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Real Stories. Real Impact.
Two recent climate wins driven by local citizens highlight the strength of local communities in protecting nature.
In the ongoing effort to combat climate change, there are events that highlight the potential for progress. Today, we invite you to take a closer look at two significant climate victories, on opposite sides of the globe but connected by a common thread: the tangible outcomes achievable when people work together for the betterment of our planet.
Ecuadorians proved that they care deeply about the environment with the passage of the Yasuní referendum.
Something incredible has taken place in Ecuador’s elections earlier this month. Over 5 million people came together to pass a referendum to protect the Yasuní National Park in the Ecuadorian Amazon from any further oil extraction. This is huge step towards mitigating climate change. This passed referendum will block oil extraction in Indigenous territories, in one of the most biodiverse places on the planet. The resounding “yes” vote marked a monumental victory for environmental preservation and the rights of Indigenous communities.
The Yasuní National Park is much more than a natural treasure.
Protected areas such as the Yasuní National Park are key tools to guarantee ecosystem services like clean air and fresh water, and help to mitigate climate change. That is why we must protect them and ensure their long-term sustainability. Ecuadorians made a choice for the future of Yasuní and showed that they care deeply for nature. This sets a precedent for the country and the world in the fight against climate change.
While this achievement was not a result of Nature and Culture’s efforts, it has major implications for the future of the Ecuadorian Amazon and resonates deeply with our unique approach to conservation. At our core, we believe in fostering solutions that originate with local communities and believe in the transformative power of community involvement.
In the U.S., the recent court ruling, in favor of local students, will require the state of Montana to consider climate change when deciding whether to approve or renew fossil fuel projects
The Yasuní victory is just one example of how community-centered conservation can lead to remarkable change. The recent Montana Climate Lawsuit in the United States similarly demonstrates that when communities take the lead and have a stake in decisions affecting their environment, they can achieve extraordinary outcomes.
Hear from Nature and Culture CEO on these recent climate wins
In 2007, the municipal government of Loja, Ecuador approved the ordinance for the protection of micro-watersheds and other areas of hydric importance. Updated in 2020, the ordinance was issued for the protection and restoration of water sources, fragile ecosystems, biodiversity and environmental services through the creation and management of the Municipal Conservation and Sustainable Use Area. These local conservation areas protect the natural state of forests, páramos, and other fragile ecosystems, ultimately recovering ecosystem functionality in areas that have been altered in some way.
To date, Loja has 182,858 acres in Municipal Conservation and Sustainable Use Areas, of which 71,660 acres are areas of hydric importance or protect local water sources. Areas that were selected were determined a priority for the provision of environmental services, especially water, ecological connectivity, and biodiversity protection.
Nature and Culture has identified 72 water sources which are the primary source of potable water for the province of Loja, 13 of them provide water to the urban sector and 18 areas of hydric importance provide water to the capitals. Some of the areas identified have a high degree of degradation, mainly due to the change of land use due to agricultural activities.
How local governments support the maintenance of natural ecosystems that provide water to their citizens
José Romero, Nature and Culture’s Coordinator for Areas of Hydric Importance, states that it is a priority to support local governments and establish conservation measures to protect the ecosystems that provide water to population centers. In the province of Loja, this process has been developed together with the Regional Water Fund (FORAGUA) and the Municipal Government, which has recently identified 7 areas of water interest with high priority for intervention: El Sauce, Cachipirca, El Cisne, San Lucas, Chantaco, Taquil, and Tenería. Within these areas, there are 6,819.14 acres of natural forests that store and release water, yet they have been deforested and converted into pastures. The land use has altered significantly, jeopardizing the quantity and quality of water available.
Faced with these results, the Municipal Government of Loja, as part of the management of water sources, is promoting Conservation Agreements for Water and Forests among the owners of the properties settled in these areas of hydric importance, Water Management Boards, cooperation agencies and the local government.
These agreements aim to ensure conservation, recover degraded areas and comprehensively manage forests and water resources located in the water sources and Municipal Conservation and Sustainable Use Areas of the province. This is part of the process of reversing degradation and recovering ecological functionality, in other words, improving the capacity of water sources in this area.
Currently, 10 additional conservation agreements have been signed between private owners and Drinking Water Management Boards of the Jimbilla, San Lucas, Taquil, Malacatos parishes and buffer zones of the Municipal Conservation and Sustainable Use Areas.
Ángel Jaramillo, Nature and Culture Project Coordinator, stated that the 10 conservation agreements signed will allow the conservation and recovery of 336.48 acres. They include the active and passive restoration of around 74 acres, through agroforestry systems, silvopastoral systems and block planting of native forest species, which allows ecological succession processes to be carried out; and 262.57 acres of primary and secondary forest are committed to being conserved and maintained.
Francisco Gordillo, technical secretary of FORAGUA, points out that areas that are not covered by native forest erode, degrade, and in the face of climate change, the dragging of sediments into streams and rivers occurs violently, and creates problems at lower elevations including floods and other harmful damage to local populations.
Gordillo states that for these reasons it is recommended that municipalities have ordinances to conserve and protect nearby ecosystems, and thus reduce the risk and vulnerability to global warming. In addition, Gordillo points out that, by establishing these ordinances, local governments will be able to count on Municipal Conservation and Sustainable Use Areas, and invest economic resources to take care of water sources together with the farmers. In addition, he mentioned that the financial sustainability of this model is based on the environmental tax and on measures to regulate land use and occupation. Above all, he points out that when defining this regulation, incentives should be considered for the owners who reside in the upper parts of the basins, to guarantee the protection of water sources.
Within this cooperation process, Felipe Serrano, Nature and Culture’s Ecuador Country Director, commented that everyone, including aid workers, are moved by the sense of urgency, in his message he expressed his concern about the consequences and effects of climate change, “We do not know what is going to happen, the levels of deforestation in the country maintain the same trend, every year around 247,105.38 acres are deforested in Ecuador and the trend of forest reduction in Loja has been the same, that is, deforestation has not stopped.”
Likewise, Serrano explained that areas of water importance, such as the micro-basins that supply drinking water and irrigation to the province of Loja, are in a constant process of transformation due to the change in land use.
Within these global phenomena of climate change and with the transformation of forests, the so-called water buffers and before the announcement of the arrival of the El Niño Phenomenon, Serrano spoke of the uncertainty that the population is going through and raised the following question, “What will happen to the city and the flows of the rivers if we do not have buffer forests? The only infrastructure that will defend us from these phenomena are the forests and grasslands of the headwaters.”
Finally, he called for the joint search for mechanisms to protect the natural infrastructure of the forests that provide water and defend us from the onslaught of climate change, collaborations and coordination that must be sustained over time, he stressed.
Luís Gutiérrez, president of the Drinking Water Board, San Francisco Belén of the Malacatos parish, mentions that it is essential to protect the environment, in an articulated way with the boards of water administrators, to have drinking water in Lojan homes. “We are 900 users distributed in 11 neighborhoods and thanks to institutions such as FORAGUA, the Municipality of Loja, Nature and Culture International and Andes Amazon Fund, for these agreements that have motivated us to continue protecting and caring for water.”
