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Pakistan’s Billion Tree Tsunami restores 350,000 hectares of forests and degraded land to surpass Bonn Challenge commitment

11 August 2017
Working together to reach and surpass their goals. Photo: Billion Tree Tsunami Afforestation Project website

The Billion Tree Tsunami Afforestation Project in Pakistan’s northern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) province has surpassed its target by restoring and planting trees in 350,000 hectares of degraded forest landscapes.

Launched in 2015 by Imran Khan, Chairman of Pakistan's Tehreek-e-Insaf party, the Billion Tree Tsunami aims to turn the tide on land degradation and loss in the mountainous, formerly forested KPK province in the Hindu Kush mountain range. The campaign simultaneously helped KPK province fulfil its 348,400 hectare commitment to the Bonn Challenge – a global effort to bring 150 million hectares of deforested and degraded land into restoration by 2020 and 350 million hectares by 2030. This marks the first Bonn Challenge pledge to reach its restoration goal.

“The project is naturally restoring a previously deforested landscape, which will assist in meeting present and future needs and offers multiple benefits for climate adaptation and mitigation in a very climate-vulnerable province,” says Muhammad Tehmasip, Project Director of the Billion Tree Tsunami.

The project has achieved its restoration target through a combination of protected natural regeneration (60%) and planned afforestation (40%). In addition, it has established 13,000 private tree nurseries, which have already boosted local incomes, generated thousands of green jobs, and empowered unemployed youth and women in the province.

Tree nursery. Photo: Billion Tree Tsunami Afforestation Project website“IUCN congratulates the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa on reaching this momentous milestone. The Billion Tree Tsunami initiative is a true conservation success story, one that further demonstrates Pakistan’s leadership role in the international restoration effort and continued commitment to the Bonn Challenge,” says Inger Andersen, Director General of IUCN.

The planted trees are reinforcing riparian embankments in important catchment areas, including along the banks of the Indus, Kunhar and Swat rivers. The project has also added tree resources to agricultural lands currently engaged in farm forestry, improved biodiversity by restoring wildlife shelters, and will contribute to CO₂ sequestration through new tree plantations. 

In support of the Billion Tree Tsunami, the KPK government invested US$ 123 million in funding and will allocate an additional US$ 100 million to maintain the project through June 2020. This support makes the project one of the largest eco-investments ever made in Pakistan.

Restoration is also gaining important national support. In 2016, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif announced the Green Pakistan Programme, with a goal to plant over 100 million trees in the country. Additionally, Pakistan made a national pledge to the Bonn Challenge in May 2017 to complement the existing KPK commitment – pledging 100,000 hectares during the first Asia Bonn Challenge High-level Roundtable in South Sumatra, and helping the Bonn Challenge cross the 150 million hectare milestone.



The last dance? Critically Endangered grebe’s mesmerising display filmed for first time

10 August 2017

Firstly, let us begin with the footage you all came to see: the mesmerising, headbanging, courtship display of the Hooded Grebe Podiceps gallardoi (Courtesy of Living Wild in South America), to view this footage please click here.

Since the Hooded Grebe is found in the isolated, and largely inaccessible, lakes of remote Patagonia, it’s had plenty of time to rehearse its elaborate dance routine in private; the species was only discovered by humans 43 years ago, and we’re still unlocking the secrets of this charismatic species.

This footage, filmed for the documentary Tango in the Wind, is the first time the Hooded Grebe’s spectacular routine has been filmed in such detail. But even though we discovered the species less than half a century ago, human impacts are already driving this beleaguered species towards extinction. American Mink Neovison vison, a semiaquatic mammal native to North America, was introduced to Patagonia for commercial fur production in the 1930s – decades before we even knew the Hooded Grebe existed.

A few minks escaped, and now they prey on the unprepared grebes, driving their numbers ever downwards. And now a pair of poorly-planned dams threaten to turn off the music on this Critically Endangered waterbird for good.

The Hooded Grebe is in steep decline. By the mid-1980s, the population was estimated at a minimum of 3,000 to 5,000 adult individuals. Today they do not exceed 400 breeding pairs. This situation has prompted Aves Argentinas (BirdLife Partner) to develop a range of research, education and conservation activities geared towards conserving the species known affectionately in Argentina as the 'Macá Tobiano’, both in its breeding area and in its wintering sites across the Argentine coast.

Since 2009, the Macá Tobiano Project has been working uninterruptedly with the central objective of halting the accelerated declines of the species – which has been driven not only by predation, but also by over-grazing of the lakes’ surrounding vegetation by livestock.

