Staff Spotlight: Tere Robles

Maria Teresa “Tere” Robles has a lifelong connection to the vast richness of Guatemala’s environmental and cultural heritage, having grown up in Guatemala City and frequently visiting the Western Highlands. This connection drives her work as a Project Management Specialist at USAID/Guatemala.

Tere manages the design, implementation, and evaluation of biodiversity conservation, natural resource management, and community development activities at the Mission. She is always searching for new opportunities to protect Guatemala’s forests and biodiversity while also improving the livelihoods of forest-dependent communities and Indigenous Peoples.

After earning her bachelor’s degree in anthropology and archaeology from Universidad Del Valle in Guatemala, Tere received scholarships from USAID and the World Bank to continue her education at Duke University in North Carolina, where she obtained her Master of Arts in International Development Policy with an environmental focus in 1993. 

For the next 10 years, Tere worked as an implementing partner on two USAID-funded projects in the region: the Central America Regional Environmental Program (PROARCA) and the USAID/Guatemala Institutional Strengthening in Environmental Policies project. PROARCA improved the Central American Protected Areas System, increased local empowerment for stewardship of natural resources in targeted areas, and strengthened Central American environmental policy frameworks. The USAID/Guatemala Institutional Strengthening in Environmental Policies project supported the Guatemalan Ministry of Natural Resources, the National Council of Protected Areas, and local non-governmental organizations, municipalities, and protected areas management committees in strategic planning and environmental policy implementation and evaluation. 

In 2004, Tere joined USAID as a Land Tenure and Natural Resources Policy Advisor. USAID/Guatemala focuses on biodiversity conservation and sustainable forest management activities that also improve livelihoods, in support of the country’s unique integration of its natural and cultural heritages. As the Agreement Officer’s Representative for the recently completed USAID Climate, Nature, and Communities in Guatemala project (2013-2023), Tere provided technical support to activities that improved government and community management of natural resources. She says that by emphasizing the importance of biodiversity at government and community levels, “Conservation can promote sustainable tourism and sustainable management of natural resources as sources of income for communities coping with poverty.”

Guatemala, despite its small size, is a country with an array of important biological diversity and significant Mayan archaeological sites. However, high poverty rates and weak enforcement of protected areas mean that deforestation, large-scale agriculture expansion, animal poaching, illegal logging, forest fires, drug trafficking, and Mayan artifact looting threaten these biodiverse and culturally significant areas.  

To help counter these threats, the Climate, Nature, and Communities in Guatemala project supported the nation’s community forest concessions, which are designated areas stewarded by communities that derive their livelihoods from the forest. Local communities manage nearly half a million hectares of tropical forest in the 2.1 million hectare Maya Biosphere Reserve in Guatemala, one of Central America’s largest protected areas. This world-renowned model balances access to international commercial markets with biodiversity conservation and local economic development through sustainable, low-impact harvesting of timber and non-timber species and tourism services, and has resulted in near-zero deforestation rates in community-managed areas for the last 20 years. With support from the Climate, Nature, and Communities in Guatemala  project, the Government of Guatemala renewed nine community forest concessions contracts for 25-year extensions and established two new community forest concessions in 2021, all in the Maya Biosphere Reserve.

“The involvement of local communities in the sustainable management of natural resources, within and around Guatemala's protected areas, has been the key to generating income and contributing to the well-being of families, while protecting forests and biodiversity,” Tere says. She is currently helping design two new five-year activities to further build the country’s capacity to manage its natural resources and increase community resilience.

Tere believes the best opportunities for enhancing biodiversity and conservation lie in strengthening local non-governmental community organizations and engaging the private sector. “I’m proud to work in an international development agency that helps rural and vulnerable people overcome poverty and at the same time contributes to conserving Guatemala’s biological diversity.”