At the signing event of the conservation agreements for water and forests, Loja Mayor, Franco Quezada Montesinos stated, “We must protect water. We must conserve forests. And this must be done with management and in common agreements with those who take care of water.” The mayor focused on the need to improve institutional work through local, national and international cooperation, to establish comprehensive projects that serve citizens, and pointed out that this management must be carried out honestly and quickly.
If everyone learned to protect water, we would achieve great changes. That is why mitigating the social and environmental crisis to a large extent is everyone’s task, of citizens in both sectors: urban and rural; landowners in micro-watersheds and communities living near water sources; drinking water boards; and public and private institutions; in addition to international cooperation that allows the consolidation of collective agreements.
The Cazaderos Nature Reserve was declared a protected area within Ecuador’s National System of Protected Areas (SNAP), on November 9, 2022. This territory, which covers 12,108.16 acres, is located at the heart of one of the best preserved and largest remnants of tropical dry forest in Ecuador which, together with the Peruvian forests, constitute the most representative block of dry forest of flora and fauna of the Tumbesian region.
The impressive flowering of the Guayacanes, an event that happens every year at the beginning of the winter season, the presence of animals such as the crocodile (Crocodylus acutus), puma (Puma concolor), howler monkey (Alouatta palliata), several species of migratory and endemic birds, as well as the colorful and diverse species of tumbesian flora, make it a priority for conservation. Currently in Cazaderos a model of sustainable management of the territory is being built, jointly with the population and local authorities that seeks to take advantage of the attractions of the Reserve and the surrounding areas.
This sustainable management model will identify areas that are threatened by land use change for agricultural activities, logging, and hunting. It is estimated that currently, only 5% of the original dry forest in Ecuador is in a good state of conservation. Catalina Quintana, a researcher at the Catholic University of Ecuador, in an interview for Mongabay magazine, explains the value of the reserve: “There is a genetic potential, a representation of plants unique to our country.”
In addition, the Reserve is considered a natural laboratory to develop permanent research. The organization BirdLife Conservation (2009), due to the presence, abundance and endemism of birds, considers this territory as an area of global importance.
This declaration strengthens and will increase collaboration with the Ministry of Environment, Water and Ecological Transition, MAATE, in order to follow up on the construction and implementation of the management plan of the Reserve. In addition, the Dry Forest of southern Ecuador is positioned on the national map of protected areas; With this, it is expected that public and private organizations will increase their support for the conservation of these ecosystems and the local communities that inhabit them.
The management of the Cazaderos Reserve is in charge of the Nature and Culture Foundation Ecuador FUNACE, which seeks to promote a model of co-management of the area, together with the neighboring communities of the Reserve.
Species monitoring in the Cazaderos Nature Reserve
The crocodile is one of the emblematic animals of Cazaderos. Therefore, programs have been developed to strengthen research, training, and tourism around this species, one of the southernmost and continental populations of the country and at the same time very, little known.
The first studies carried out in this area reveal that there are approximately 97 individuals in the area of influence of the Reserve. “We have worked with local communities and guides to promote herpetological tourism (science that studies amphibians and reptiles). The program consisted of night outings to learn about crocodiles, amphibians and snakes in a non-invasive and friendly way,” explains Daniel Sanmartín, FANACE technician.
A similar program is being carried out together with the Nature and Art Foundation/Washu Project to encourage research and conservation of the golden-mantled howler monkey (Alouatta palliata aequatorialis). The first preliminary study in the Reserve has identified 119 individuals.
Sanmartín says that, as with crocodiles, through the training of local tour guides, the opportunity to develop sustainable tourism is encouraged in order to offer visitors the possibility of responsibly becoming familiar with the sites where this species is found.
FUNACE is working together with the Parish Government of Cazaderos, the organized Veconas communities and institutions and people interested in supporting in order to improve capacities and build infrastructure that allow promoting this area as a sustainable tourism offer. Ángela Piedad Rueda, president of the organization Guardians of the Border, believes that this new declaration will help promote all the attributes of this area.
Restoration improves the structure and functionality of forests for local communities
We often hear about the devastating effects of deforestation and degradation in rainforests and ask ourselves, what can be done to stop this? Indigenous communities in the Pastaza province of Ecuador refuse to stand idly by. With the help of Nature and Culture International, they have taken on a forest restoration project to renew their ancestral degraded lands and reinvigorate the local ecosystem.
Nature and Culture, through the “Actions for the Amazon” project, is taking action to prevent and reverse deforestation in the Ecuadorian Amazon. This project will also guarantee the rights and sustainable livelihoods of Indigenous Peoples and local communities through the implementation of the ancestral practice of traditional Chakra gardens.
The project began in September 2022, with the goal of restoring 235 acres of degraded land.
The Shuar Kawa community was consulted and actively involved in the decision-making process.
With their consent, the Nature and Culture team has focused on educating local communities on the benefits of forest restoration and provided training around reforestation tactics. This way, the local communities will be able to continue the project for years to come. Initially, the team constructed a temporary nursery for the propagation of 63 native species. The seedlings will be established in local watersheds, helping to maintain groundwater and access to clean water in dryer seasons.
Seedlings from the nursery will also be used in “Chakras”, or multi-species traditional Indigenous gardens.
Traditionally, the women of the community took care of the Chakra gardens, and their position as conservationists is more important than ever within the project. Men and women have worked together to reforest the gardens using specific trees and plants that provide food security and an additional source of income.
“We did not come just to restore. By sharing and talking with the people of the communities, we have learned a lot, complementing the technical aspect with their culture and traditions”
– Amparo Lima, Restoration Specialist, Nature and Culture
Restoration is important because it allows us to recuperate the structure and functionality of forests, which improves the quality and quantity of water collected for community consumption.
So far, the team has already restored 190 acres of land.
The communities’ enthusiasm and participation have been crucial in achieving this goal.
This level of community involvement and collaboration should serve as a model for other conservation projects in Ecuador and beyond. By working together, communities and organizations can reforest portions of the Amazon Rainforest and protect the planet. This project serves as an example of what is possible when we work together to restore our natural world.
For World Rainforest Day, will you join our community of monthly donors who have pledged to protect South America’s rainforests year-round?
Over the course of a year, you’ll care for 12 acres – the size of 6 professional soccer fields!
Defends wild places from deforestation, mining, and other unsustainable activities
Connects irreplaceable habitat for threatened plants and animals
Supports Indigenous and local communities in mapping, monitoring, and managing forests for the long-term
Preserves the services these ecosystems provide to us all, including clean water and a stable climate
Not all rainforests are alike
Rainforests are ecosystems that experience a large amount of annual rainfall. They support an incredible number of plants, animals, and other life forms. Although they occur in different parts of the planet, tropical rainforests are found on and around the equator where sunlight is consistent throughout the year.
Nature and Culture International has projects and protected areas in rainforest ecosystems in many types of rainforest in South America. Our work occurs in the lowland Amazon rainforest, cloud forests in the Andes, and the Chocó forest of coastal Colombia and northern Ecuador.
Andean Cloud Forest: Highland rainforest
The extraordinary cloud forests of the Andes are a type of mid-altitude tropical rainforest. When humid air, transpired from the billions of trees in the lowland Amazon, moves west and up the mountain slopes of the Andes, some of it condenses and falls as rain. Some remain in the form of low clouds and mist, which condenses directly onto the foliage of cloud forest trees.
