For the last few years, Overbrook grantee Fundación Cordillera Tropical ("FCT") has been working to incentivize conservation on private land in southern Sangay National Park in Ecuador. It has targeted both landowners who protect important biodiversity and hydrological services on their properties, and local hydroelectric companies who are well positioned to pay for the protection of these services. Incentivizing private conservation has been an uphill battle, but FCT is on the cusp of success.
By providing landowners with a first-ever geo-referenced map, assisting qualified landowners in entering a national conservation program ¨Socio Bosque¨ (Forest shareholder) that pays a nominal value for hectare conserved per year; and developing a local incentive program in which the hydroelectric companies invest in upstream conservation on private lands, it has steadily won support.
Another strategy of co-opting the support of private landholders targets cattle ranching. FCT helped adapt a model from Columbia implementing a silvo-pastoral system (e.g. pasture with trees) that improves milk and beef production, while also making significant gains for the environment. This model responds to the dominant land-management system in the Andes and seeks to improve production so that farmers do not need to expand existing pastures into native forest. The model focuses on planting from 7,000 to 10,000 shrubs per hectare of pasture and as such, significantly increases habitat for biodiversity (birds, butterflies), decreases surface erosion and sediment run-off, and transforms grass monocultures into complex, biodiverse production areas.
Now, HidroAzogues, the local hydroelectric company, is willing to invest in the long-term implementation of this system, including a 5-year contract of $150K in monitoring equipment. And not only them: everyone from the Ministry of Environment, Ministry of Agriculture, Cañar Provincial Government, and Municipality agree that silvo-pastoral systems are a good investment to slow the advance of the ranching frontier.
Not all of FCT's outreach involves hard-nosed negotiations; soft-noses too. It created a bear costume (with a human inside) and ¨Mr. Bear¨ is its official spokesperson on every issue – from silvo-pastoral systems to hydrological monitoring and bear conservation. He’s a hit with decision-makers, community members, and small children. In the coming months, he will visit each community around the park with FCT staff and Sangay National Park rangers to visit school teachers, students, and their parents to talk about conservation.
Proof that Fundacion Cordillera Tropical has arrived at a critical juncture of success is evidenced in the media: every single news outlet in Ecuador is calling them for an interview about the spectacled bear.
We are extremely proud of its hard work, the work of Executive Director Catherine Schloegel, as well as all of its staff members, and we look forward to continuing Overbrook's support!