Biological Corridor

In 1995, as a result of the efforts of the Centro de Investigaciones de Bosques Tropicales (CIBT), Pañacocha was removed from lands available for colonization (under the agrarian reform agency, IRAC, which is now known as INDA) and re-designated as Bosque Protector (under the management of INEFAN, the Ecuadorian equivalent of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service). The 56,000-hectare Bosque Protector Pañacocha is a pristine igapo-blackwater lagoon and riverine system located in the narrow gap between Ecuador's two largest protected areas in the Amazon: the 982,000-hectare Yasuni National Park and the 600,000-hectare Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve. The project hopes to retain habitat connectivity among more than 1.5 million hectares in the Ecuadorian Oriente and to influence development policy across an even broader landscape, while protecting the quality of life for many species, including human residents. (Please see map section.) In addition to the parks unified in Ecuador, adjacent reserves in both Colombia and Peru must be integrated and managed together within this landscape approach.

The Bosque Protector Pañacocha is key in the creation of this management unit. AFI’s role has been to support Pañacocha and forward the concept of a larger reserve. Recent colonization pressures, tourism, oil exploration, and outstanding land tenure issues demand that the Management Plan be completed and approved by INEFAN as soon as possible in order to begin implementing sound conservation policy in the region. The Draft Management Plan is now completed and is being circulated to the concerned communities for review. With a clearly defined Management Plan and the enforceable standards therein, the communities and the environmental agencies have much more bargaining power with the company.

Although INEFAN is entrusted with managing the 56,000 hectares, the agency has limited resources and personnel. As is often the case, much of the necessary monitoring will need to be generated by Fundación Pañacocha and recommended to INEFAN for enforcement. In addition, now that the Bosque Protector Pañacocha is not available for colonization, the neighboring communities are being granted tenure rights within the forest. A large part of Management Plan preparation will be to convene these communities and conduct a Land Tenure Study, defining the rights and responsibilities of those holding tenure to the lands. Every square inch of the Bosque Protector is claimed by one community or another, and, although title documentation has not been completed for most, each wishes to protect his respective area from colonization during the process.

Scope

Within Ecuador, the IUCN World Biosphere Reserve Yasuní National Park (PNY) (though not including its natural extension, Huaorani Territory), the Reserva Produccion Faunistica Cuyabeno (RPFC), and Bosque Protector Pañacocha (BPP) already comprise more than 1,700,000 hectares under reserve status. Along with the 422,000-hectare Parque National Paya (PNP) in Colombia and 625,971-hectare Zona Reservada de Güeppí in northwestern Peru, a largely contiguous transboundary reserve totaling almost 3 million acres represents a management unit for landscape-level planning, contextualization of development trends, and identification of conservation priorities. (Please see maps page.) The estimated 3-million-hectare management unit consolidated by this project would constitute the largest protected area in Ecuador and create one of the largest reserves in the Amazon Basin, spanning contiguous, pristine, and highly threatened primary tropical moist forests, igapo and varsea ecosystems in both Peru and Colombia.

Article 8 of the Convention on Biological Diversity calls for the strengthening of national systems of protected areas. There is also a growing recognition that effective biodiversity conservation depends on an ecosystem management approach that integrates protected area management into wider land- and water-use planning areas. Ecosystems and species do not recognize political borders, which have been typically defined for historical or geopolitical reasons, without reference to cultural or ecological processes. Protected areas that are established and managed across borders--Transboundary Protected Areas--can therefore provide an important tool for coordinated conservation of ecological units and corridors (World Commission on Protected Areas). The concept of a Peace Park in this corner of the Ecuador, Peru, and Colombia also has merit as another non-conflictive level at which to monitor human activity in the region.

The nexus of expanded pipeline capacity, recent socio-economic and political reforms (dollarization and political stability, etc.), Ecuador-based security operations associated with Plan Colombia, and fundamental abandonment of the region by domestic or international conservation influence combine to allow unprecedented levels of poorly regulated development in one of the tropical world’s most biologically diverse and intact terrestrial ecosystems.

General consensus among conservation professionals acknowledges the critical nature of large, intact, inviolate core habitat. This is especially true in the case of fragile tropical ecosystems where development and associated colonization result in immediate extirpation of critical mammalian and game bird species. With the economic integration of petroleum extraction stemming from Ecuador’s improved exportation capacity and the thirty years of explored and yet unexploited heavy crude reserves, as well as aggressive multinational mobilization of capital for these resources, the need for improved levels of institutional conservation NGO participation is pressing. Of particular interest is fragmentation of the core for low-value agricultural endeavors offered as an alternative to the cultivation of coca. Conservation planning is needed to curb misguided economic measures recommending proliferation of African oil palm plantations as a type of agrarian reform.

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