Extinction of Endangered Birds May be Avoided by Massive Tree-Planting Efforts in Peru

Marvelous Spatultail by Roger Ahlman
Marvelous Spatultail by Roger Ahlman

(Washington, D.C., March 7, 2012)  Extinction of endangered birds such as the Marvelous Spatuletail, Long-whiskered Owlet, and Ochre-fronted Antpitta may be avoided thanks to conservation efforts that have resulted in over one million new trees being planted in Peru in the last nine years— and over 150,000 in 2011 alone.

Asociación Ecosistemas Andinos (ECOAN), a leading Peruvian conservation organization, has spearheaded the effort with the support of American Bird Conservancy, the leading bird conservation organization in the United States.

In one effort, started in mid-2011, over 50,000 native trees and shrubs from 21 different species were planted on degraded lands within two prized Andean reserves, the Abra Patricia-Alto Nieva Private Conservation Area and Huembo Conservation Easement.  As the trees grow, they will provide habitat for a spectacular, endangered hummingbird called the Marvelous Spatuletail, as well as many migratory birds. The trees will also create a buffer zone around adjacent, existing forests, making more of their high-quality habitat usable for other endangered birds such as the Ochre-fronted Antpitta and Long-whiskered Owlet. One day, we hope these new trees will themselves be inhabited by these threatened species.

In addition to conservation benefits, the restoration effort also provided seasonal jobs for 47 people from the local communities of Oso Perdido, Progreso, and Vista Alegre.

In a second ongoing project, ECOAN expects to have planted more than 123,000 native trees and shrubs belonging to 22 species, and 154,000 coffee bushes on private lands in communities surrounding the Huembo and Abra Patricia reserves by mid-2012,. These plants are all produced at local community nurseries by and for local people. The trees are planted for a variety of uses including reforestation, silvipasture (a system that combines forestry and grazing of domesticated animals in a mutually beneficial way), living fences (which provide natural boundaries for pasture land), and agroforestry systems where shade coffee and other crops are produced.

“We are thrilled by the successes in reforestation, especially when our efforts conserve biodiversity and protect water resources in a way that provides economic benefits to local families, as is the case with shade coffee,” remarked Efrain Samochuallpa Solis, ECOAN's Director of Projects.

“This has been an outstanding, cooperative effort that provides a score of benefits to birds, other wildlife, the local economy and the environment. We are excited to have been a part of such a grass roots win, win, win effort,” said Daniel Lebbin, ABC Conservation Biologist and one of the project coordinators.

In a third project carried out in late 2011, ECOAN and participating communities in the Vilcanota Mountains of Cusco in southern Peru planted 46,000 native Polylepis trees of this endangered forest type benefitting a suite of threatened birds, including the critically endangered Royal Cinclodes. Notably, this restoration effort also undertook the transplanting of “brinzales”—young saplings that sprout naturally within existing Polylepis forests.

Planting Trees by Gregorio Ferro Meza of ECOAN
Community members planting Polylepis binzales extracted from underneath adult trees nearby at Mantanay PCA in the Vilcanota Mountains. Photo by Gregorio Ferro Meza/ECOAN, January 2012.

The occurrence of these saplings is increasing because these forests are now protected from grazing animals by fences, however, most brinzales still do not survive long on their own where they naturally sprout, and so ECOAN and participating communities are transplanting them to deforested areas nearby. Using this methods enables the planting of additional species of Polylepis and belong to the local genetic population. In just one month, ECOAN transplanted 15,300 Polylepis brinzales, expanding and enhancing the forest mosaic in five communities.

ECOAN and the communities also planted 6,000 non-native eucalyptus and 3,000 non-native pines at lower elevations as alternative sources of fuel wood. With a plentiful supply of easy-to-grow timber, the communities have less need to harvest Polylepis for fuel. In total, this ongoing Polylepis project has benefited over 8,000 people, protected over 15,600 acres in seven Private Conservation Areas, and planted 640,800 Polylepis trees since 2002.

ABC is grateful to Conservation International's Global Conservation Fund (GCF) and Fondo de las Américas (FONDAM) for their support of this work. American Forest's Global ReLeaf program provided financing for the reforestation work that took place within Abra Patricia and Huembo. Funding for the reforestation work near the reserves was provided by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service through the Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Act.

More information on the Vilcanota Polylepis project is available at ABC's website. Bird-watchers interested in visiting or staying at the Abra Patricia Reserve or Huembo should visit www.conservationbirding.org