Conflict is nothing new in the Caucasus. Over thousands of years the Caucasus region of Eurasia has seen kingdoms rise and fall, religions gain and lose favor, and territories become united, divided and united again by a number of diverse groups vying for control of the mountainous terrain.
But a wild goat (Capra aegagrus) knows no political boundaries; neither does an imperial eagle (Aquila heliaca) or a sturgeon (Acipenser sp.). Since 2003, the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF) – a collaboration of six organizations including Conservation International (CI) – has been working in the region to help protect valuable species and ecosystems, build local capacity and facilitate transboundary cooperation between nations that may have disagreements but also recognize that they must work together to protect their shared resources.
Crossroads of Diversity
|"The CEPF investment program in the Caucasus is a fantastic example of the power of civil society groups – working in partnership and in pursuit of common goals – to transcend barriers of geography, language and politics, and achieve lasting conservation results at a regional scale."
– CEPF Grant Director
Located between the Black and Caspian Seas, the Caucasus region spans parts of Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Iran, Turkey and Russia – an area containing ecosystems as varied as savanna, desert, swamp forest and woodland. Although this region is often noted for its cultural diversity, which includes a mix of different ethnic groups, languages and religions, it is also habitat for 6,500 species of vascular plants and a great diversity of animal species.
IN DEPTH: The Caucasus Biodiversity Hotspot
Activities like overgrazing, poaching, illegal logging, fuel harvesting and overfishing are threatening the vitality of these valuable landscapes and waterways. In order to best preserve these crucial ecosystems, conservation efforts must extend beyond country borders.
CEPF provides grants to local civil society groups in ecosystems across the globe. In partnership with local stakeholders and the World Wide Fund for Nature's (WWF) Caucasus Program office, CEPF began by prioritizing the protection of five major landscapes in the region – the Caspian, East Lesser Caucasus, Greater Caucasus, West Lesser Caucasus and Hyrcan biodiversity conservation corridors. All of them cross the boundaries of at least two countries.
A recent assessment of CEPF's first five years working in the region highlighted a variety of ongoing initiatives, including:
Improved management of 1.23 million hectares (more than 3 million acres) of territory in 17 existing protected areas, and expansion of the region's protected area systems by 83,093 hectares (205,327 acres). Proposals have already been made to expand these systems by another 194,443 hectares (480,479 acres) in the next few years; if that happens, CEPF will have improved conservation measures in a territory larger than the entire island of Puerto Rico.
Assessments of all vascular plants, mammals and amphibians found only in the Caucasus region, as well as the implementation of conservation actions for 47 out of 50 priority species. In one example, conservation groups launched a publicity campaign about the connections between the illegal caviar trade and threats to wild sturgeon populations in Russia and Georgia. As a result, authorities in both countries strengthened control over the illegal trade, and consumers became more supportive of limiting caviar consumption to aid conservation efforts.
Training in sustainable resource use and alternative livelihoods such as honey production, fruit orchards and ecotourism. In one sustainable fuel initiative in the Azeri part of the Greater Caucasus Corridor, local people began making briquettes out of sawdust. In addition to reducing forest destruction for fuelwood, this practice also diminishes the amount of freshwater pollution from the timber industry.
Joint working groups, training courses and exchange programs that bring together government representatives, NGO staff and academic institutions from different countries to discuss possible transboundary collaborations.
A Model for Transboundary Conservation
"This approach of empowering local stakeholders to conserve global biodiversity, within the framework of an investment strategy that they have themselves developed, is one that CEPF has successfully adopted in 18 biodiversity hotspots so far," explained Jack Tordoff, CEPF Grant Director. "The CEPF investment program in the Caucasus is a fantastic example of the power of civil society groups – working in partnership and in pursuit of common goals – to transcend barriers of geography, language and politics, and achieve lasting conservation results at a regional scale."
FROM THE BLOG: The Future of Biodiversity
The successes of CEPF's initiatives in the Caucasus prove the importance of international collaboration to protect the global biodiversity on which all societies depend. Last week, a similar conservation discussion took place on a larger scale in Nagoya, Japan – among thousands of government representatives, indigenous leaders and nonprofit advocates at the Convention on Biological Diversity meeting. Let's hope that these leaders can also put aside their differences and implement crucial conservation measures before it's too late.
CEPF is a joint initiative of Conservation International, the World Bank, L'Agence Française de Développement, the Global Environment Facility, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the government of Japan. http://www.cepf.net