Establishing protected areas across the Amazon

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Iténez, Bolivia.
© WWF – Oscar GARCÍA

The race to take back the Amazon

In the Amazon, one way to keep rainforests from being cut down is to designate them as being legally protected by the State. While this does not guarantee total protection – illegal logging and encroachment are commonplace in protected areas – it is a critical step towards preserving important pockets of biodiversity.
Some protected areas require more than a decade of efforts before they are established. Others are set up in only a fraction of that time. In each case, a hard process of research, consultation and advocacy is required before the areas are officially assigned a protection status.

What kind of protected area?

Different natural areas warrant specific kinds of protection status, ranging from absolute protection to sustainable extraction. Some of these protected areas, even if they do not have nature conservation as their main function, can also be relevant to safeguard  biodiversity if they are well-planned and managed.

In Brazil, such an example is afforded by EPAs (Environmental Protected Areas), a category which allows private activities within the areas, including mining, ranching and agriculture, requiring only caretakers to observe some cautions for the management of natural resources.

Buffering against threats

For example, the Wajãpi Indigenous Land and other protected areas that surround Tumucumaque Mountains National Park function as buffer zones and are essential to assure the ecological processes that generate and maintain the biodiversity within the park.

For this reason, WWF-Brazil has prompted IBAMA - the Brazilian Institute of Environment and Renewable Natural Resources - to work with the indigenous people to optimize the protection of the area.

What is ARPA?

The Amazon Region Protected Areas (ARPA) programme is knitting together sweeping safeguards for the tropical forests of the Amazon to ensure the survival of some of the Earth’s richest biological treasures. A partnership between the Government of Brazil, the Brazilian Biodiversity Fund (FUNBIO), the German Development Bank (KfW), the Global Environment Facility (GEF), the World Bank and WWF, the programme is a 10-year effort to bring 12% of the Brazilian Amazon under protection and establish a US$220 million trust fund to finance the effective management of protected areas under perpetuity.
Find out more
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Meandering river, Amazon.
© WWF - Gustavo YBARRA

Key achievements for protected areas

Over the years, WWF has contributed to the establishment of major protected areas such as Alto Purús and the Amarakaeri Communal Reserve in Peru and Tumucumaque Mountains National Park in Brazil. Just in Bolivia, WWF has helped to establish 2 protected areas: the Iténez Departmental Park and Natural Area of Integrated Management and Bruno Racua Wildlife Reserve.

Protected Areas 2005-2007

• On 28 February 2007, the Amazonian Park was created in French Guiana, with a core area of 20,000 km2 and a potential free-membership area to be defined, but not exceeding 13,000 km2. The park will link up with other protected areas in neighboring Brazil, including the Tumucumaque Mountains National Park, Grão-Pará Station and the recently declared Maicuru Reserve. Together, this cross-border protected areas network totals more than 120,000 km2, making it the world’s largest expanse of tropical forest under conservation. WWF-France has supported the creation of this park, which will help preserve the habitat of endangered species such as the jaguar and the harpy eagle.

• In Brazil, by the end of 2006, ARPA had created over 235,000 km2 of new parks and reserves, among them the Tumucumaque Mountains National Park, with 38,800 km2, roughly the size of Switzerland.

• Also through its partnership in ARPA, WWF supported a major step forward in 2005: two new protected areas were created in the Terra do Meio, located in the heart of the Amazon. Totalling over 38,000 km2, these new protected areas added critical pieces of a mosaic of contiguous protected areas, reserves, and indigenous territories that are helping to brake the runaway deforestation and land tenure conflicts of the region.

• With the support of WWF, in June 2006 the Juruena National Park was established in the Brazilian Amazon. A WWF expedition into the 19,000 km2 park discovered new species of birds, mammals, primates, reptiles, fish, and amphibians.

• In Peru, WWF’s first major initiative helped lead to the creation of Manu National Park, home to nearly 10% of all bird species on Earth.