Hooded Grebe parents carry their young on their back © Living Wild in South America But all these efforts will be in vain if the project to dam the Santa Cruz River is allowed to continue. The Argentine Government, allied with Chinese companies, is planning to build two mega dams on the Santa Cruz River, which would likely lead to the destruction of the last glacier river in Patagonia, taking with it the around half the river’s ecosystem, and many of the species that depend on it. The dams would block natural processes, which will have an impact on the flow of rivers and aquatic ecosystems in the area. The availability of food downstream would also be affected, resulting in the loss of some of the Hooded Grebe’s most important wintering sites.

The Santa Cruz River is born from the melting glaciers of Patagonia, and travels 385km to its mouth in the Atlantic. Its winding journey is the preferred habitat of many species that are adapted to the climatic conditions of these latitude – not least the Hooded Grebe, an endemic species and a symbol of Patagonia. A few years ago, the State created a National Park to save the Hooded Grebe from extinction, and today that same State could sign his death.

The delicate nature of the Santa Cruz’ habitats means that in spite of the 100 lagoons that make up the river across its route, 70% of the population of Hooded Grebe are restricted to a handful of lagoons – recent counts suggest that 518 birds are found in just six lagoons.

Since the beginning of the conservation project, many activities are underway in order to recover the populations before it is too late. As a result, their main threats are now being controlled; not just American Mink, but also the production of Rainbow Trout Oncorhynchus mykiss and other species as Kelp Gull Larus dominicanus, which preys on the grebe’s eggs and chicks.

At the time of writing, we are in the fourth year of working to manage Patagonia's American Mink populations, one of the greatest threats to the species. The focus was on the area associated with the Lake Buenos Aires (in Patagonia National Park) plateau where the invasive predator’s impact is most acutely felt.  Forty traps were active for 120 days across four watercourses. This capturing effort allowed the removal of 26 minks, bringing the total to date to 114.

Meanwhile, the work related to the impacts of salmonids, specifically rainbow trout, in the high plateau lagoons of western Santa Cruz, aims to evaluate the potential capacity to restore environments that have been modified by fish farming activities in the last few decades. Del Islote Lake was defined as the first site to be restored from the impact of the introduction of rainbow trout. This lake housed more than 1000 adult individuals of Hooded Grebe in the 1980s (which made up around 20% of the global population of that time) and is crucial to the species' recovery. The impact by predatory birds such as gulls is controlled by the program "Guardians of Colonies", as well as census and monitoring of the species throughout its cycle.

But all these specific activities have no value if we cannot preserve their habitat. For this reason, it is fundamental that we continue to fight against the dams planned in the Santa Cruz River.

In recent months, several environmental organizations in Argentina have initiated a firm and constant struggle against the construction of the dams. In that timeframe, a short documentary called "Killing the River" was created, that was released in Buenos Aires before more than 600 people. Also for the first time in the history of the country, there was a public hearing in the national congress for the construction of dams. At that two-day hearing, more than 60% of exhibitors - including all environmental organizations - demonstrated against the dams. Today the works are stopped by a measure ordered by the Supreme Court of Justice, dictated thanks to the work of the organizations. But still, the dance continues, both in Argentina's boardrooms, and (for now at least), on the lagoons.

This article was written by Alex Dale and Francisco González Táboas, ‎Aves Argentinas, and was originally posted on the birdlife website, to view the original page please click here.



Gender equity is key to mangrove restoration

27 July 2017
Photo: Courtesy Pixabay

Women and men in coastal communities are often closely connected to their coastal ecosystems and gender roles are often traditionally identified and clearly divided. Women and men differ in how they interact and depend upon mangroves – how they use the ecosystem, which mangrove products they choose, and the benefits they receive.

Mangrove forests are particularly rich in directly harvestable seafood, timber, firewood and other plant products such as tea and roofing materials. They also provide vital protection against floods and storms and buffer against sea level rise. Especially in developing countries, coastal communities are directly dependent on products and services gained from mangrove forest ecosystems.

Unfortunately, many years of unsustainable human use, largely driven by demand for resources and products on the international market, has led to large-scale overexploitation and destruction of mangrove forests. The consequences of disappearing mangroves have been particularly detrimental to the lives and livelihoods of the local people. Global conservation efforts are now engaging local communities in their actions to reverse this dangerous trend.

Acknowledging the different roles women and men have in the ecosystem and community is essential in any conservation initiative. It allows for their differentiated inputs and impacts and promotes specific responses women and men could, and should, undertake. Despite today’s widely applied concept of integrating local communities in conservation efforts, there is a great risk of overlooking the particular interests and potential contributions of marginalised community members such as women. This can happen all too easily because women often have less social, economic and political power. Due to entrenched inequitable structures and barriers, they have a reduced influence in the decision-making process within their communities.