Cloud forests extend from about 3,000 feet in elevation up to about 8,000 feet, so temperatures tend to be cooler than in lowland rainforests. The terrain is often on steep slopes, with more open canopy, leading to more vegetation on the forest floor.
These higher-elevation forests are characterized by waterfalls and quick-moving, shallow rivers.
Cloud forest trees are often covered in plants called epiphytes, which capture much of the moisture found in cloud forests. Clouds and mist condense on the epiphytes’ leaves and pool at the bases of epiphytes (providing habitat for insects and some types of frogs). Trees here are generally shorter than in lowland rainforest, hence the cloud forest tree canopy is lower.
Nature and Culture is currently working with local communities and authorities in our North Andes Mosaic to protect highland forest in Peru which is essential for providing water resources to over two million people who live in the region.
Amazon: Tropical rainforest east of the Andes
The Amazon rainforest is the largest tropical forest on Earth, with the highest density of plant and animal species anywhere.
This region provides essential ecological services, stabilizing the world’s rainfall patterns and storing massive amounts of carbon that mitigate climate change.
This lowland rainforest is east of the Andes mountain range and spans eight South American countries. The Amazon is impressively large, more than double the size of the next two largest rainforests combined. It is also well known for its mighty Amazon River which is made up of 1,100 tributaries, including the Marañón River which is considered the source of the Amazon in Peru.
The province of Loreto, Peru, is facing the second-highest rate of deforestation in Peru. Nature and Culture is currently partnering with Indigenous communities and local authorities through sustainable livelihood projects in our Nanay-Tigre Mosaic.
Chóco: Coastal rainforest west of the Andes
On a strip of forest in western Colombia and Northwestern Ecuador, between the Pacific Ocean and the Andean mountain range is the Chocó forest.
It is a dense and diverse tropical rainforest that blends with adjoining mangrove forests, rocky cliffs, and coastal plains.
It is one of the world’s wettest rainforests and one of the most biologically rich areas in the world. Many species here cannot be found anywhere else on Earth, such as the golden poison frog (one of the three most poisonous vertebrates in the world).
Between two to three percent of this ecosystem is left, making it one of the most threatened and lesser-known forests in the world. With Nature and Culture International’s support, the Bajo Baudó protected area was established in 2018. This is the largest regional protected area ever created in Colombia. We are currently working in our Southern Chocó Mosaic to declare two new protected areas and establish sustainable management plans.
Why we protect rainforests
Although rainforests only cover 6 percent of our planet, an estimated 80 percent of terrestrial animals, plants, and fungi species worldwide live within them. Many species have not yet even been described by science. Rainforests contain a huge amount of biodiversity, which has major implications for our health, including improving mental well-being, preventing zoonotic diseases (diseases transmitted from animals to humans – e.g. West Nile virus, Lyme Disease, and some types of coronaviruses, among many others) from entering human populations, and providing fresh water, clean air, and vital medicines. Indigenous peoples have lived in and sustainably managed tropical rainforests for centuries, if not millennia. Many Indigenous communities are reliant upon the natural resources that the rainforest provides, particularly clean water.
By destroying rainforests, humans are exacerbating the climate crisis by releasing additional CO2 into the atmosphere. All rainforests have a huge volume of carbon stored in the vast amount of vegetation they house. There is so much carbon stored in these ecosystems that, if released, it would not be able to be restored by the 2050 global goal of reaching net-zero emissions; this is known as “Irrecoverable Carbon”.
For World Rainforest Day
and every day, it is important to support rainforest conservation and raise awareness of the threats they face.
New study describes three new species of rain frogs found in the cloud forests of Southern Ecuador.
The Tropical Andes encompass some of the most important areas on Earth when it comes to biodiversity conservation. These majestic mountain ranges host an astounding array of species across various groups of vertebrates, making them a global hotspot for biodiversity.
Within the Andes, the cloud forests of Southern Ecuador, situated in the provinces of Loja and Zamora Chinchipe, stand out as particularly remarkable in terms of their ecological richness. These unique habitats are characterized by a persistent mist or cloud cover that blankets the forest, creating a cool and moist environment conducive to the growth of a diverse array of plant and animal life.
Scientists Paúl Székely, Diana Székely, Diego Armijos-Ojeda, Santiago Hualpa-Vega, and Judit Vörös, discovered three new species of rain frogs in these high elevation Andean ecosystems. Their research was recently published in the journal, Herpetological Monographs, under the name of Molecular and Morphological Assessment of Rain Frogs in the Pristimantis orestes Species Group with the Description of Three New Cryptic Species from Southern Ecuador.
The study took place within the Podocarpus National Park and its surroundings, in Southern Ecuador. The park comprises an area of 358,285.51 acres and has a very irregular topography covering altitudes from 1,000 to 3,800 meters (3,280 to 12,467 feet), with large areas of diverse natural habitats. These high-altitude Andes are known for the endemism and speciation of anuran fauna (frogs).
These three new-to-science species of rain frogs have very compelling stories that inspire the scientific community to continue working toward research, species monitoring, and conservation.
Sage Dunne’s Rain Frog(Pristimantis sagedunneae)
Pristimantis sagedunneae is one of 12 species recently discovered in Abra de Zamora, currently being described. It was found at 2,800 and 3,000 meters in sub-paramo ecosystems and it is believed to be a rare species.
The specific name sagedunneae honors Anne Dunne, in recognition of her passion for Andean wildlife and her family’s invaluable support of conservation work in Ecuador. Of particular importance is their contribution to the amphibian conservation in the Sangay-Podocarpus connectivity corridor, Ecuador’s first ecological corridor, which protects 1,401,253.074 acres of high-elevation paramo grasslands and cloud forest ecosystems, as well as chains of lakes and wetlands, with unique biological diversity and endemism.
Paladines Rain Frog (Pristimantis paladines)
Pristimantis paladines was recorded in Cerro Toledo within the Podocarpus National Park and surroundings at an altitudinal range between 2,800 and 3,100 m in sub-paramo ecosystems. The species is common and abundant in this region.
The specific name paladines honors the Paladines family from the city of Loja in Ecuador, in particular Felix Humberto Paladines Paladines for his valuable contribution to academic and cultural endeavors and for safeguarding the history and identity of Southern Ecuadorian people. In addition, this naming recognizes the remarkable work carried out by his children, Renzo, Bruno, Pedro, and Maria Gabriela, who created the nongovernmental organization Nature and Culture International (NCI).
Numbala Rain Frog(Pristimantis numbala)
Pristimantis numbala has only been found in the Numbala Natural Reserve. The reserve, which gives the species its name, is an important private protected area managed by Nature and Culture International. It protects 4,448 acres of sub-paramo and montane cloud forest and is home to an important diversity of birds, amphibians, mammals, and plants. It is located between the two isolated extensions of the southern part of the Podocarpus National Park, guaranteeing the connectivity needed for the preservation of the biological diversity of the national park and its area of influence.
