Bird Group Helps Secure Northern Flank of Wildlife-Rich Area in Dominican Republic

Bicknell's Thrush by Larry Master
Bicknell's Thrush by Larry Master,

(Washington, D.C., May 16, 2013) American Bird Conservancy, a leading U.S. bird conservation group, in collaboration with the Sociedad Ornitológica de la Hispaniola (SOH) report that by working with the Ministry of the Environment of the Dominican Republic, they have significantly improved protections for the northern flank of wildlife-rich Sierra de Bahoruco National Park and the Loma Charco Azul Biological Reserve in western Dominican Republic (DR). Home to over 30 endemic bird species and habitat for dozens of migrating bird species, the largely forested area has been a favorite target for illegal tree cutting, squatting, charcoal production, and agricultural expansion.

“ABC and SOH have worked very closely with the Dominican Republic's Environmental Ministry to improve management of the area. Improved patrols and security  have led to a significant decrease in the number of illegal charcoal production operations and documented a number of illegal incursions, which led the Ministry to hire additional park guards for the area,” said Andrew Rothman, Migratory Bird Program Director at ABC.

Left to right: ABC's David Younkman and Andrew Rothman, Minister Bautista Rojas Gomez, and SOH's Jorge Brocca celebrate the inauguration of the new Welcome and Interpretation Center for Sierra de Bahoruco
and Loma Charco Azul.

The Environmental Ministry, with ABC and SOH representatives in attendance, recently dedicated the Sierra de Bahoruco National Park/Loma Charco Azul Welcome and Interpretation Center, along with an improved security post along a main access road, to enhance protection for these reserves. The Center is serving as an important community education center that also provides a greatly improved capacity for the Park Administrator to manage guards for these protected areas.

“The success we've experienced here in the northern part of the Sierra has led us to begin exploring means to take similar actions in the south, where the area continues to be impacted by illegal squatters and other threats,” said Dave Younkman, Vice President of Conservation for ABC. He added that these lands serve as critical wintering habitat for the Bicknell's Thrush, a migratory species of conservation concern in the United States and currently under consideration for listing under the Endangered Species Act by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS).

ABC, SOH and other organizations including Vermont Center for Ecostudies, Grupo Jaragua, and Cornell Lab of Ornithology have already begun discussions with the Ministry of the Environment on how they can assist the Ministry in the protection of the southern flank of Bahoruco National Park.

The Welcome and Interpretation Center, which provides new opportunities to engage members of the local community in conservation efforts, was created with support from the Jeniam Foundation, Bay and Paul Foundation, and Sophie Danforth Conservation Fund. It replaces an old guard station in the small mountain pueblo of Puerto Escondido (Independencia Province).

Jaime Moreno, President of SOH, and Bautista Rojas Gomez, Minister of Environment, sign an accord to further their work together to protect the Sierra de Bahoruco during the inauguration event.

Efforts that have helped secure the northern flank of the Bahoruco Mountain Range have come from ABC and SOH, with funding from FWS via the Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Act and the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies through the Southern Wings program. Those efforts include providing financial support to hire the two new park guards, carry out incident training, and provide needed motorcycles and other equipment for all active park guards in Loma Charco Azul and northern Sierra de Bahoruco.

SOH has also secured a corporate donation from Tropigas, a local Dominican gas company for propane gas tanks for each of the park guard stations and free monthly refills, to reduce the need to use firewood for cooking.

Jorge Brocca, Executive Director of SOH, noted, “The illegal production of charcoal is a significant threat to habitat of several endangered and threatened bird species. With support of Tropigas, we hope to bring an alternative cooking fuel to the entire local community that can reduce the demand for charcoal—and protect bird habitat.”

In addition to the rare Bicknell's Thrush, threatened birds in the area include the endangered Black-capped Petrel, Bay-breasted Cuckoo, La Selle Thrush, and the Hispaniolan Crossbill. Other species of note include Western-Chat Tanager, Hispaniolan Parrot, Prairie Warbler, and Ovenbird.