Field training and outreach to strengthen local capacity to verify ecosystem services and achieve Wildlife Friendly Certification in biodiversity hotspot, Andes

Term: October 2009-September 2010

Funding: USAID-Translinks

People: PI: Adrian Treves, Communications director: Kurt Brown.

Participating institutions: LTC, Fundaci?n Cordillera Tropical.

Andean montane forests contain world-record species richness and sustain vital ecosystem services, particularly water. Despite their high importance, these forests are being cleared rapidly. Protected areas have had limited effect in slowing deforestation largely because much of the land within parks is titled or claimed by private individuals and communities. In southern Ecuador, conservationists, state agencies and water utilities offer local landowners direct incentives to protect forest and wildlife on their property via PES and/or Wildlife Friendly certification. These promising initiatives are limited by local capacity to verify and monitor ecosystem services?a key step in both PES contracts and certification programs. Environmental governance research indicates that local stewards are more likely to commit to conservation goals if they understand and participate in monitoring ecosystem conditions. Other studies suggest that landowners as well as those paying for ecosystem services are often motivated by aesthetic and social values as much as by financial incentives. In other words, payments alone may be inadequate.

We are collaborating with an Ecuadorian NGO, Fundaci?n Cordillera Tropical (FCT), local authorities, and resident communities managing 32,000 ha of forest around Sangay National Park (SNP). Like many Andean parks, SNP contains nearly 40% private, titled land, so the participation of landowners is crucial. Selec Hidropaute, a for-profit water utility, is offering to PES to landowners. The national PES program, Sociobosque, has also prioritized this area for direct payments. In both payment programs, FCT is coordinating outreach with communities and landowners. At the same site, a prominent private landowner has committed her family?s wool production (All Things Alpaca) to Certified Wildlife Friendly production. The neighboring, extensive communal property of Colepato is considering applying for certification.

In collaboration with FCT, A. Treves and LTC graduate student affiliates will provide training and technical support to improve local capacity to monitor compliance with forest and wildlife conservation clauses in landowners? conservation contracts. This technical training is also key to expanding Wildlife Friendly certification. During public meetings in 2009, landowners (both private and communal) showed interest in financial incentives, but several also expressed special pride in conserving ?Don Oso? (Andean bears, an endangered keystone species for cloud forests). They responded enthusiastically to camera-trap photo evidence of bears and other rare species on their land, and this evidence also served to verify compliance with Wildlife Friendly. Local property owners have volunteered labor to continue monitoring with camera traps on their land, and All Things Alpaca purchased camera traps to continue monitoring. But the same local property owners also asked for technical guidance on how to protect their livestock from predation by bears and other carnivores.

This Ecuadorian biodiversity hotspot offers an important opportunity to build on tangible conservation results and gather lessons regarding how to build local capacity to engage in both PES and certification programs. Our work offers lessons on participatory verification and the trade-offs involved at various levels and techniques of monitoring effort.

Photo of a bear

Nelson graduate students used camera traps to photograph Andean bears and other elusive wildlife in Ecuador.