Breathe easy. CI, Conservation Stewards Program and our partners are protecting the trees.
Polylepis are trees found primarily in Peru, Colombia and Ecuador. They harbor important species of mammals and birds, including four species recently discovered in Peru (one mouse species, two beetle species, and one plant species) that are new – or potentially new – to science. Polylepis trees also help prevent erosion on mountainous hillsides.
Firewood collection and uncontrolled grazing are threatening the Polylepis trees. Forest patches are shrinking in size and number, making the trees more vulnerable to changes in temperature and water availability resulting from climate change.
Firewood and Forests
To reduce the threats on Polylepis forest, in 2005 Conservation International Peru (CI) partnered with The Mountain Institute (TMI) and Antamina Mining Company to protect key areas of Polylepis forests in the highlands of the Cordillera Blanca in Northern Peru.
Engaging seven communities living in the vicinity of Huascarán National Park and Antamina’s mining operation, the program’s goal is to build a 50,000 hectare (approximately 124,000 acres) corridor connecting Huascarán to the Huayhuash Reserved Zone by protecting and restoring Polylepis forests.
The first conservation agreements in the region were signed in 2006. Today the communities are protecting and managing 12,000 hectares (29,000 acres) of highland ecosystems and over 3,000 hectares (over 7,400 acres) of forests. The project has also restored more than 150 hectares of Polylepis trees with a survival rate of 95 percent.
In exchange for the conservation actions outlined in the agreement which are promoting restoration of forest areas, protecting existing patches of forest and supporting sustainable land management, CI and its partners are contributing to the creation of development opportunities for these communities, including the provision of salaries for patrolling and improved grazing areas and cattle breeding.
The effort is also improving local people’s health.
As CI and TMI began working with these high-altitude Andean communities, it became clear that deforestation was not the only challenge they faced. Traditional cooking methods contributed both to deforestation (for firewood) and persistent respiratory ailments in the population.
Together, CI and TMI co-designed and constructed energy saving stoves for 80 families, insulating the burning surface from the humid bare ground.
The new stoves require only half the amount of wood, which not only limits the deforestation of Polylepis trees but also represents a consistent reduction in fuelwood costs, and makes fuelwood collection a less difficult task.
The new stoves also have chimneys that channel the smoke outdoors, resulting in a 90 percent reduction in respiratory problems for over 80 families.
In 2007, the project received the Sustainability Prize given by the Peruvian Ministry of Energy and Mines – recognizing the novel partnership between a mining company, international and national NGOs and local communities to protect biodiversity and promote sound development of poor Andean communities.