Dry Forest in New Caledonia: Management, Protection and Restoration

Geographical location:

Asia/Pacific > Pacific Ocean > New Caledonia (FR)

The Southeastern coast of Grande Terre, New Caledonia's largest island.
© WWF-Canon / Marc-Antoine DUNAIS

Summary

New Caledonia is considered one of the most important regions of the world in terms of biodiversity and endemism. Among the array of habitats existing there, tropical dry forests are particularly remarkable for their high levels of endemism. However, tropical dry forests are critically endangered and may very soon disappear if no conservation measures are undertaken.

WWF France has initiated a global programme which aims to rescue the last patches of dry forest in New Caledonia whilst developing an integrated conservation and development strategy focused on this particular ecosystem. This project will also help to set up policies for New Caledonia forestry services. Working closely with local stakeholders, NGOs, local landowners and with help from the WWF network and GAA funds, a conservation programme will be put in place to rescue the last fragments of dry forest. A longer term aim is to restore the dry forest habitat.

Background

The tropical dry forests of New Caledonia are unique in that they represent some of the world's richest dry forests with very high levels of endemism. The New Caledonian sclerophyll forest supports 409 native plant species, including at least 59 species which occur only in these habitats and many more that are endemic to New Caledonia.

From July 1997 through September 1998, WWF France completed a project concept phase for the New Caledonian dry forests that focused on emergency conservation measures and local stakeholders’ involvement. There is now enough information and local knowledge to proceed with the development of an ecoregion-based conservation (ERBC) vision for the New Caledonian sclerophyll forest habitat.

Threats to the area have been identified as clearing pasture, uncontrolled burning during the dry season, the invasion of exotic plants and animals (rusa deer and electric ant), and the land tenure status of the dry forest patches, which are largely held by private owners.

In October and December 1999, WWF France worked closely with government and local agencies, scientific institutes, NGOs, and local landowners to coordinate and catalyse efforts to implement the rescue of this important ecoregion. As a result, all local stakeholders have ratified a 5-year programme document. This document outlines a comprehensive strategy for rescuing the last patches of dry forest from degradation and of loss, for promoting protection and restoration of several rich forest patches, and for raising awareness of and support for dry forest conservation.

Several ongoing and pilot activities are presently being developed in collaboration with local and national partners. These will contribute to the development of the action plan for the ERBC implementation. Two pilot sites on private property are already committed to the programme and research trials have been initiated to develop a better understanding of sclerophyll forest dynamics and consider options for controlling invasive species. These pilot sites will also be used to prepare education tools to strengthen awareness among the public, landowners and decision-makers.

Objectives

Ensure durable conservation of New Caledonian dry forests within and outside protected areas. Specifically:

- Increase knowledge of the ecoregion's biodiversity.
- Establish a strong restoration strategy.
- Promote the ecoregion's vision
- Ensure long-term management of natural resources in a way which contributes to New Caledonian communities’ social and economic development.

Solution

The project objectives are be achieved through the implementation of an action plan that addresses local conservation issues and long-term management of natural resources. It is acknowledged that this should contribute to New Caledonian communities' social and economic development.

WWF France and WWF South Pacific have developed an outline plan for a collaborative conservation programme in New Caledonia as an integral part of the South Pacific programme. This plan has implications in community resource management, Melanesian forest conservation, people and plants, and capacity building.

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