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Winning Conservation Formula

Two New Studies

(Washington, D.C., January 12, 2012) A new study published in the journal Ecological Economics has found that, contrary to some critical earlier studies, community conservation programs, when done properly, can produce demonstrable changes in local community behavior and lead to improved environmental conservation. A second study has also found that ecotourism in Peru is providing numerous opportunities for the advancement of conservation programs.

A study by Liisa Puhakka and colleagues at the University of Turku, Finland looked at birding tourism in Peru and was published in the Public Library of Science online. The study interviewed representatives from ecotourism companies, experts in Peruvian ornithology, and birding tour guides working in Peru. Surveys were also obtained from 47 birdwatchers. The surveys and interviews covered a range of topics, including identification of favorite birds that interviewees had seen at some point in Peru or hoped to see on future trips, and information on areas where further conservation is needed. Both sides of the Marañón Valley were noted as they contain high concentrations of both species of concern and endemic birds with few protections. Five areas that are most visited by birding tourists were also identified – Southeast Peru, Central Peru, Northern Peru, and sites near Tumbes and Iquitos.

Despite identified limitations that included national infrastructure, security, and geographical conditions, several factors were identified as strengths in the country’s tourism program, including the rich nature of birding species, ecotourism infrastructure, and opportunities to combine birding with visits to cultural attractions.This study highlighted areas in Peru with the highest potential for conservation through tourism. ABC is already working with Asociación Ecosistemas Andinos (ECOAN) and other partners in most of these sites.

“Some of the most important sites for bird conservation in Peru also happen to be great for bird watching, so naturally ABC and our partners have worked to develop tourism lodges, visitor centers, and birding routes in Peru to help finance reserve operations and increase incentives for local communities to conserve forests” said Dr. Daniel Lebbin, Conservation Biologist with American Bird Conservancy (ABC) – the leading U.S. bird conservation organization.

Tourists visiting ECOAN’s reserves directly support the conservation of some of the world’s most threatened species, including the Long-whiskered Owlet and Marvelous Spatuletail. For more information on ecotourism opportunities and to plan a trip, visit http://www.conservationbirding.org.

The second study, by Mathew Cranford and Susana Mourato of The London School of Economics and Political Science, published in the journal Ecological Economics found that, contrary to some critical earlier studies, community conservation programs, when done properly, can produce demonstrable changes in local community behavior and lead to improved environmental conservation. This study evaluated the outcomes of community conservation efforts by ECOAN, ABC’s International Network partner in Peru; specifically ECOAN’s efforts related to conservation of Peruvian Polylepis forests, one of the world’s most threatened neotropical ecosystems that provides habitat for a suite of birds that specialize on this habitat, including many threatened species.

The study was based on interviews with families at Abra Malaga, where ECOAN and ABC began working in the year 2000 and have since established a 175-acre reserve for Polylepis forests, conducted a reforestation campaign, and developed trails, a visitor center, and restrooms for tourists. The study assessed the communities’ behavioral changes – in particular, whether they had increased, decreased, or maintained their level of activities related to cutting forest wood for fuel, grazing livestock in the forest, transforming woodland for agriculture, and burning grassland for regeneration of grasses.The evidence is persuasive: of respondents that reported carrying out forest-degrading activities prior to working with ECOAN, 81 percent said they had reduced forest fuel wood use; 71 percent had reduced livestock grazing in the forest; 73 percent had reduced conversion of forest land for agriculture; and 89 percent had reduced the burning of nearby grasslands for agriculture. When the study looked specifically for the causes for those behavioral changes, they found that almost 70 percent were either the direct or indirect result of efforts by ECOAN.

“Community-based incentives for resource management … develop new social norms and attitudes, and the empirical results presented here indicate that those mechanisms can be successful in developing the new forest-friendly behaviors and attitudes that … should be the metric for success of community conservation,” the article says. The authors go on to argue for a two-stage approach to conservation with community conservation building a social and institutional context conducive to conservation followed by a second stage providing more explicit incentives through market-based mechanisms.

“We are excited that the study validates our success of more than a decade of efforts we have made to protect vital Polylepis forests. We have been applying the same approaches in many other environmental projects with local communities across Peru and are seeing similar positive changes in resource management by local people benefitting conservation,” said Constantino Aucca Chutas, President of ECOAN.

“Protection of Peru’s Polylepis habitat is a top priority for the conservation of the Critically Endangered Royal Cinclodes, and Endangered White-browed Tit-Spinetail and Ash-breasted Tit-Tyrant. ECOAN’s approach of working closely with local communities, providing an educational foundation for their programs as well as offering incentives has paid huge dividends, though much remains to be done,” said Mike Parr, Vice President of ABC.

ABC has partnered with ECOAN on many conservation projects, including establishing 12 new bird conservation reserves protecting almost 50,000 acres of important bird habitat, as well as planting over 1.5 million trees in Peru.

ECOAN works to involve local communities in the preservation of biodiversity by promoting the sustainable use of natural resources, thus conserving flora, fauna, and natural ecosystems in Peru.

4th July 2014