As described, all three species were found within or in the immediate vicinity of protected areas, hence, the study considers that these protected areas act as refuges for the permanence of this very special lineage of frogs. The study also reveals that at least 57% of amphibian species are under threat due to habitat loss, the expansion of the agricultural/cattle-raising frontier, and climate change. In this context, it is especially important to increase the research efforts toward the description of new species, to correctly evaluate extinction risks and implement adequate conservation actions.
Supporting research for conservation
For the past 6 years, we have coordinated efforts between Nature and Culture International (NCI) and the Private Technical University of Loja (UTPL) to study the biodiversity of the southern region of Ecuador and combat threats to tropical ecosystems in this area.
Thanks to the support of the Rainforest Trust, an organization dedicated to promoting the conservation of threatened wildlife and the protection of habitats, we conducted a biodiversity study in the Numbala Natural Reserve (managed by NCI). The study aimed to explore priority sites and collect samples of faunal and floral species. During this study, we collected specimens of the species now known as Pristimantis numbala for the first time.
Similarly, with the support of the Rainforest Trust, we have been implementing a project to protect endemic amphibian species since April 2022. The project focuses on safeguarding the natural ecosystems of Abra de Zamora, located in the buffer zone of the Podocarpus National Park.
Also, thanks to the support of the Andes Amazon Fund, we launched a book on the biological wealth of Río Negro-Sopladora that opened the possibility for new research and the creation of protected areas in the region.
In 2019, the conservation and management measures established between the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF) and NCI led to the establishment of the Sangay-Podocarpus Connectivity Corridor (CCSP), the first ecological corridor in Ecuador. The corridor spans an area of 567,097 hectares and is distributed among the provinces of Morona Santiago, Azuay, Loja, and Zamora Chinchipe.
With the support of the Wild Wisdom Foundation, we have promoted research on new amphibian species within the corridor and its surroundings. This research aims to increase the conservation profile of these species through the Key Biodiversity Areas (KBAs) program. The KBAs program enables identification, mapping, monitoring, and conservation efforts to safeguard species and their habitats.
Indigenous women have long been the backbone of their communities, preserving their traditions, culture, and knowledge for generations. However, Indigenous communities across the world are facing unprecedented challenges due to climate change. As the world comes together to address the climate crisis, it is essential that Indigenous female leaders are included in the international climate conversation to ensure that their voices and perspectives are heard. That is why, in the last year, Nature and Culture has supported two of our Indigenous partners in attending United Nations conferences
We are committed to amplifying the voices of Indigenous leaders by ensuring their inclusion in the global climate conversation.
Josefina Tunki, who just completed her four-year term as the President of the Shuar Arutam Nationality, traveled to the United Nations Water Conference in New York in March 2023 where she and Clark presented on water resources in the Amazon. She is from one of four Indigenous nationalities Nature and Culture worked with to create the 3-million-acre protected area, Tarímiat Pujutaí Nunka. She is fighting to keep her ancestral territory free of mining activities that have devastated her community.
Historically, Indigenous peoples have not been included in these critical conversations even though Indigenous territories hold 80% of the world’s biodiversity and Indigenous communities preserve their forests at twice the rate of other protected areas. Nature and Culture is working to change this paradigm and ensure that the voices of the world’s greatest conservationists are heard on the global level.
Indigenous women are often the primary caretakers of their families and communities, and they depend on the environment for their livelihoods.
Climate change has a direct impact on their way of life, as it can lead to food and water scarcity, displacement, and loss of traditional knowledge. For Tunki and the people of the Shuar Arutam, “The forest is our mother, it sustains us.” In the province of Pastaza in Ecuador, “the forest was our supermarket, but now the fish are contaminated, there’s no more medicine, and we can’t eat.” According to Piyaguaje, “We want to live without pollution, without destruction, and, above all, to live healthily with our rights, our identity, our culture, our language.” Sending Indigenous female leaders to international climate conferences ensures that their experiences and concerns are taken into account when developing policies and solutions.
Indigenous women have a deep understanding of their local environments and the impact of climate change on their communities. They have unique perspectives and solutions that can contribute to the development of effective climate policies. In Piyaguaje’s words, “proposals and projects need to be co-designed with the communities and with our needs in mind. If these policies come from the top, they won’t work.” By including Indigenous female leaders in international climate conferences, policymakers can gain valuable insights that can inform their decision-making.
Clean water is one of the most important resources in the rainforest and extractive activities are the primary threat.
Tunki has long fought for clean water protection for the 47 communities of the Shuar Arutam Nationality. “Ancestrally, we have always known the value of the rivers and freshwater. Historically, our rivers were never contaminated. An uncontaminated environment gives you a healthy life and helps you live with joy, without epidemics. We’re now fighting to sustain the fresh water of the Amazon and looking for the best strategies for protection. We invite the whole world to reflect on the fact that it is us, the humans, that are contaminating the planet. Not the animals, not the birds, not the fish, since they respect nature. It’s the humans.”
Both women agree that the biggest threats to their ancestral lands are petroleum extraction and mining. Extractive activities pollute the rivers and lead to deforestation. They both attest that petroleum and mining companies are not doing enough to mitigate environmental impacts and that the Ecuadorian and other governments are responsible for enforcing mitigation.
For both Piyaguaje and Tunki, being a woman is key to their leadership.
“I feel proud to have worthily served as a woman in my organization, demonstrating that women are also capable of representing an organization on the municipal, provincial, national, and international levels,” says Josefina. Intersectionality and inclusion are key to the future, says Lolita. “It’s important that women participate in these processes, we have to work very hard towards intersectionality. Women should not just be sitting at the meetings, but they should be making decisions.”
Real Stories. Real Impact.
New protected areas, beekeeping for conservation, and gender equity in reforestation are a few of the stories you’ll explore in our 2023 Spring Newsletter!
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The 6th Assessment Synthesis Report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warns that despite progress in climate mitigation efforts, the current pace of action is insufficient to keep global temperatures below the threshold of 1.5°C. That is the threshold beyond which scientists say climate impacts increase significantly and damage becomes rapidly irreversible. Below is a summary of the report’s findings.
Action needs to happen now, this is the decisive decade
To ensure temperatures do not exceed the threshold of 1.5°C, global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions will need to peak within this decade, decline by 43% by 2030, and 60% by 2035. Adverse climate impacts are already far more extreme than initial reports anticipated. The current global surface temperature has already warmed 1.1°C above preindustrial levels. With this alone, there has been an increase in biodiversity loss, drought, extreme heat, and flooding, among other impacts. Despite a decrease in the cost of green energy, improved technologies, and national commitments to reduce GHG emissions. These measures have continued to increase and will fall short. Unsustainable energy use, land use, lifestyles and patterns of consumption and production all contribute to the GHG emissions. A rapid scaling of policy and increased funding to climate is needed to achieve climate stabilization.
Even small increases in overall temperature matter
The report defines the risks, adverse impacts, and related losses and damages from climate change at varying degrees of temperature rises. At each tier, the loss of biodiversity increases, access to clean water and food decreases, and sea levels rise. There is no question that any positive changes to keep global warming in check will help to avoid further loss of life and encourage ecosystem health. At a certain point, it is no longer reversible. As certain losses and damage occur, reversal and adaptation options are far less feasible, if even effective at all. It is important to take every action possible at this very moment. Hope lies in the prevention of further tipping the warming scales.
