– A new fund created by Conservation International to respond to urgent threats to globally valuable ecosystems recently secured protection for more than 700,000 acres of rain forest in Bolivia's Tropical Andes, one of the most biologically rich regions in the world.
"The Tropical Wilderness Protection Fund allows us to respond immediately and decisively when threats erupt in the most critical biodiversity strongholds," said Peter Seligmann, CEO and Chairman of Conservation International (CI). "This success sends the important message that conservation can compete with threats such as logging and other development."
CI brokered the protection of a 111,200-acre privately owned logging concession and convinced Bolivia's government to convert an adjacent 588,802 acres of multiple-use park land into permanent protection within the Madidi National Park. The combined land area nearly equals the size of Rhode Island and forms a "conservation corridor" that links protected areas of the national park that were previously divided by the concession and the multiple-use zone. Conservation corridors allow wildlife to migrate freely and are important in maintaining the biological integrity of an ecosystem. CI is working to link Madidi to a larger corridor that will stretch from Bolivia to Venezuela.
The timber concession was originally granted in 1992 to Fatima, Ltd. in the multiple-use zone of the park. Earlier this year, just as timber extraction was about to begin, Bolivia's National Park Service (SERNAP) approached CI to help prevent the logging.
CI negotiated with the company, which agreed to turn over the concession to the park in exchange for $100,000 to cover operations costs. Funding will come through grants from private foundations and from CI's Tropical Wilderness Protection Fund, a cash reserve created to enable CI to move quickly to permanently protect endangered biodiversity-rich areas. The fund was first used in 1998 to protect nearly 4 million acres of Suriname's pristine wilderness that was also targeted by loggers.
The Tropical Andes is one of 25 global biodiversity hotspots, which combined claim more than 60 percent of total terrestrial diversity in less than 2 percent of the Earth's land area.
The Bolivian government created Madidi National Park in 1995 after CI's Rapid Assessment Program (RAP) surveyed the previously undocumented region to determine its ecological importance. RAP's analysis revealed a high level of diversity in plants and animals, including more than 400 bird species, as well as large populations of tapirs and spider monkeys.
The park covers nearly 4.46 million acres and was originally separated into two sections by a multiple-use zone. The multiple-use zone will remain, but the conservation corridor reduces its size by over a half a million acres. Madidi National Park shares its boundaries with three other Bolivian protected areas and two protected areas along the Peruvian border.
While the conversion of the concession ends all legal logging in Madidi National Park, threats to the park still include illegal logging, oil extraction, mining, and colonization.
"By halting the logging in Madidi, we are one step closer to ensuring the protection of Bolivia and Peru's biological treasures through a series of bi-national protected areas that link to form a conservation corridor," said Roberto Roca, senior director of CI's Tropical Andes Program. "We commend the Bolivian Park Service for their commitment to conserve this important area."