Named for its three main rivers – the Yopno, Uruwa and Som of the Huon Peninsula – the YUS Conservation Area covers 76,000 hectares of tropical forest from Papua New Guinea’s northern coast to its interior mountains. The lush forest ecosystem teems with life and provides resources and services that sustain the 10,000 villagers living in the conservation area. In particular, the forest is critical habitat for Matschie’s tree kangaroo (Dendrolagus matschei), an Endangered species with a bear-like head, monkey’s tail and a marsupial’s pouch.
The southeast Pacific nation established YUS as its first national conservation area in 2009, after more than a decade of work on the ground. Woodland Park’s Tree Kangaroo Conservation Program (TKCP), worked with local landowners and the PNG government to establish the conservation area, which was the first to be declared under the PNG Conservation Areas Act of 1978. The protected area is a continuous stretch from coastal reefs to the 4,000-meter (13,000-foot) peaks of the western Saruwaged Mountains. GCF has provided more than $1 million since 2002 to support TKCP, and has pledged a grant of $1 million more to be matched by Woodland Park Zoo to help establish a conservation trust that will provide long-term financing to the community to manage YUS. The trust will be the first to support a PNG conservation project.
The YUS declaration was also historic in that it marked the first time the more than 35 indigenous villages of the region came together in joint action to protect their forest homeland and the wildlife and ecosystems so vital to their culture and sustenance. While the land remains under local ownership, villagers have formally committed to prohibiting all hunting and activities such as logging and mining within the conservation area. Previous declarations of wildlife management areas in PNG have been less restrictive.
In exchange for this commitment to conservation, TKCP works with community leaders to increase access to education and improve community health within the villages. TKCP also will assist in formalizing a local community-based organization that will be responsible for managing the conservation area as well as the community livelihood projects in the villages of the surrounding YUS ecosystem.