top of page

Our Story

Fundación Cordillera Tropical (FCT) constructs bridges between the demands of
society to consume natural resources and the urgency to protect remaining wild
habitats and restore those that have already been altered.

Our story began when Sangay National Park was expanded to encompass the mountainous region called the Nudo del Azuay. Established in 1979, the original Sangay NP covered about 250,000 hectares (617,500 acres) along the Cordillera Real in the eastern Andes of Ecuador. In 1992, the


A large glacial lake, surrounded by páramo grassland, in Sangay National Park. 

The smoke comes from a fire lit by shepherds to renovate the grass for their sheep.

Ministry of the Environment added another 250,000 hectares of montane forest and páramo (native grassland above the tree line) to the south of the original park.


While this expansion represented a marvelous conservation achievement, it also introduced a momentous challenge because about 30% of the expansion area was legally titled to agricultural communities and individuals. Although the Ministry of the Environment formally recognized the legal status of private holdings that pre-dated the park expansion, the expansion decree declared land use was now the prerogative of Sangay National Park.


Travelers traverse a high crest of the eastern Andes. The clouds behind Iván and Wilbur carry moisture from the Amazon basin.

Thus, the stage was set for complex conflicts. Authorities informed landowners in the expanded park areas that they could no longer convert the native vegetation to pastures or crops, nor collect plants, hunt, or graze cattle in areas where they traditionally carried out these activities. In addition, if the landowners participated in these newly prohibited activities, as they traditionally had in order to subsist, they would face sanctions that included fines and incarceration. These farmers, many indigenous, had long distrusted the outside world, so it was nothing new to be drawing the short straw.

How does one reconcile world views that prioritize the protection of forested lands with those that see these lands as resources for eking out a living? The founders of FCT recognized the need for an organization that would attempt to do just that. They believed that among frontier inhabitants there must be a way to motivate, not mandate, the conservation of wild habitats. So, these founders asked, what mix of environmental education, alternative practices, and economic incentives might accomplish the conservation of titled lands within Sangay National Park while allowing its inhabitants to sustain equitable livelihoods?

With legal recognition from the Ministry of the Environment in May of 2001, FCT
began its work to redefine “protection” as applied to a national park. Its objective was to make conservation both a new source of income for landowners and, concurrently, the stuff of good citizenry. In the early years, Fundación Cordillera Tropical was a coalition of volunteers passionate about conservation, but the tasks were too big and too important to be left to part-timers. Fortunately, the foundation was able to finance a professional staff beginning in 2008. For a total of 20 years working in


The agricultural frontier. Can it be stabilized for the benefit of all?

and around Sangay NP, FCT has sought to reconcile the local community’s need to produce food and income with global imperatives to conserve the region’s astounding biological diversity. The
result has been an evolved kit of conservation tools and interventions, tested and refined by experience and the selective winnowing of what works.


A family on the agricultural frontier of the Cordillera Real.


Puppets teach ecological principles to young and old alike.

In addition, FCT has a long history of supporting biological, hydrological, and geomorphological research, and has hosted university student programs in the wild habitats of southern Sangay and the surrounding areas. This website describes many of these research activities.

In the coming years, FCT plans to apply its experience to other geographic areas within the upper Amazon watersheds of Ecuador, a region we call the Andean Amazon. Recognizing that most conservation gains are not only small but also always at imminent risk of being reversed by the forces of development, political territorialities, mining, and the siren of ever more public infrastructure, FCT is committed to creating partnerships that will both benefit agriculture frontier residents and anchor conservation gains for the future.

One of those partnerships is with you, the visitor to this site. Our Story is incomplete without your participation. Please explore the range of FCT activities as described here and consider helping us get the job done.


Ecoregions of the Cordillera Real Oriental, extending from

Colombia through Ecuador to northern Peru.


Bear researcher Lucas Achig takes his office to the field.


Herpetologist Martin Bustamante photographs a frog poised on an air bromeliad.

bottom of page