• In March 2005, the Peruvian government created one of the largest combined indigenous reserves and protected areas in the world, in the Alto Purús area. WWF, which had worked to establish the 27,000 km2 Alto Purus National Park and Communal Reserve (nearly the size of Belgium), hailed the announcement as a major step in protecting biodiversity while respecting the rights of indigenous communities.

Protected areas are protected for good reasons

One needs well-founded arguments to set aside natural areas, especially in places where they represent local people’s main source of subsistence.
One such factor can be the critical ecological role provided by a given ecosystem. Take Bolivia's Altamachi for example. The importance of protecting this area is rooted in the cloud forest that is found there, which constitutes the main catalyst for rain and supplies the Misicuni watershed, the only provider of water for the population in nearby Cochabamba.

Partnerships and participation

In Colombia's Amazon piedmont, an outstanding landscape that encompasses montane forests, upper montane forests, and páramo, WWF is working to establish a regional network of protected areas that conserves critical elements of the ecoregion's biodiversity.

WWF compiled available cartographic information and is carrying out geographic analyses of vegetation cover and landscape transformation trends. In collaboration with The Nature Conservancy and the Alexander von Humboldt Institute, we're developing a model to assess ecosystems, in order to select conservation targets and prioritize collective actions within the watershed.

Creating the conditions for support

We also want to find out more about local indigenous groups that live in the area. How do they live? Where are their territorial boundaries? What are their expectations?

To get some answers, WWF's partner CECOIN carried out a diagnosis of the land tenure status of indigenous territories in the area and collected ethnographic and socio-economic information. With the information at hand, WWF and partners will use a model that has been developed for the participatory selection of conservation targets with key stakeholders.

This broad based approach has resulted in a cadre of many organizations engaged in the development of a collective vision, part of the process to consolidate a network of protected areas around the headwaters of the Putumayo River.

When things go wrong

And sometimes they do. In Bolivia’s Altamachi, WWF tried to resolve local conflict and raise awareness about the values of the area while providing technical assistance.

However, the protected status of the area was removed because of social pressures fuelled by a national political crisis in mid-2005. Nevertheless, WWF, its partners and involved actors continue to advocate for the re-assignation of the protected area status of Altamachi.

Helping others create protected areas

WWF is aware that the task of setting up protected areas is too huge for the organization to tackle alone. In fact, small, local NGOs are often in a better position to achieve such undertakings. This is why, over the years, WWF has supported other organisations and community groups who have carried on with our efforts to create protected areas.

For example, OSR is an organization of rubber-tappers in Brazil who have been adversely affected by deforestation. Thanks to ongoing support from WWF since 1990, OSR has strengthened and contributed to the legal establishment of many extractive reserves. These reserves involve giving secure tenure rights over large forests to people who live there, in return for their commitment to manage them well.

A vital aspect is for OSR to attain self-sufficiency through alternative activities that decrease their dependence on rubber, and channel a portion of the proceeds towards regional rubber-tapper associations.

Efforts at the policy level

In Brazil, WWF is promoting the adoption of Private Natural Heritage Reserves (RPPN - Reservas Particulares de Patrimonio Natural), which are areas that receive perpetual protection by the initiative of their owner. RPPN are an official category of conservation unit, which can be quickly set up and also have the benefit of a low investment cost. Only scientific, cultural, educational, and recreational activities are allowed on these lands.

So far however, RPPNs have been relatively little utilized. But because the Brazilian government recently increased the value of land taxes on "unproductive land", this can be used as an incentive for landowners to declare their unused land as RPPN, and hence avoid being taxed.

Helping set national guidelines for protected areas

It is also necessary to encourage a favourable environment and legislation for the promotion of protected areas.

In Colombia, WWF is helping to strengthen the National Protected Areas System, guided by ecological analyses, national gap analysis and conservation effectiveness and monitoring systems.

Next [Establishment of Alto Purús National Park] >>

The Upper Putumayo watershed

The most species-rich zone of the eastern flank of the Eastern Mountain Range of Colombia maintains one of the last large populations of endangered spectacled bear and mountain tapir. It is also home to more than 400 species of birds—18 of which are threatened with extinction.

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