Forest Conservation – Protecting water, ecological connectivity & livelihoods

Forest conservation in Tanzania, it turns out, often involves meetings in air-conditioned offices in Dar es Salaam. As many field biologists find out at one point or another during their career, it is not all camping in montane forests and observing and recording rare and interesting birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians (not to mention the invertebrates!).  Sooner or later we all have to engage with the world of bureaucracy that helps lay the foundations for policy and funding that we hope will lead to effective conservation measures being implemented where they are most needed.

To illustrate this I recently attended the drily titled “Technical Planning Workshop on the proposed Mahale-Katavi National Parks and Corridor” organized by Tanzania National Parks and DfW, the German Development Bank. Carbon Tanzania, in co-operation with The Nature Conservancy, is currently developing the “Ntakata Mountains” project aimed at protecting critical habitat for chimpanzees in the miombo woodlands of western Tanzania adjacent to the chimp-rich Mahale Mountains National Park on the shores of Lake Tanganyika. Mahale is the lesser-known but much larger companion to Gombe Stream National Park where Jane Goodall pioneered research into our Great Ape cousins. In fact, as we learned at the workshop, there are more chimpanzees living in woodlands outside the National Parks than within their respective boundaries.

It is within these woodland areas that we hope to create and support a governance and funding structure that promotes the sustainable long-term management of natural resources, and that simultaneously benefits local communities while also securing a home for these less well-known chimpanzees. This means working in areas that fall outside of the formal protected areas network in Tanzania, areas that provide ecological connectivity between the parks, but without which these parks would not function as healthy wildlife sanctuaries.

The importance of this approach became clear during our meeting as the presentations for both the national parks focused largely on issues affecting the parks externally rather than internally. In the case of Katavi National Park illegal irrigated farming and deforestation in the watershed of the main river running through the park (The Katiuma River) has meant that water has not flowed throughout the year for over 15 years. This year the park and local district authorities cleared illegal dams from the upstream waterway of the river thus allowing water to flow through the park uninterrupted throughout the dry season for the first time since 2002. Our plans to support village communities with carbon payments are focused on villages in this watershed where the river rises, and thus will contribute to the ecological health of the downstream Katavi National Park.

In the case of Mahale Mountain National Park we learned that the major challenges facing the park are also largely arising outside of its boundaries. Illegal poaching, habitat destruction for illegal farming and infrastructure development (a new road) were highlighted as threats to the park’s eastern boundary, which is remote and difficult to police. The solution, according to the Park Warden, is to engage with the District government and other actors to strengthen land-use planning and habitat protection measures in the areas adjacent to the park where the majority of chimpanzees exist. Allowing the park to become an “ecological island” is seen as dangerous to the populations of animals living within the park, and strategies that deliver stronger and stable landscape connectivity are seen as key for the long-term existence of the park.

Here again Carbon Tanzania’s landscape approach will compliment the National Park’s efforts to secure habitat outside their boundaries. We are using scientific information gathered by chimpanzee researchers in the area to design our project so that it protects the most important areas of woodland in the Mahale landscape. It will also provide economic benefits to local communities which are seen as critical to providing alternatives to illegal deforestation and other destructive practices that are driven by lack of economic opportunity and poor law enforcement.

So thanks to the continued support of our clients, both locally in Tanzania and across the world, we have been able to take our model of forest conservation to communities like those in the Mahale ecosystem. These communities want to protect their lands and to prevent illegal and unplanned deforestation by land-hungry outsiders, but often lack the political strength or the economic resources to do so – carbon payments can provide these critical elements.

Click here to learn more about our three forest conservation projects in Tanzania.

Written by Carbon Tanzania Co-Founder Jo Anderson