The Vilcanota Reserve Network in southern Peru is the epitome of successful community-based conservation. The key component: Implementation by local people for local people.
More than 20 communities in the Cordillera Vilcanota have worked with us and our partner, Asociación Ecosistemas Andinos (ECOAN), since 2001, and the results are incredible. Today, a network of seven community-owned and -managed reserves spans over 15,500 acres of important bird habitat.
These reserves are formally recognized by the Peruvian national government system of protected areas as Private Conservation Areas. They help to safeguard wetlands, grasslands, and important remnant patches of Polylepis, a tree in the rose family.
ECOAN, under inspired leadership, is making significant progress on adding to the reserve network a new protected area, Kuntur Wachana, totaling approximately 5,700 acres. The group has submitted the application to the government and in the meantime has begun to help the community actively manage this property.
Polylepis forests grow at higher elevations than any other forests on earth, and sadly, have been reduced to roughly three percent of their original extent in Peru. These forests are important for conserving a suite of birds, such as the Royal Cinclodes, Ash-breasted Tit-Tyrant, and White-browed Tit-Spinetail, which are considered globally endangered.
The forests also play an irreplaceable role in regulating water outflow in their watersheds, nurturing important agricultural areas in Cusco’s Sacred Valley. The forests absorb rains in the wet season and slowly release this moisture to people and farms during the dry season, helping to ensure year-round water availability.
However, loss and degradation of Polylepis forests from wood extraction, fires, and overgrazing by cattle jeopardizes threatened wildlife and the future of local indigenous communities that rely heavily on the health of their natural environment.
Key to our success in Vilcanota has been a close partnership with the local Quechua-speaking people. For instance, in partnership with ECOAN, we are helping communities solidify their land rights and providing training on forest management and sustainable livelihoods.
We have involved more than 8,000 local people in conservation efforts overall, including in a reforestation effort in the Vilcanota Mountains that has now topped one million trees planted.
Working with local communities and ECOAN, we have also:
Though we have been very successful, the need for continued assistance remains great in southern Peru.
Additional protected areas are in various stages of development, and each requires extensive input from ABC and ECOAN to help the communities clear legal hurdles and receive training in protected area management.