The young man’s English isn’t perfect, but the meaning is as crystal clear as the river water that flows to Penge Epemu’s remote Papua New Guinea village from the newly created YUS Conservation Area.
“The community have a unique opportunity to conserve our forest and ensure the health of our living standard by present and also for future generation,” Epemu, an eighth-grader, wrote in an essay on the need to protect his tropical forest homeland.
Sharing the Forests: Communities and Local Species
Epemu lives in remote Huon Peninsula, a region of northern Papua New Guinea blessed by lush tropical forest stretching from interior mountains to coastal reefs.
As subsistence villagers, Epemu’s people depend on the forest ecosystems for their water, food, traditional medicines and other essential resources. They share the forest with unique wildlife such as Matschie’s tree kangaroos (Dendrolagus matschiei), a species found nowhere else that is classed as Endangered on the IUCN Red List.
IN DEPTH: Learn about many species CI and our partners protect.
And now they have worked with their government and partners including CI and Seattle’s Woodland Park Zoo to protect the forest by creating the YUS Conservation Area.
A Team of 35 Villages
Named for the three rivers that flow through it – the Yopno, Uruwa and Som – the 187,000-acre (76,000-hectare) reserve is the first national conservation area declared by Papua New Guinea under a law passed in 1978 but never utilized until now.
Its creation benefits the people of the YUS region, the rich biodiversity of the tropical forest there and all of us around the world. Protecting the new conservation area’s tropical forests will prevent the estimated 13 million tons of carbon stored in the forest biomass from being released into the atmosphere.
To make it all happen, more than 35 local villages – including Epemu’s – contributed land to help create the YUS Conservation Area and committed to keeping it pristine.
Such community involvement is an essential component of modern conservation, says Lisa Dabek, the field director at Seattle’s Woodland Park Zoo and founder and director of the zoo’s Tree Kangaroo Conservation Program.
“What we have accomplished here is more than just an act of environmental preservation – it’s a sustainable model for community-based conservation that works,” said Dabek, who first visited the remote region more than a dozen years ago to research tree kangaroos.
Global Support for Healthy Communities, Healthy Habitats
Now considered the Jane Goodall of tree kangaroo conservation, Dabek led the trust-building effort among the YUS region’s scattered communities that resulted in the new conservation area to protect vital tree kangaroo habitat and the vital forest ecosystems.
Her efforts, with support from CI’s Global Conservation Fund (GCF), improved educational opportunities such as the classes in which Epemu learned about conservation.
Since 2002, GCF has provided more than $1 million to help establish the YUS Conservation Area. Support for tree kangaroo conservation and research came from National Geographic, Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA) institutions, and other foundations and individual donors.
Now GCF has pledged an additional $1 million to be matched by Woodland Park Zoo as seed money for a Conservation Trust Fund to cover costs of managing the conservation area.
FIND OUT MORE: CI works with corporate, NGO and community partners.
In addition, the German government’s LifeWeb Initiative has provided a grant to CI and Woodland Park Zoo to support the conservation area, PNG community development projects and climate change research.
“The new YUS Conservation Area is a model in community leadership that can inspire so many other countries and communities around the world,” GCF Managing Director Jennifer Morris said. “The benefits of protecting these tropical forests for both nature and people will also reach far beyond Papua New Guinea and benefit everyone by preventing millions of tons of carbon from being released into the atmosphere.”
In July 2008, CI President Russ Mittermeier and Senior Research Scientist Bruce Beehler visited Dabek in the YUS region forest. It was a rare first for Mittermeier, who has traveled to every corner of the planet but had never before encountered tree kangaroos in the wild.
IN PHOTOS: The YUS Conservation Agreement
“I was really impressed with everything going on there,” Mittermeier said. “The commitment and enthusiasm of the YUS people to conserve the forest and the tree kangaroos is an inspiration to all of us. We are proud to be partners with these communities and with the Papua New Guinea government, the German government and the Woodland Park Zoo’s Tree Kangaroo Conservation Program, which all have worked so hard to make it happen. This amazing project and its success should now open the door to the creation of many more conservation areas in Papua New Guinea.”