Our Story Continued
A worldview that prioritizes the value of the tree as a living part of the forest needed to be reconciled with the worldview that perceives a tree as the raw-material from which to build one’s home. The founders of FCT saw a need for an organization that would attempt to reconcile these discordant worldviews. They believed that among frontier inhabitants there must be a way to motivate, and not impose, the conservation of wild habitats. Government regulations and sanctions can work, but they generate resentment and resistance, and any conservation gains are forever fragile. So, these founders asked, Which mix of environmental education and economic incentives might provide an alternative to government sanctions, and would accomplish the conservation of the area of titled lands within Sangay?
Fundación Cordillera Tropical thus began its search of ways to redefine "protection" when applied to a national park. The founders of FCT obtained legal recognition by the Ministry of the Environment in May of 2001. Our proposal was to make conservation both a new source of income for landowners, and the stuff of good citizenry.
A family on the agricultural frontier of the Cordillera Real.
In this, FCT has made considerable progress. We were a coalition of volunteers in the early years, but the tasks were too big and too important to be left to part-timers. The foundation was able to finance a professional staff beginning in 2008. For our total of 19 years on the job, Fundación Cordillera Tropical has worked within Sangay National Park and along its buffer zone to reconcile the local community’s need to produce food and income with the need of Ecuador (and the world) to conserve the region’s astounding biological diversity. The result has been an evolved kit of conservation tools and interventions, tested and refined by experience and the selective winnowing of what works.
We have focused on
silvopastoral interventions and riverine forestation;
environmental education for all ages and all actors;
land tenure mapping for Sangay National Park;
building environmental management skills for community members and local levels of government;
establishing an association of community park guards;
compensation for the conservation of environmental services;
aid to the central government’s Socio Bosque program, which paid property owners a stipend to conserve their wild habitats;
the planning and management of new roads within Sangay, to keep them green; and
the development of an early warning system, using satellite imagery, to alert Sangay NP authorities of human interventions in distant areas.
Puppets teach ecological principles to young and old alike.
FCT now plans to extend its use of these tools and experiences in the coming years to Ecuador’s Amazon headwaters, a wide geographic area that stretches along the multiple east-flowing watersheds of the Cordillera Real Oriental. We recognize that most conservation gains are small, which would be consolation enough, but these gains are always at imminent risk of being reversed by the forces of development, political territorialities, mining, and the siren of ever more public infrastructure. The conviction on the part of agriculture frontier residents that wildlands benefit them will anchor conservation gains for the future. And in the coming years we must generate a crescendo of broad support from the urban public.
Ecoregions of the Cordillera Real Oriental, extending from Colombia through Ecuador to northern Peru
FCT activities have been financed by a variety of international conservation organizations and educational institutions, including the Overbrook Foundation, World Wildlife Fund, Conservation International, Blue Moon Fund, New England Biolabs Foundation, The Nature Conservancy, Forest Trends, the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund. Government institutions from Ecuador and abroad have also financed numerous FCT projects. These institutions include the National Environmental Fund (FAN), two regional hydroelectric companies (HidroPaute and HidroAzogues, the regional production facilities of Ecuador’s Electricity Corporation, CELEC), the Paute River watershed conservation fund (FONAPA), and the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS).
FCT has a long history of supporting biological, hydrological, and geomorphological research, as described on this website, and has hosted university student programs in the wild habitats of southern Sangay and the surrounding areas. Project areas in earth sciences and physical geography have included a geomorphological assessment of the Ningar River, a determination of the effects of pine afforestation in paramo on soil carbon processes, land use and the hydrological properties of paramo soils, and land-use and land cover histories in watersheds of the Nudo del Azuay. In wildlife studies, FCT has supported numerous research projects within its Don Oso Program, plus many faunal inventories, among them stream invertebrates (as a measure of water quality), birds, amphibians and reptiles. Vegetation studies have inventoried forest trees and ferns.
Bear researcher Lucas Achig takes his office to the field.
Herpetologist Martin Bustamante photographs a frog poised on an air bromeliad.
We invite you to peruse our Publications tab to see the original research citations.