With a portion of our proceeds funding reforestation it’s usually Tiny Footprint heading to Ecuador. But early this fall, the Mindo Cloudforest came to us. Brian Krohnke, one of the founders of the Mindo Cloudforest Foundation, stopped by Minnesota to visit his brother Alan—one of the founders of Tiny Footprint Coffee. We had the chance to learn a little bit more about the foundation and its beginnings in our conversation with Brian. Here’s a glimpse of what we talked about.
TINY: So going back to the beginning…tell us about the first time you were in Ecuador. Is it a clear moment in your mind?
BRIAN: Of course. It’s funny because it was in September, and I [recently] found my old passport from when I came to Ecuador. September 20th was the first stamp on my going to Ecuador. It’ll be 21 years ago. I went with the idea to study Spanish. I went to Evergreen State College, [here in the US], an alternative, progressive school and when I went, there were no grades, no majors. Basically you made your own way and took what you wanted to take. And I studied American Literature and then political philosophy. With the Spanish language, I thought I’d have a better chance of finding a job. But I didn’t want to find a job right then and there.
So I worked as an intern at a small magazine for a year… and later, I followed a girl out to Chapel Hill in North Carolina and lived there for more than a year. When it didn’t work out, I moved back to Seattle, and I was a bike messenger for a year. And then I thought I’ve got to get out of here. So I sold my car, and I sold everything and I went to Ecuador. I was supposed to stay there for a year, and as it got close to that last final day to fly back, then nope. I stayed. The first time I came back to the states, it was two and a half years after I left.
TINY: Going from learning Spanish to nature conservation…how did the Mindo Cloudforest Foundation come to be?
BRIAN: I got involved with this group. I had about $5,000 and I invested it in this group. We all invested 5,000 bucks and we bought a piece of forest, near Mindo, near where we still work. We were going to start a little eco tourism project– this was in late ‘96 when we started that. Then there was a big economic crisis in Ecuador– almost hyper inflation. So I had this cloud forest, but no more money to invest, and there were no loans. So I started guiding tourism, I had a little Jeep I’d drive people around in, to make ends meet. Then they started to build a heavy crude pipeline that ran right through the back corner of this property we had– they didn’t advise landowners, they just did it– over the top of the Mindo watershed and with a lot of sensitive areas, it was a really bad place to build a pipeline. We gave them information about how many birds and how much biodiversity, and why they shouldn’t build it. Of course, we lost. They built the thing wherever they wanted to. But out of that, this group, we decided to create a conservation foundation, so if we were organized in the future when something else like that happened, we would be more in a position to stop it. By December 2001, the foundation had legal standing and we’ve been working ever since.
TINY: Who makes up the foundation?
BRIAN: We were six at the beginning, then we were down to five. But more people have joined, there’s 13 of us now. People from the US like me, from Ecuador, from Germany, someone from Australia, someone from Ireland who now lives in Northern Colombia. It’s an interesting group. All birders, all conservationists.
Ecuador is a small country, it’s about the size of Colorado, or the U.K., but it has more than 1600 bird species. In the whole North America, there’s about 700. The only countries that have more bird species than Ecuador are Colombia, Brazil, and Peru– in that order– and those three surround Ecuador. In a sense, it’s the densest place for bird species.
So everyone in the group is– we have two PhD Ornithologists– and the author of the book Birds of Ecuador, we have a guy who studied tourism, another guy who is a businessman. He was one of the first guys in Ecuador to take birders out. Now there’s someone who is more of a forestry specialist, too.
TINY: What has the evolution of the foundation been like?
BRIAN: The first two years we didn’t do anything– we found our first money to build the first reserve– Milpe– and right at that point, they made me president. And I was president for 8 years, and then another guy, and every two years we change roles. Of the founders, I’m the only one who has really had this as my job.
TINY: Tell us about the area that you’re working in now, about these reserves.
BRIAN: Well, in a temperate forest there are many individual trees of just a few species. You go here [in Minnesota], you’ll find a hundred in an acre—a hundred of the same pine tree, and hundred of another pine tree. There are probably five species in an acre in a natural forest. Where we are, you can probably find five hundred species of trees in an acre, and you might only find one of each individual.
TINY: To wrap up, can you tell us a little more about a specific project the foundation has worked on?
BRIAN: The big reforestation project we did with the funding from telenet and Tiny Footprint has been validated to two standards. One is the verified carbon standard (VCS), and the climate community biodiversity alliance standard (CCBA). The verified carbon standard is rigorous, it’s important. It shows we’ve designed the project well so our carbon estimates should be reasonably conservative and well done. The CCBA shows we’ve done our research and planted native species in ways that aren’t harmful to the environment or harmful to the community interests and in ways where we protect species of particular conservation importance. So we’ve demonstrated all of that and it’s being monitored. They’re monitoring right now— by going to the areas and measuring the trees.
To learn more about the Mindo Cloudforest Foundation, take a trip to their website and see for yourself.