The conservation and land management decisions we make here in Chattanooga not only affect our local ecosystems, but also the environment in areas such as Peten, Guatemala. Migratory birds are a wonderful example of this fascinating interconnectivity. The migratory birds that come to breed in the TN River Gorge each year spend over half of their year on distant wintering grounds or migration routes. Therefore, land-use changes on these wintering grounds or migration routes can have profound effects on the spring and summer populations of migratory birds that we witness here in the Gorge, and vice-versa. The Tennessee River Gorge Trust has partnered with La Paz (a local nonprofit that provides social services for Latino families) to develop a cultural and scientific exchange between the communities of the greater Chattanooga area and Peten, Guatemala. This exchange would serve as a way to connect the two communities while incorporating our Hispanic and Latino communities through the nexus of neotropical bird migration. Many of the same birds that migrate here every Spring to breed, such as the Louisiana Waterthrush and Worm-eating Warbler, come from the same Central American countries that are the former homes to many of our Latino community members here in Chattanooga. The birds and people demonstrate how we are all much more connected than we often think.
On our initial trip to Guatemala in the summer of 2018, the Trust connected with bird researchers, educators, and eco-tourism guides working in certain regions that the two focal bird species spend their winters. The Trust and La Paz staff traveled to multiple classrooms to discuss the project and share letters, artwork, and videos from students in Chattanooga. The enthusiastic Guatemalan students then sent us back home with materials to share with the Chattanooga students. The Trust’s staff also held meetings with bird researchers and eco-tourism guides to share each others’ research and discuss future partnership ideas. Now that we have established working relationships and initiated educational programs, the Trust plans to bring the researchers to Chattanooga to take part in a scientific and cultural exchange within the local community. The Trust and La Paz are planning multiple lecture series in which visiting Guatemalan researchers will present their projects and engage in a community dialogue exposing the ecological connection between the two areas through wildlife migration. La Paz and the Trust have also connected classrooms in Chattanooga with Guatemala classes in the Peten region to initiative a cultural exchange through intentional dialogue.