Teresa Lozano Long Institute of Latin American Studies
Teresa Lozano Long Institute of Latin American Studies

Center for Conservation in Indigenous Lands in the Western Amazon

Created in 1997, The Center for Conservation in Indigenous Lands in the Western Amazon (formerly CESLA) is situated within the University of Texas at Austin's Teresa Lozano Long Institute of Latin American Studies (LLILAS), the oldest such institution in the United States and one of the best worldwide. UT's exceptionally strong resources in Latin American issues are enhanced by the largest university collection of Latin American library materials in the United States.UT's departments of integrative biology, geography, geology, engineering, and public affairs rank among the nation's best and all maintain active research and collaboration programs in several areas of Latin America, from Mexico to Chile. As an interdisciplinary, collaborative institution, CESLA serves as an academic hub for UT departments, expertise, and resources within the social sciences and humanities, leveraging the university's broad range of experience in Latin American environmental issues to the benefit of environmental managers on campus and beyond.

For more information, contact Rodrigo Sierra, CILWA Director.


The goal of CILWA is to facilitate community outreach, research, and training for UT faculty, staff, and students and the professional community in the broad field of environmental studies in Latin America. CILWA strives to create an active, intellectually stimulating milieu in which the university community can interact with partners and clients throughout the United States and Latin America, including educational institutions, nongovernmental organizations, private corporations, and local, state, and federal government agencies.

Current Project: Western Amazonia

CILWA’s current project aims to support and assist the nations of Western Amazonia in meeting grassroots conservation and development objectives through applied research and institutional support that will produce measurable short and long-term impacts at the community level.The resulting conservation effort seeks to integrate protection and sustainable management of biodiversity with local governance and community based decision making.

To this end, CESLA has established collaborative agreements and is working with the following indigenous organizations in Western Amazonía:

FINAE (Federación Interprovincial de Nacionalidad Achuar del Ecuador)
ONSHIPAE (Organización de Nacionalidad Shiwiar de Pastaza de La Amazonia Ecuatoriana)
ONZAE (Organización de la Nacionalidad Zápara de Ecuador)


Western Amazonia is one of three key deforestation frontiers and is one of the highest pressure areas for both biological and cultural change. Research regarding environmental change in the area has focused traditionally upon quantitative assessments of migrant or colono impacts on tropical forests. Such studies have resulted in a rich and comprehensive literature regarding how policy, economic conditions and demographics affect migrant decision making and impact the environment

However, the dynamics of change within this tropical region is currently undergoing a fundamental shift. Future environmental change will come from within as indigenous and afro-latin american communities assert claims to traditional lands resulting in more localized decisions regarding conservation and development strategies. In response to this shift, CESLA aims to support long term collaborations and research geared towards supporting the decisions and initiatives of local communities.

Project Vision

In accordance with these established agreements CESLA has developed and is currently implementing a project plan with the overarching goal of providing communities with useful information for desired outcomes. To meet this goal, each stage within the project will address three key conceptual components:

  1. Research Component: Research conducted throughout the project will address those questions posed by communities and local managers which allow them to better confront sustainable conservation and development issues. Research may examine, for example, ecological and cultural factors defining land use choices, minimum resource requirements, local goods and services that have the potential to increase the value of conservation, etc.
  2. Applied Component: Project activities will seek to translate research findings into measurable impacts on the ground by adressing community level issues with direct social impacts such as tenure security and resource planning. Such an emphasis allows local groups to meet their own social and economic goals and those of sustainable resource management.
  3. Institutional Strengthening Component: Finally, through direct work with local groups, this project seeks to build information resources, expertise, and training capabilities in environmental and conservation policy issues within local communities. The aggregate experience of planning for land use management at the community level is critical for better informed policy design at scales that simultaneously incorporate and transcend the local level.

Each of these comonents guides the implementation of four project stages, each one designed to generate specific, measurable outcomes and impacts.

Stage 1: Defining Management Units

Presently, local indigenous groups in Western Amazonía identify the legalization of traditional lands as a first step towards securing their rights as stakeholders and beneficiaries of conservation and development projects within their communities. CESLA will provide technical assistance during the legalization process which involves producing the necessary maps and geographic data required for communal title application. In accordance with agreements signed this year, CESLA has already produced various preliminary maps of the region utilizing spatial data collected in the field and local community perceptions of their territories.

In June of 2003, a team of faculty and graduate students spent 3 weeks in the Achuar Territory collecting spatial data, presenting the Achuar with several local area maps necessary for the title application process. One map is currently being used within the titling process while three others are currently undergoing revision pending collaboration with bordering communities. Additional outcomes include plans for the organization of community level trainings which will capacitate community members in generating the information required for territorial decision making such as working with a GPS to define limits and map natural resources.