Fortunately, integrating a gender-responsive approach into conservation efforts is currently gaining global momentum with significant results toward empowering women and enhancing gender equality. For women, some of the potential consequences of a gender-responsive approach are increased food and water security, gained leadership and voice, improved health, security, education and skills development as well as improved livelihoods and income. IUCN’s Global Gender Office highlights and supports this approach to ‘ensure gender equality is central to sustainable global environmental solutions’ in a range of issues. Particularly around the conservation and restoration of mangrove forests, IUCN, its partners and other organisations are active in several projects working to integrate gender considerations and responses.

Mangroves for the Future (MFF), an initiative co-chaired by IUCN and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), is running mangrove restoration and sustainable development projects with gender integration as a core strategy in several Asian countries. Participatory, community-based project approaches ensure that women’s and men’s voices are considered equally and aim to improve women’s social and economic empowerment. Some MFF projects have supported women through sustainable livelihoods and financial leadership training which provides them with alternative livelihoods and income opportunities. For example, where women have received training on the advantages of cultivating mangrove plants, the resulting increases in fish stocks have provided an additional income opportunity. Moreover, their newly acquired financial skills have ensured higher business success.  

In Vietnam, gender integrated management in Xuan Thuy National Park allowed local impoverished fisherwomen to build sustainable livelihoods while actively contributing to the park’s conservation. Before, these women depended on increasingly scarce harvests of shells, molluscs and crabs, gathered illegally within the park’s mangrove forests. Although now the women continue to collect those products – through sensitization, awareness raising and training for gender equitable management, women have become actively involved in the management and monitoring of the resources – contributing to sustainable harvests and securing a sustainable future for themselves as well as the park. 

The Guyana Mangrove Restoration Project saw women take a central leadership role with their efforts to increase the resilience of Guyana’s coasts against flooding and coastal erosion – a threat which mostly affected women. Women were provided with resources for economic empowerment and capacity building training, which allowed them to set up various businesses including honey production, tourism activities and mangrove cultivation. The active participation of women even led to the establishment of a women-led volunteer organisation for mangrove awareness and restoration as well as the ‘Mangrove Cooperative Society’ to support other women with training and resources on beekeeping.

In Kenya, women engaged in ‘Mikoko Pamoja’, a mangrove conservation and restoration project coordinated by ACES, maintain ‘The Gazi Women Boardwalk’ to promote conservation education within the mangrove forest. Through this initiative, the women have proven their effectiveness in contributing to eco-tourism while generating income for their community’s schools as well as contributing to better health care and reliable water supply.

These positive examples show that integrating gender equality into conservation initiatives is not only key to the success and sustainability of projects but can contribute additional value to its outcomes in supporting both women and men with various benefits for their homes, communities and nations. A gender integrative approach recognises women not as passive project beneficiaries, but as active drivers of change toward conservation, sustainable development and their own sustainable livelihoods.

This article series on mangrove restoration is written by Juliet Blum and Dorothée Herr from IUCN's Global Marine and Polar Programme with the support of Germany's International Climate Initiative (IKI) through the IUCN Global Forest and Climate Change Programme.



High hopes for the Mountain Tigers of Bhutan

27 July 2017
Photo: Tiger in the Bhutanese mountains - DoFPS Bhutan

Listed as Endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™ since 1969 and despite over 4 decades of global conservation efforts, tigers continue to be threatened with extinction to this very day.  Human induced changes have reduced the tiger's historical range to about 7% in which a little more than 3800 tigers are estimated to be found. This problem is further exacerbated by the fact that an extensive segment of the tigers' remaining habitat is situated in developing countries where these changes are happening at an extraordinary rate. Most of these individuals exist in small and highly structured populations.

Photo: Tiger on camera trap in Bhutan - DoFPS BhutanTigers in Bhutan are a global priority for the species’ conservation. With more than 72% of the country under forest cover and 51.4 percent under protected areas, Bhutan is home to a staggering 103 tigers. Tigers are thriving in Bhutan and the population here is believed to have the highest probability of long-term persistence in the world. This can be attributed to good swaths of contiguous forest habitat and prey, complemented by strong conservation leadership and religious sentiments of the Bhutanese people. 

Recent use of camera trap technology in Bhutan has provided amazing insights into the cat’s movement and ecology. Tigers in Bhutan can be found at a broad elevational range, starting from as low as 100m in the south to over 4000 metres in the north and what is even more magnificent is that the tigers are moving across large landscapes, unhindered and safe.

Photo: Bhutan Mountains - Tashi DhendupStarting as early as 2000 with the first camera trap image of a tiger at 3000masl in Phrumsengla National Park, and later at 4200masl in Jigme Dorji National Park (JDNP) in 2012, and with numerous high altitude records in between, tigers in Bhutan are increasingly being known as mountain tigers. A camera trapping exercise in Wangchuk Centennial National Park by the Ugyen Wangchuck Institute for Conservation and Environment Research (UWICER) has recorded tiger pictures at 4400masl, and pugmark evidence at 4600masl, the highest altitude record of tigers documented so far. 