Biggest impacts threaten those who have historically contributed the least to climate change
According to the IPCC, nearly half of the global population lives in areas where their lives or livelihoods are under threat of climate change. It is said that between 3.3 billion and 3.6 billion people live in countries that are highly vulnerable to climate impacts, including those within Central and South America where Nature and Culture operates. In addition, many of these areas face extreme poverty, governance challenges, and limited access to financial resources or technical support. In this 6th Assessment Report, the IPCC also notes that climate adaptation challenges are often “exacerbated by inequity and marginalization linked to gender, ethnicity, low income or combinations thereof, especially for many Indigenous Peoples and local communities.”
Data on the global inequalities of CO2 emissions reveals that higher-earning countries as well as higher-earning individuals produce more of the world’s GHGs and yet it is those who are producing the least who are most heavily impacted. The highest income-earning households contribute around 45% of the world’s consumption-based CO2 emissions, while the bottom 50% account for only around 15%.
The threats of climate change weigh more heavily on regions that are not historically responsible for the production of GHGs; however, the world is looking to many of these areas for quick adaptation efforts or asking for limitation on development that could provide an immediate higher standard of living. That is why it is important to allow these most vulnerable groups or regions inclusive governance, and transparent and participatory decision-making for mitigation and adaptation efforts.
What is Nature and Culture’s role?
Protecting Earth’s remaining oceans, plants, animals, and soils is the most cost-effective climate adaptation option. The most potential exists in preventing deforestation in tropical regions. For Nature and Culture that means maintaining tropical forests in the Amazon and Andes. Long-term management of our protected areas supports biodiversity resilience in the region and supports ecosystem services at a global scale, including the sequestration of billions of tons of carbon. Beyond the protection and management of these threatened forests, reforestation and agroforestry (or sustainably cultivating native crops) also contribute to climate mitigation. All these efforts can positively affect local communities if they are done in coordination with the people who live in these areas. Reforestation can improve air quality, access to clean water and food, and agroforestry techniques include economic benefits that have potential to reduce poverty and improve local livelihoods.
Many climate adaptation solutions already exist and positively impact global well-being
According to the report, there are feasible, effective, low-cost, low-trade-off options already available, and many include wider societal benefits. A major conclusion of the synthesis is the need to prioritize equity, climate justice, social justice, and inclusion in the near-term actions to mitigate climate change.
Focusing on societal enhancements like education, hunger, poverty, gender, and energy access can support regions and people with the highest climate change vulnerabilities. It not only supports overall societal well-being, but it can also scaffold climate adaptation development programs. Recognition of the inherent rights of Indigenous Peoples is also crucial to successful adaptation across forests and other ecosystems, according to the report. This has always been a cornerstone of Nature and Culture’s work, prioritizing the needs of the local communities we work with.
Looking to communities, governments and businesses for leadership
Cooperative climate mitigation is essential. This means including climate adaptation practices that are informed by Indigenous Peoples and local communities. Truly effective climate action will involve coordination among many stakeholders. A prime example of this in action is in our work on the Amazonian Platform, This is a agreement between 7 Indigenous nationalities and local governments to manage 11 million acres of the Amazon rainforest. Nature and Culture supports projects that require buy-in from varying levels of government and marketplaces and include frameworks that hear a multitude of voices, including Indigenous Peoples and local communities.
The climate adaptation measures we implement are done in close collaboration with Indigenous Peoples and local communities and in partnership with local government. These types of projects put people at the heart of the outcome and provide access to finance and technology that would otherwise be unavailable. They often also provide other economic benefits, such as food and water security and improve the overall health of the human populations while safeguarding biodiversity and promoting carbon sequestration.
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As a supporter of Nature and Culture, take a moment to review our impact in 2022!
Our 2022 Annual Impact Report is a testament to our commitment to community-based conservation. As trailblazers in this field, the well-being of local communities is as important as protecting and conserving natural resources. For us, those go hand in hand.
Our work is organized into 5 key strategy areas: wild places, climate, water, people, and species. As you read through this report, you’ll see how our team approaches our projects through these lenses, ensuring the long term overall health of the areas we protect.
Please remember that none of this would be possible without the generous support we’ve received from so many of you!
Five new drop-dead-gorgeous tree-dwelling snake species were discovered in the jungles of Ecuador, Colombia, and Panama. Conservationists Leonardo DiCaprio, Brian Sheth, and Nature and Culture International chose the names for three of them in honor of loved ones while raising awareness about the issue of rainforest destruction at the hands of open-pit mining operations. The research was conducted by Ecuadorian biologist Alejandro Arteaga, an Explorers Club Discovery Expedition Grantee, and Panamanian biologist Abel Batista.
Sibon irmelindicaprioae, named after Leonardo DiCaprio’s mother, is the rarest of the lot. It occurs in the Chocó-Darién jungles of eastern Panama and western Colombia. Photo by Alejandro Arteaga of Khamai Foundation.
The mountainous areas of the upper-Amazon rainforest and the Chocó-Darién jungles are world-renowned for the wealth of new species discovered in this region. However, it is becoming increasingly clear that they also house some of the largest gold and copper deposits in the world. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the proliferation of illegal open-pit gold and copper mining operations in the jungles of Ecuador, Colombia, and Panama has particularly affected a group of five new species of tree-dwelling snakes: the snail-eaters.
Illegal gold mining operation along the shores of the Nangaritza River, southeastern Ecuador, habitat of at least five species of snail-eating snakes, including the newly described Welborn’s Snail-eating Snake (Dipsas welborni) named by Nature and Culture International. Photo by Alejandro Arteaga.
In a period of four months, miners took control of a 70-hectare area along the Jatunyacu River, destroying important riparian rainforest habitat and polluting one of the most important tributaries of the Amazon River. Photo by Ivan Castaneira.
Neotropical snail-eating snakes (genera Sibon and Dipsas), have a unique lifestyle that makes them particularly prone to the effects of gold and copper mining. First, they are arboreal, so they cannot survive in areas devoid of vegetation, such as in open-pit mines. Second, they feed exclusively on slugs and snails, a soft-bodied type of prey that occurs mostly along streams and rivers and is presumably declining because of the pollution of water bodies.
Sibon marleyae, named after conservationist Brian Sheth’s daughter was discovered in the most humid and pristine Chocó rainforests of Ecuador and Colombia. Photo by Jose Vieira.
“When I first explored the rainforests of Nangaritza River in 2014, I remember thinking the place was an undiscovered and unspoiled paradise,” says Alejandro Arteaga, author of the research study on these snakes, which was published in the journal ZooKeys. “In fact, the place is called Nuevo Paraíso in Spanish, but it is a paradise no more. Hundreds of illegal gold miners using backhoe loaders have now taken possession of the river margins, which are now destroyed and turned into rubble.”
The presence of a conservation area may not be enough to keep the snail-eating snakes safe. In southeastern Ecuador, illegal miners are closing in on Maycu Reserve, ignoring landowner rights and even making violent threats to anyone opposed to the extraction of gold. Even rangers and their families are tempted to quit their jobs to work in illegal mining, as it is much more lucrative. A local park ranger reports that by extracting gold from the Nangaritza River, local people can earn what would otherwise be a year’s salary in just a few weeks. “Sure, it is illegal and out of control, but the authorities are too afraid to intervene,” says the park ranger. “Miners are just too violent and unpredictable.”
