The Cordillera Real of Ecuador is situated along the broad headwaters of the Amazon watershed and squarely within the planet’s largest and most diverse biological hotspot. Within these headwaters we aim to protect remaining wild habitats and to restore altered or degraded landscapes. The vital question is, How can we best achieve these aims?
Ecuador in shaded relief. FCT prioritizes conservation of the Andean Amazon –
the eastward-flowing watersheds of the Andes mountain chain.
FCT’s conservation activities have various common and interrelated elements: environmental education, community empowerment, scientific research, reforestation, land tenure security, sustainable agricultural practices, and improved living conditions. But how can these tools contribute to the future of Ecuador’s natural heritage? What is the overarching goal?
These pastures were carved from forest; the remnant fragments are in dire need of protection.
We describe that vision here. Ecuador should be proud that more than 20% of its territory is under government protection, in large national parks or in other conservation designations. But FCT believes that the current model of state protection needs to be complemented with the protection of multiple localized reserves. This is because tropical biodiversity encompasses many endemic species whose range is spatially limited—to a single mountaintop, a wetland, a deep valley—and chances are therefore high that many species will be found outside the limits of national parks. And the smaller the geographical range of a species, the greater the threat of extinction. So, although
admirable, the commitment to preserving 20% of Ecuador’s territory fails to protect the majority of its species.
In Ecuador, intact wild habitats persist in private properties held by indigenous communities, agricultural associations, and individuals. These habitats are found in uplands, steep slopes, remote corners, and places of difficult access. In its reforestation initiatives in the Nudo del Azuay, FCT routinely seeks to motivate owners to preserve their remaining wild habitats through conservation agreements. FCT also works to promote civil society conservation in Ecuador by supporting the efforts of other NGOs dedicated to establishing a network of privately owned reserves. It is opportune that Ecuador’s Constitution of 2008 provides the means for private reserves to have a formal role in the National System of Protected Areas, or SNAP. In effect, civil society and its property owners are invited to be an integral component of Ecuador’s conservation structure. The structure for a national network of private reserves thus exists; the challenge is to make it real. Our mission, therefore, is to motivate farmers and rural residents to assume their vital role in biodiversity conservation.
As challenging as private conservation of remnant habitats may be, conserving those remnants is not enough. Fragmented or disconnected forests and páramos are biologically fragile, and their species are particularly subject to extinction, especially in the context of global climate change. To connect private reserves, and to connect national parks with these valuable remnants, FCT envisions utilizing natural water courses as a template for riverine forest restoration.
Forested corridors will connect isolated habitats, allow species to move from more to less diverse habitats, protect rivers and their hydrologic services, restore aquatic ecologies, produce firewood and fodder for the domestic livestock of riverine property owners, and provide a hedge against extinction because species can
How will the deforestation frontier behind Liliana move during her lifetime?
migrate as the climate changes. Below the high Andean páramos, Ecuador was once a forested landscape, almost in its entirety. By re-establishing riverine forests, a first step is taken to reinstate a diminished heritage and remedy habitat fragmentation.
Our efforts are a response to the urgency of the planetary extinction event underway. The combination of interventions we propose will create an opportunity for natural environments to restore themselves. Our vision is an Ecuador reborn as a network of protected forests and páramos linked by bio-corridors, creating a landscape that educates as it conserves.