In 2013, UWICER tiger team recorded a tiger in the snow in Jigme Singye Wangchuck National Park and interestingly, they had previously recorded the same tiger at 250m in Royal Manas National Park (RMNP) in Southern Bhutan (tigers can be identified individually thanks to their unique stripes patterns). The same tiger team achieved another remarkable milestone when they recorded a tiger in the northern mountains of JDNP at 3900m Asl., which they had previously recorded in the southern sub-tropical plains of RMNP in 2013.

Photo: Lhuntse Dzong - Tashi DhendupIt is an irrefutable fact now that tigers, as a species are very resilient and move from the sub-tropical plains to the temperate forests and to the alpine meadows, provided good habitat and connectivity exists. This signifies the importance of high altitude landscapes and habitat connectivity for tiger conservation policy in Bhutan and the Himalayan region. Tigers are breeding in these high altitudes, presumably due to the optimal availability of prey and less infringement by human activities. The highlands may also serve as natural corridors for tigers and other large mammals while traversing between more suitable habitats. Due to their remoteness and inaccessibility, the mountains in the Himalayas could represent an important refuge for the persistence of tigers in the future.

As of now, Bhutan is proud that its landscapes offer an unparalleled opportunity for Tigers to thrive.



Habitat Connectivi-tea!

27 July 2017
Photo: WCS India surveys of tea plantations reveal presence of a number of species including Asian elephants © Varun Goswami & Divy

The conservation role of tea plantations in Northeast India: With over 3000 sq km of land under tea cultivation, Assam is India’s biggest tea-producer, generating a rich brew sought world-over. But Assam’s tea gardens also play another vital role. When managed within the context of important conservation landscapes, they serve as refuges and movement linkages for endangered species of global significance, such as tigers and elephants.

Long-term conservation of endangered wildlife increasingly requires focus on connectivity, or functional linkages between wildlife populations and habitats. This helps ameliorate negative consequences of habitat fragmentation, rapid environmental change and climate change. While connectivity conservation is often focussed on corridors, the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) India Programme’s collaboration with tea plantations stems from the recognition that animals also disperse through agricultural lands, plantations, and other land-uses.

Photo: WCS India staff engaging with tea plantation staff © Divya Vasudev - WCS IndiaOver the last three years, WCS India has been engaging with tea plantation managers and staff in the ecologically significant Kaziranga–Karbi Anglong landscape. This landscape forms a unique floodplain ecosystem, where, the plains of the Kaziranga National Park, seasonally inundated by flooding of the Brahmaputra River, harbour a rich assemblage of ungulates, including the large majority of the greater one-horned rhinoceros and a significant population of the Asian elephant, arguably the most important populations in the region. As a result of this prey availability, Kaziranga has one of the highest tiger population densities worldwide. The tiger population in this park undoubtedly has the most potential for long-term persistence in Northeast India, and forms an important source population for the region.

In partnership with the plantations, WCS India has initiated both sign- and camera-trap surveys for mammals. These surveys have so far revealed that a number of mammals, including barking deers, wild pigs (prey for large carnivores such as tigers and leopards), rhinoceros, elephants and leopards and potentially tigers, frequently use plantations.

Photo: WCS India surveys of tea plantations reveal presence of a number of species including leopards © Varun Goswami & Divya VasudeIntegration of stakeholders into conservation programs is critical for long-term conservation success. Engagement with stakeholder also allows one to address concerns of the people residing or working in tea plantations with regards to animal presence. With this aim, WCS India has held structured questionnaire surveys to assess perceptions of tea plantation management and staff to wildlife, its conservation and the mitigation of human–wildlife conflicts. In plantations, it is elephants that are generally associated with conflict, primarily due to the perceived threat to human safety. In addition, large carnivores, most often leopards, pose risks to livestock owned by tea plantation staff. Insights gained from the survey feeds into conservation initiatives implemented in close partnership with the plantations.

Over the long term, with wildlife-friendly management practices informed by sound science, tea plantations can provide additional refuge for species in human-dominated landscapes, serve as secondary habitat neighbouring existing government-managed Protected Areas, and importantly, facilitate animal movement across an increasingly impermeable landscape. As an example, tea plantations could serve as stepping-stones for dispersing tigers venturing out of Kaziranga National Park in search of a territory. Tea plantations can thus form an important model for conservation in private lands in the densely populated South Asian landscapes. WCS India is committed to this vision, implemented with support from IUCN–KfW Integrated Tiger Habitat Conservation Programme (ITHCP).

Written by Divya Vasudev and Varun Goswami, Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) India



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