Dipsas welborni is named after David Welborn, former member of the board of foundation Nature and Culture International. This NGO manages Maycu Reserve, a private conservation area where this snake and many other new species inhabit. Photo by Alejandro Arteaga.
Ecuadorian biologist Amanda Queza during the discovery of the new species Dipsas welborni in Maycu Reserve, southeastern Ecuador. Photo by Alejandro Arteaga.
In Panama, large-scale copper mining is affecting the habitat of two of the new species: Sibon irmelindicaprioae and S. canopy. Unlike the illegal gold miners in Ecuador and Colombia, the extraction in this case is legal and at the hands of a single corporation: Minera Panamá S.A., a subsidiary of the Canadian-based mining and metals company First Quantum Minerals Ltd. Although the forest destruction at the Panamanian mines is larger in extent and can easily be seen from space, its borders are clearly defined and the company is under the purview of local environmental authorities.
Illegal mining activity in the upper Ecuadorian Amazon doubled between 2021 and 2022. Photo by Jorge Anhalzer.
“Both legal and illegal open-pit mines are uninhabitable for the snail-eating snakes,” says Arteaga, “but the legal mines may be the lesser of two evils. At the very least they respect the limit of nearby protected areas, answer to a higher authority, and are presumably unlikely to enact violence on park rangers, researchers, and conservationists.”
Sibon canopy is named in honor of the Canopy Family system of reserves, particularly its Canopy Lodge in Valle de Antón, Coclé province, Panama. Photo by Alejandro Arteaga.
Sibon canopy, one of the newly described species, appears to have fairly stable populations inside protected areas of Panama, although elsewhere nearly 40% of its habitat has been destroyed. At Parque Nacional Omar Torrijos, where it is found, there has been a reduction in the number of park rangers (already very few for such a large protected area). This makes it easier for loggers and poachers to reach previously unspoiled habitats that are essential for the survival of the snakes.
In the Ecuadorian Amazon, gold miners hide in the jungle during military controls and resume activities days later. Photo by Jorge Anhalzer.
An Ecuadorian miner shows the gold she has collected and that she will use to pay for any family emergency. Photo by Ivan Castaneira.
Lack of employment and the high price of gold aggravate the situation. No legal activity can compete against the “gold bonanza.” More and more often, farmers, park rangers, and indigenous people are turning to illegal activities to provide for their families, particularly during crisis situations like the COVID-19 pandemic, when NGO funding was at its lowest.
Sibon ayerbeorum, a species previously known only from Colombia, was now also found in Ecuador. Photo by Jose Vieira.
“These new species of snake are just the tip of the iceberg in terms of new species discoveries in this region, but if illegal mining continues at this rate, there may not be an opportunity to make any future discoveries,” concludes Alejandro Arteaga.
Fortunately, three NGOs in Ecuador and Panama (NCI, Khamai, and Adopta Bosque) have already made it their mission to save the snake’s habitat from the emerging gold mining frenzy. Supporting these organizations is vital, because their quest for immediate land protection is the only way to save the snakes from extinction.
Representatives, leaders, and young people of the Andwa Nationality attended. Nature and Culture Director of Ecuador, Felipe Serrano, moderated a conversation with panelists on the importance of strengthening ancestral languages.
Language plays an important role in identity and culture, and many Indigenous languages are disappearing. In the Ecuadorian Amazon, 11 of the existing Indigenous languages are threatened with extinction. Once lost, traditional practices and ancestral knowledge begin to disappear as well.
In a speech emphasizing his love for his Katsakati-Andwa language, Daniel Dagua, President of the Andwa Nationality, officially introduced Kupukwano, the Andwa Language Dictionary.
The official launch of the Andwa Language Dictionary, Kupukwano, was held at the emblematic Amazon State University, in the province of Pastaza, with the participation of representatives, leaders, and young people of the Andwa Nationality.
The event was organized by the President of the Andwa Nationality, Daniel Dagua. It began with a conversation, attended by Felipe Serrano, Director of Nature and Culture International Ecuador, who moderated the space, together with the panelists Jorge Gómez Rendón, researcher and academic; Efrén Nango, leader of Education, Science and Research at the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of the Ecuadorian Amazon (CONFENIAE); and Trotsky Riera-Vite,Nature and Culture technician.
The conversation started by emphasizing the importance of strengthening ancestral languages.
The moderator mentioned that “the knowledge of the ancestors is transmitted through language”, focusing on the relationship between nature and culture: “nature cannot be separated from culture, even more in the Amazon, where the jungle depends on the people and the people depend on the jungle,” Felipe Serrano stressed.
With this introduction, Serrano began the dialogue with Trotsky Riera-Vite, to learn about the research that the latter carried out in the book Nunkán Náari. Shuar place names of Zamora Chinchipe. Riera-Vite, based his presentation on the case of Zamora Chinchipe, where many names of mountains, rivers, towns, animals, and plants come from or originate from Shuar-Chicham. “By rescuing traditional names, identity is reconstructed, and linguistic and territorial rights are claimed”, all of this, Riera-Vite pointed out, is part of recovering language.
Then, Efrén Nango, began his speech clarifying that although the languages of the eleven nationalities of the Ecuadorian Amazon are being threatened, he has witnessed a reaction from the nationalities to recover, revitalize and reintroduce their language. For him, there is a meaning behind each letter, and it is related not only to cultural identity, but also to cosmogony, worldview, rights of nature and defense of the territory.
But what will happen to the ancestral Amazonian languages in the future?
Jorge Gómez Rendón, researcher and academic at the Pontificia Universidad Católica del Ecuador, answered the question and described that from a linguistic point of view, a discouraging panorama is observed. The loss of language and linguistic displacement is faster and faster, “languages are lost from one generation to the next,” said Gómez Rendón.
However, faced with this reality, he is optimistic, because he considers that the vitality of languages is not exclusively linguistic, but rather has other aspects. “I declare myself an optimist because the nationalities are beginning to give the political value that language has, as an element not only of their identity but of their power,” said Jorge Gómez Rendón.
“I declare myself an optimist because the nationalities are beginning to understand the political value that language has, as an element not only of their identity but of their power.”
Jorge Gómez Rendón.
The Andwa Dictionary is part of a process of reintroduction, not revitalization, since there are no longer native speakers of the language, and has only been possible thanks to the political will of the leadership of the Andwa Nationality. For Gómez Rendón, this is the only possible way that ancestral languages can survive.
In a speech emphasizing his love for his Katsakati-Andwa language, Daniel Dagua, President of the Andwa Nationality, officially introduced Kupukwano, the Andwa Language Dictionary.
He explained that the dictionary initiative had a consultation process within the Governing Council, that responded to an investigation that began in 2018 with the support of Nature and Culture International.
“We are young people who have started to rescue our language which is in danger of extinction. We are going to continue empowering it,” mentioned Dagua.
The event ended with a sample of dance and music of the Andwa Nationality. In addition, the participants shared a variety of pineapple, sweet potato, yucca and chonta chichas.
