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Gola Forest Declaration

Trans-boundary Rainforest Park will be a symbol of peace and stability

The Presidents of Sierra Leone and Liberia today met in the Gola Forest, Sierra Leone, to announce the establishment of a new Trans-boundary Peace Park, to protect one of the largest remaining blocks of intact forest in the Upper Guinea Area of West Africa.

The Peace Park unites the Gola Forest Reserve in Sierra Leone (75,000 ha) and the Lofa and Foya Forest Reserves in Liberia (80,000 ha and 100,000 ha respectively), with additional forest to provide corridors for the movement of wildlife between them.

At today’s meeting H.E. President Ernest Bai Koroma of Sierra Leone said: "The long-term benefits of the conservation of the Gola Forests far outweigh the short-term benefits of extraction and destruction. As I have said since I was elected in 2007, the Gola Forests will become a National Park in Sierra Leone and mining will not be permitted".

H.E. President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf of Liberia said: “This launch of the Sierra Leone - Liberia Trans-boundary Peace Park Project will serve as a symbol of our renewed commitment to peace, stability and biodiversity conservation in this region"The local communities in Sierra Leone, through their traditional chiefs and Members of Parliament, have both expressed their support for the conservation of the Gola Forest and its designation as a national park. Dr Hazell Shokellu Thompson, BirdLife’s Regional Director for Africa, who has worked for more than 20 years on the protection of Gola Forest said: “The establishment of the Trans-boundary Peace Park is a tribute to the success of the governments of both countries in putting their recent history of civil war behind them. I wish to congratulate both Presidents for this far-sighted initiative. In the run up to the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen later this year, they have shown their wholehearted commitment to taking the measures needed to reduce the threats of climate change and increase collaboration in the conservation of their Nation’s natural resources.”

The work to establish the Peace Park has involved several conservation organisations in the BirdLife International Partnership, the two national BirdLife Partners (Conservation Society of Sierra Leone and Society for the Conservation of Nature in Liberia), the RSPB (BirdLife in the UK), Vogelbescherming (BirdLife in The Netherlands), working together with the Forest Development Authority (FDA) of Liberia, and the Forestry Division in Sierra Leone. The BirdLife Partnership, which is already working on a 4.2 million Euro project to protect Sierra Leone’s Gola Forest, funded by the European Union (EU) and FFEM (French Government), has secured an additional 3.2 million Euros to fund the four-year project to establish the 200,000 ha protected area from the EU, with the balance made up from the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF), and the Sustainable & Thriving Environments for West African Regional Development (STEWARD) Program of the US Agency for International Development (USAID) and the US Forest Service, International Programs. CEPF is a joint initiative of Conservation International, the French Development Agency, the government of Japan, the Global Environment Facility, the MacArthur Foundation and the World Bank.

The Upper Guinea Forest Ecosystem, which extends from Guinea to Togo, is one of the world’s most biodiversity-rich ecosystems. However, centuries of human activities has led to the loss of more than 70% of the overall forest cover, which was initially estimated at 420,000 square kilometres. The remaining forest is highly fragmented, restricting habitats to isolated patches and threatening the unique flora and fauna.

Of the 240-250 forest dependent birds in the region, more than 25 are threatened or restricted-range species. Four species, including White-breasted Guineafowl Agelastes meleagrides and White-necked Picathartes Picathartes gymnocephalus (both Red Listed as Vulnerable) are restricted to the remnants of the western subsection of the Upper Guinea Forest, which the Trans-boundary Peace Park will help to protect.The forest is also home to more than 50 mammal species, such as Forest Elephant Loxodonta cyclotis, Pygmy Hippo Choeropsis liberiensis and ten species of primate, including the threatened Chimpanzee Pan troglodytes.

The forests provide very important ecological services locally, nationally and regionally, including wood and non-timber forest products, medicinal plants, continuous provision of water, protection against soil erosion, climatic conditions conducive for to agricultural production, and climate change mitigation.

They are also internationally important for carbon sequestration. Both Governments have expressed interest in carbon trading and in the REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries) process. The Peace Park will provide the potential to raise tens of millions of dollars over forthcoming decades, ensuring sustained funding for protected area management and community development.

The establishment of the Peace Park will ensure that the long-term conservation of the forests, their biodiversity and global carbon storage benefits is secured through national and international partnerships for improved forest governance across the Sierra Leone–Liberia border.

The Governments of the world need to halt the destruction of the world’s forests, which is responsible for about 20% of current global carbon emissions. This is a major component of the discussions in the run-up to the United Nations Climate Change Conference, which will be held in Copenhagen this December.

4th July 2014