally on their third day, only see our planet earth. One recent astronaut from Italy, Samantha Cristoforetti probably had a similar experience, and she took advantage of social media to help share her unique perspective with followers down on earth.

So it wasn’t too surprising that for Earth Day in 2015, Christoforetti used her moment in the spotlight to pose for a photo on the space station holding up a little hand-written sign that read “Change Climate Change” which was posted on Twitter and shared widely. For the most part, she was preaching to the choir, for all who believe in science know that we are passing the tipping point of a grave crisis. Which makes it critical that we all take a step back and ask ourselves how we can help.

Conservationism in Nicaragua: Lost Canyon Nature Reserve

This is ultimately why I created the Lost Canyon Nature Reserve in Nicaragua 15 years ago – a labor of love that has consumed my finances and 15 years of my life in a project most would call unwise at best.

nicaragua ecotourism

Common wisdom has it that private nature reserves are for the wealthy or the foolish, and I am definitely not wealthy.

What’s more, I created the Lost Canyon Nature Reserve in one of the most impoverished areas of the second poorest country in the western hemisphere – Nicaragua. Located in a broad canyon approximately 50 minutes from the city of León, I named it Lost Canyon Nature Reserve mostly because I liked the name, but also because “Lost Valley” sounded like a bad salad dressing. 

Conservation in extremely poor areas is an even greater challenge than normal, as rural poverty forces most into generational aggressive practices against nature itself. Wildlife is both a food source and a rival for food sources. Every inch of potential farmland must be used to produce food, as the alternative is hunger.

Conservation, even though it may be to the medium- and long-term benefit of the local farmers, or Campesinos, normally appears to be a ridiculous pipe dream to the rural poor - foolhardy idealism or just lunacy because one can afford it. Yet this project would not be deterred.

nicaragua ecotourism at lost canyon nature reserve

Nicaragua Ecotourism & Preservation

Founded in 2005, Lost Canyon protects:

  • Part of a critical watershed for Lake Managua
  • An endangered species of iguana
  • The most threatened tropical ecosystem in the world – tropical dry forest 

endangered species of Iguana in Nicaragua

Since founding this nature reserve, I’ve come to realize that the “lost” in Lost Canyon could mean lost opportunity to save the planet, or lost finances. Every cent I’ve earned that did not go to food and necessities has been consumed by the project since its founding, giving my private nature reserve the nickname of my private financial black hole.

Yet, it has been worth every penny. Lost Canyon serves to augment biodiversity, infiltration of water, carbon sequestration, improves soil and air quality and preserves habitat for endangered species. It is a work of passion that shows our head and heart need not be at odds. And it is my little way of taking the long view and doing something that will make our planet a better place for future generations.

Nicaragua's Lost Canyon Nature Reserve at a Glance

private nature reserve in Nicaragua

Lost Canyon Nature Reserve exists on 98 protected acres. Within the reserve, we have contributed to:

  • A return of numerous species thought to be lost – the snowball effect of annually increasing biodiversity.
  • Planted more than 7,500 native trees (including 300 this May-June), but our conservation work has permitted ten times that in natural regrowth.
  • The Nicaraguan Spiny-tailed Iguana, unknown to even most Nicaraguans it is so rare, is thriving inside Lost Canyon and at least 50 of the less than 2,500 of the species remaining on the planet live there.

Has Lost Canyon offset the carbon footprint of the tourism I have been responsible for generating? This is a trickier equation to compute, but I feel good knowing that I have done everything possible to make a difference. Nicaragua's ecotourism sentiments are similarly on the rise. When the Iguana specialists of the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species visited the reserve recently, I told them Lost Canyon was my grain of sand in a worldwide conservation effort. 

They told me flatly that I was wrong… it was a bucket’s worth.

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