Indigenous Nationalities and Provincial Government Agree to Protect Over 3 Million Acres in the Ecuadorian Amazon
Macas, 01 February 2023
Tarímiat Pujutaí Nuṉka Reserve declaration. Photo: Nature and Culture International
On Wednesday, February 1, 2023, The Provincial Government of Morona Santiago, Ecuador, and four Indigenous nationalities agreed to the creation of the Territorio de Vida y Uso Ancestral “Tarímiat Pujutaí Nunka.”
Located in the Morona Santiago province, in the southern Ecuadorian Amazon, the Tarímiat Pujutaí Nunka Reserve is 3,057,670 acres and includes the communities of Taisha, Morona, Sucúa, Logroño, Méndez, Tiwintza, Limón Indanza, San Juan Bosco and Gualaquiza.
The Tarímiat Pujutaí Nunka Reserve was created through an inclusive process, facilitated by Nature and Culture International, that began on November 9, 2021, with the signing of an agreement between the Provincial Government, and the four Indigenous nationalities that live within the Tarímiat Pujutaí Nunka Reserve: The Interprovincial Federation of Shuar Centers (FICSH), the Shuar Nation of Ecuador (NASHE), the Achuar Nationality of Ecuador (NAE) and the Shuar Arutam People (PSHA).
Rio Yaupi Photo: Nature and Culture International
For the creation of this protected territory, an unprecedented Pre-Legislative Consultation process was carried out through 21 gatherings with different actors from the four Indigenous organizations of the province, with an overall participation of 893 people, collecting the various Indigenous nationalities’ visions and contributions, ensuring the protection of this area aligns with their specific Planes de Vida, or “Life Plans.”
The main purpose of the Tarímiat Pujutaí Nunka Reserve is to ensure the preservation, and ancestral and sustainable use of natural and cultural resources, seeking productive alternatives to improve the quality of life of the inhabitants of the area.
In addition, respect for the rights of nature and collective rights, climate and fragile ecosystems regulation, and the protection of biodiversity and ancestral cultures, environmental principles, and the water sources that originate from the Kutukú and Cóndor Mountain Ranges will be guaranteed within the Tarímiat Pujutaí Nunka Reserve.
The president of NASHE, Felipe Mashiant, mentioned that the approval of the Tarímiat Pujutaí Nunka ordinance will allow the centers and associations of his organization to continue protecting the forests in an adequate manner.
For his part, Waakiach Kuja, leader of the NAE, explained that after the Pre-Legislative Consultation in Morona Santiago, it is believed that the establishment of the Tarímiat Pujutaí Nunka Reserve will benefit the entire province.
Josefina Tunki, president of the PSHA, pointed out that after many years, and thanks to the participatory work of many, the construction of the Tarímiat Pujutaí Nunka Reserve is a reality. “We, the organizations, had the opportunity to work together, for the first time, thanks to the current administration of Morona Santiago.”
Josefina Tunki. Photo: Nature and Culture International
In the same way, the representative of the FICSH commented that after the Pre-Legislative Consultation that was carried out in his territory, they decided to approve the creation of the Tarímiat Pujutaí Nunka Reserve.
Finally, the Governor of Morona Santiago, Rafael Antuni, commented: “This is an initiative that will not only allow us to preserve, but also enjoy our forests and climate, to offer the world a healthy environment.”
Thanks to the political will of Governor Rafael Antuni, the participation of leaders and other representatives of the Shuar and Achuar Nationalities of Morona Santiago, and the support of Nature and Culture International, the approval of the ordinance for the creation of the Tarímiat Pujutaí Nunka Ancestral Life and Use Territory marks a historical milestone in the Ecuadorian Amazon.
This entire process of collective building was developed thanks to the support of Andes Amazon Fund; Norway’s International Climate and Forest Initiative (NICFI); The Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (NORAD); and Re:wild.
Nature and Culture International is a 501(c)(3) that works to ensure the conservation of biologically and culturally diverse landscapes in Latin America. Its conservation goals are born within local communities, from the protection of natural habitats to the sustainable use of natural resources, and the preservation of native cultures. Nature and Culture works together with Indigenous groups, local communities, as well as national and subnational governments to protect critical ecosystems. This methodology has been highly successful since the organization’s establishment in 1996. Since our founding, we’ve protected over 22 million acres and not a single area has had its protected status reversed. This success is partly attributed to Nature and Culture’s devotion to the long-term management and technical support of a protected area after establishing its protected status. Nature and Culture International has a committed team of local conservationists, environmental lawyers, and mapping experts, working to save critical ecosystems in Latin America. To learn more, visit www.natureandculture.org.
Nature and Culture attends COP27, the U.N. climate conference held in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, November 6 – 18, 2022.
The opportunity for Nature and Culture to attend COP, participate in the climate conversation and amplify Indigenous voices in climate action is a significant milestone for the organization.
Nature and Culture’s President & CEO, Matt Clark and Lolita Piyahuaje, Vice President of the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of the Ecuadorian Amazon’s (CONFENIAE) attended the conference, speaking together on a panel about Indigenous leadership within Pastaza Province’s jurisdictional REDD+ program. This program is the first of its kind in Ecuador, bringing together 7 Indigenous nationalities, the local provincial government, CONFENIAE, and Nature and Culture International to implement activities to reduce deforestation.
The project provides a new set of insights into the processes and structures that allow for meaningful Indigenous participation, equitable benefit sharing, and free and prior consent, all major themes of this year’s conference.
Watch the full presentation below.
COP27 Presentation: Indigenous Leadership in Amazonian REDD+ Program
COP27 Major Themes Related to our work
Providing carbon funding directly to Indigenous Peoples
The U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said earlier this year that Indigenous Peoples are “critical” to addressing climate change. Their report cited the fundamental importance of recognizing their land tenure, knowledge systems, and management of forests.
Reducing tropical deforestation can contribute as much as 20 percent of the solution to reach the U.N. Paris Accord target of halting the average global temperature to 1.5° Celsius above pre-industrial levels. Indigenous Peoples live on about 60 percent of the world’s tropical forests. And they are not receiving fair compensation for the sustainable management of these forests. Of the 1.7 billion that was pledged at COP26 to support Indigenous Peoples and local communities’ forest tenure, only about 7 percent, of the 19 percent already delivered, has gone directly to Indigenous-led organizations.
Although a theme from years prior, the slow pace of carbon funding reaching Indigenous nationalities received particular attention at this year’s climate meeting. Lolita addressed the issue in her remarks as did numerous Indigenous speakers on other panels and workshops. Among potential solutions, they highlighted the need for two-way knowledge exchange between Indigenous and non-Indigenous actors and a joint commitment to create funding and administrative structures consistent with Indigenous forms of governance. They also stressed the importance of building the technical, administrative and financial capacity of all actors in order to facilitate direct funding to Indigenous Peoples.
On the complex nature of providing timely carbon funding directly to Indigenous Peoples Matt Clark explains, “On one hand, there’s this urgency to combat climate change. We’re rapidly blasting past the Paris Climate Accord. That goal will soon be unattainable if we don’t take drastic actions now. There’s also clearly an urgency that Indigenous Peoples feel to be compensated for conserving their forests. They’re tired of waiting. On the other hand, it’s critical to take the time to build trust and mutual understanding. Carbon markets are technically, socially, and politically COMPLICATED and the free, prior, and informed consent that Indigenous Peoples demand and deserve cannot be completed quickly.”