Additionally, in September of 2003, Dr. Rodrigo Sierra and Amy Weesner attended a workshop hosted by the Pachamama Foundation, during which the Achuar, Shiwiar and Zapara nations met to establish a dialogue regarding territorial boundaries. Dr. Bolívar Beltrán was also present to discuss the legal implications and opportunities resulting from Ecuador’s 1998 Constitutional reforms concerning territorial rights of indigenous groups. One outcome of the meeting has resulted in the generation of provisional paper maps by CESLA based on representative input from FINAE, ONSHIPAE, ONZAE and ONAZE depicting the three territories. Provisional maps will then be brought to community level meetings where they will be discussed and re-worked according to local input and consensus.

STAGE 2: Defining Resource Uses and Requirements

CESLA is currently conducting research regarding land use and land management practices in order to determine how communities are utilizing their lands. Preliminary findings are as follows:

In the summers of 2002 and 2003, faculty and graduate students conducted a preliminary study in the Achuar communities of Pumpuentza, Wichimi, Kupit, and Sawastian to identify resource requirements for farming and hunting using a combination of GIS and aerial photography. Specifically, the team developed and tested a methodology to study land use patterns among traditional communities. The detail obtained by merging GIS and georeferenced aerial photography facilitates the mapping of land uses (e.g., hunting, garden plots) in ways that were previously problematic and at levels of detail that could not be obtained with standard data sources.

Additional results indicated that overall, three productive land-use areas can be distinguished at the community level: Areas where the dominant productive land-use is labor-intensive farming, areas where the dominant productive land use is labor-extensive farming, and areas where the dominant use is hunting and extractive activities. Based on this work, we hypothesize that the spatial configuration (i.e. location and extent) of land use areas among the Achuar is determined by labor intensity requirements of their productive activities and the ecological characteristics of the areas where these can be located.

The area of intensive agriculture is where family gardens are found. Farther out, Achuar households clear forest for pastures for raising cattle and occasionally for small family gardens. Only a fraction of this area is in use at any given time, the rest is in the form of fallow areas or areas where pastures can be established in the future. Surrounding this area is an area dedicated to extractive activities, such as hunting and gathering.

Stage 3: Building Sustainable Territories

Research and understanding derived during Stage 2 will be used to develop conservation and production plans as the Achuar, the Shiwiar and the Zapara begin a proactive approach to land management. Efficient planning for resource conservation and management requires that current land uses are well understood and the resource base is well defined. Research is needed to define conservation and productive options through clear understanding of the ecological, cultural, and economic factors that define current resource use decisions.

Abundant research suggests that biodiversity conservation depends in the long run on the ability of local resource owners to meet their conservation and development objectives through sustainable productive activities. Within this context, we propose to support productive activities that are consistant with the conservation objectives and resource use decisions defined by indigenous communities.

Stage 4: Strengthening Management Institutions

CESLA suggests that long term governance and management conditions be created through a combination of short term and long term capacity building. CESLA will assist and support indigenous federation leaders in developing and implementing appropriate training and professional development strategies for its members. Currently, training in resource management, legal administration and healthcare has been identified by indigenous leaders as fundamental in terms of establishing sufficient infrastructure for effective management and conservation of territorial resources. It is critical that members of each community have the opportunity to participate in the management of indigenous resources as trained professionals in order to achieve longterm grassroots driven conservation and management objectives.

Current Project: Environmental Information System for Latin America and the Caribbean (EISLAC)

Currently under development, the Environmental Information System for Latin America and the Caribbean (EISLAC) is an online resource for teaching and research about environmental issues in Latin America. CILWA will manage this Internet-based information system distributing spatial and qualitative data. Serving as an important source of information about contemporary environmental issues, EISLAC will enhance the University of Texas at Austin's position in the field of Latin American studies.

With a user-friendly design, EISLAC will manage and deliver documents, tables, and spatial information using Geographic Information Systems (GIS) Web-based servers. Although working with spatial information typically requires sophisticated training, EISLAC will enable the general public to obtain and query such data with ease. This innovative approach to information delivery also makes EISLAC a working model of how GIS can be applied for teaching and research purposes. Moreover, the availability of unique information makes EISLAC a valuable resource on environmental issues in Latin America.

Previous Initiatives

Community Outreach:

  • A symposium on environmental data for the Texas-Mexico border region, in cooperation with the Texas Water Development Board and the LBJ School of Public Affairs.
  • A commitment among four universities in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico to offer joint courses on water resources management in North America.
  • A two-year grant program to support fieldwork and language study by Texas graduate students in Argentina, Brazil, and Chile.


  • A long-term cooperative agreement with the United Nations Institute for Training and Research to conduct training in environmental management, initiate intern programs, and develop joint projects.
  • An agreement with the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission to provide staff to implement cooperative environmental projects between Texas and Mexico.


  • A conference session at the 1997 meeting of the Mexican Society of Civil Engineers on sustainable environmental infrastructure development in North America.

  • Teresa Lozano Long Institute of Latin American Studies

    University of Texas at Austin
    SRH 1.310
    2300 Red River Street D0800
    Austin, Texas 78712