Pastaza: a case study for Indigenous Inclusion in climate mitigation.
Nature and Culture has long-established relationships with Indigenous communities that are crucial to ensuring transparency and mutual benefit. Though a work in progress, the multi-stakeholder REDD+ Pastaza project is a good example of this.
The partnership Nature and Culture established with the provincial government of Pastaza, 7 Indigenous nationalities, and the Indigenous Confederation, CONFENIAE has led to a shared framework where all parties have endorsed guiding principles that recognize Indigenous rights.
The collaborative framework also utilizes a trust fund that accepts and channels funds to Indigenous and non-Indigenous actors alike with control and oversight from a board of directors that includes representatives of the 7 Indigenous nationalities, the Indigenous confederation, and the provincial and other local governments.
These funds are used to implement four actionable activities: restoration, conservation, sustainable livelihoods, and improvements to governance mechanisms. Throughout this process, local Indigenous communities are consulted and their Planes de Vida, or community development and territorial zoning plans according to an Indigenous worldview are incorporated into the project design.
These Planes de Vida are overseen by Indigenous representatives who understand the Indigenous worldview and can encourage further community participation.
It is important to empower women and youth. Revenues from this project may also support gender equality training, as well as improve healthcare, housing, education, better living conditions, and clean water.
Chakras, or multi-species traditional gardens, are another way funds are used which provide food security and a means for additional income. Medicinal, and/or culturally important crops can be harvested and brought to market. Furthermore, there is an interest in developing a bigger market for forest products. Products would use a ‘green seal’ that signals they are sustainably sourced from the tropical rainforests.
To have a real climate impact, Indigenous Peoples must be consulted, considered, and invited to participate as equal partners. This project in Pastaza is beginning to show that not only is that possible, but it also has direct and lasting conservation impacts.
TheMunicipalConservationandSustainableUse Area ofPortovelo was established by its Municipal Government on September 30, 2022. This area is part of theFierroUrco Water Protection Area and islocatedatthehead of thePuyangoRiver Basin. The area was approved through the Protection and Restoration of Water Sources, Fragile Ecosystems, Biodiversity, and Environmental Services of Portovelo ordinance. It promotes the management of municipal conservation areas and sustainable use that protect 29,305 acres of territory.
The Portovelo Municipal Protected Area conserves páramo grasslands where important rivers such as the Guayabal, Santiago, Tenta, Ambocas, and San Luis are born. The area, therefore, protects and conserves the water sources for the consumption of approximately 13 thousand inhabitants, distributed in three rural parishes: Morales, Curtincapac, and Salatí; and Portovelo, an urban parish.
A major objective in the creation of this area is to initiate strategic work to minimize threats in the reserve and the region, such as deforestation by livestock, agriculture, vegetation burns, and mining concessions. Luís López, Nature and Culture International Project Technician,saysthatthereisafeelingofurgency in the Municipal Government of Portovelo. The hope istoprotectandmanagetheconservationareasothat the mining concessions inthearea can be faced. These concessionsputthewatersourcesofthisbiodiverseareaatrisk.
The establishmentofthisnewareainPortovelotogetherwiththeZaruma,Atahualpa,andPiñas protected areas formanecosystemandbiodiverseconnectivitycorridorinthePuyangoriverbasin. These areas combined cover 154,517 acres offorests,páramos,watersources,andendemicspecies, including the endangered blue-throated hillstar hummingbird (Oreotrochilus cyanolaemus).
This declarationisaninter-institutionalachievementthatbeganin2019,afterdirectingpermanentcoordinationbetweentheMunicipalGovernmentofPortoveloandthe support and adviceofNatureandCulture International.Asaresultofthisjointwork,theareaofconservation,constructionoftheordinance, and socializationwiththeMunicipalCouncil,wasdelineatedforsubsequentapproval.
Inthisprocess,theworkledbytheMunicipalGovernment of Portovelo,itscouncilors,and its technicalteam,withthesupportofNatureandCultureInternational,and AndesAmazonFund,hasbeenfundamental.
Climate change adaptation, species discovery, and newly declared protected areas in Nature and Culture’s latest round-up of news from 2022.
Our strength as an organization lies within the passion of people around the globe who share our same dream. As part of the Nature and Culture community, you help us achieve so much — diverse vibrant cultures; wild places alive with plants and animals, and clean water and other ecosystem services for communities throughout Latin America. Thank you!
Nearly 30 years after the passing of two prominent conservation scientists, the Santa Elena Provincial Protected Area has been declared.
On August 31st, 2022, the Provincial System of Protected Areas of Santa Elena was approved. This area protects 277,870 acres of both dry and humid forest and one of the last remnants of coastal forest in Ecuador. It also provides water regulation services for the entire province of Santa Elena. In addition to protecting 97.5% of Santa Elena’s water sources, the area stores 17 million tons of carbon and contributes to the mitigation of global climate change.
Nature and Culture would like to celebrate this achievement in remembrance of ornithologist Ted Parker and botanist Al Gentry who reported deforestation in the area since the 1990s.
Ted Parker and Al Gentry were killed in a plane crash surveying these very forests. In fact, they were on a Rapid Assessment Program when they crashed. Their work in conservation, with members of MacArthur Foundation and Conservation International, inspired the development of the Rapid Assessments Program in 1989 which has led to the creation of many protected areas.
This new assessment model was an important milestone for helping to prioritize ecosystems for conservation.
The evaluation examines areas based on several factors including, uniqueness, total biodiversity, degree of endemism, and degree of risk. The Santa Elena Protected area is a prime example of a high priority landscape with positive conservation potential.
The Santa Elena Provincial Protected Area has one of the highest numbers of endemic bird species in the world.
56 unique species of birds have been recorded here. Parker was considered one of the world’s top ornithologists. He was among the first to realize the importance of using acoustics and behavior to identify birds in neotropical forests. In his lifetime, he contributed over 10,000 recordings to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds.
Al Gentry, a field botanist, published close to 200 scientific papers and collected nearly 80,000 plant specimens. He prioritized South America and collected data in several of the areas Nature and Culture still works to this day, including Nangaritza in Ecuador and Allpahuayo in Peru.
One of his studies focuses on plants of Northwest South America. In it, he describes woody plants in a new way, using vegetative characteristics (such as leaves, bark and odor) for identification, rather than relying only on fruits or flowers.
Within the country of Ecuador, the coastal region currently has the fewest terrestrial protected areas and increasingly fragmented coastal forest which leads to loss of biodiversity.
The Santa Elena Provincial Protected Area is home to one of the last remnants of coastal forest in Ecuador.
Furthermore, it will establish connectivity with nearby national parks and other legally protected areas in the region.
The Santa Elena Provincial Protected Area is an incredibly unique and important landscape for conservation. Field scientists Parker and Gentry did not get to see this land protected; however, the Provincial Government of Santa Elena and the Sustainable Landscapes Foundation, with support from Nature and Culture and Andes Amazon Fund, will uphold the long-term control and monitoring, research and restoration to conserve this area for years to come.