First Conservation Easement in the Asia Pacific Region Protects the Last Ka Forest in the World
Landmark land deal in Micronesia paves way for innovative conservation throughout the Pacific
Yela Valley, Kosrae, Federated States of Micronesia | March 31, 2014
A unique land protection deal will safeguard 78 acres of forested wetland in the Yela Valley on Kosrae, Micronesia. This is what is hoped to be the first deal of what may be a few aimed to preserve the 1,400-acre valley encompassing the largest stand of Terminalia carolinensis (“ka”) trees in the world, several other endemic plant species and the endangered Micronesian pigeon.
While conservation easements are relatively common in the United States, this is the first conservation easement outside of the Americas. By bringing a new model of conservation to the Federated States of Micronesia, a local family on Kosrae teamed up with government and conservation groups to protect this biologically rich part of the world.
This revolutionary land deal is also preserving their culture and traditions — the forest provides locals with freshwater, fish from the rivers and traditional medicine. The trunk and immense buttresses of the ka tree were traditionally used to make canoes, and the nuts are an edible treat for children.
The land will be protected by a conservation easement purchased with a grant provided by the U.S. Forest Service and the David and Lucile Packard Foundation and held by the Kosrae Island Resource Management Authority (KIRMA). Conservation easements, whereby the landowner retains title to the land but agrees not to exercise development and other rights, are being looked at as an extremely promising conservation tool in Micronesia because they are an especially good fit in traditional island cultures where usage rights traditionally overlap and forests remain in the family passed down through the generations. This model permits the important conservation area to stay in that ownership while allowing sustainable traditional harvest and use of the natural lands but prohibiting future development and resource exploitation.
“It is very important for the people of Kosrae to protect the Yela ka forest because it gives the people of Kosrae a sense of pride for having something unique that you cannot find anywhere else,” said William William, Project Manager of the Yela Environment Landowners Authority (or Y.E.L.A., an organization formed by the family landowners).
The local families sought expertise from The Nature Conservancy to establish a legal conservation framework for their land. However, they have also added their own innovation by opting to use the proceeds from the sale to create an endowment that will ensure the forest’s long-term conservation.
The biggest challenge for Micronesia, as is for many, if not all, Pacific Islands is to sustain conservation programs beyond the injection of foreign grants.” said Willy Kostka of the Micronesia Conservation Trust. “This easement solves that challenge for the Yela landowners and conservation partners and will serve as a model for the rest of Micronesia and the wider Pacific.”
“Instead of the person or persons who sign the sale agreement solely benefitting from the sale proceeds, as is often the case in the US, the Alik family has invested that income into a trust fund managed by the Micronesia Conservation Trust,” said Mike Conner, a senior project director for The Nature Conservancy. “Every year after a forest inspection shows the terms of the easement have been upheld, each of the families will receive a payment nearly the average salary on Kosrae now and for future generations.”
Because development is so intensive in tropical coastal regions, few if any landscapes of the quality and history of the Yela watershed remain in the world. The entire valley is dominated by native and endemic forest, with almost no invasive species; its streams, freshwater wetlands and mangroves are free of the influence of roads, water diversions, paddy agriculture and shrimp farming so common in the Asia-Pacific region. This pristine site is therefore already serving as a natural laboratory for research pertinent to the wider tropical region as well as to global issues. It can also serve the people of Kosrae as a “demonstration forest” and an ecotourism attraction educating people about the natural services it provides.
“KIRMA has worked with the landowners to develop a management and monitoring program that allows low impact activities, such as ecotourism and harvesting of medicinal plants, that can be undertaken while protecting and educating visitors about the important conservation values of the property”, said Robert H. Jackson, Administrator of KIRMA.
“The Forest Service is thrilled to be a part of this precedent-setting watershed protection effort ongoing with the Yela watershed project, and the collaboration amongst partners has been exceptional,” said Deputy Regional Forester Jeanne Wade Evans. “The Forest Legacy program continues to be an important tool to prevent loss of critical forestland to climate change stressors and other uses. By engaging local partners in the use of conservation easements, we hope to further expand these conservation efforts”.
The Honorable Alik Alik, Vice President of the Federated States of Micronesia said “These conservation projects help meet the goals of the Micronesia Challenge, an ambitious commitment by five Micronesian governments — the Republic of Palau, the Federated States of Micronesia, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, the U.S. Territory of Guam and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands to “effectively conserve at least 30 percent of the near-shore marine resources and 20 percent of the terrestrial resources across Micronesia by 2020” ultimately to strike a critical balance between the need to use their natural resources today and the need to sustain those resources for future generations.”
This effort is supported by:
- The Kosrae Island Resource Management Authority (KIRMA)
- The Micronesia Conservation Trust
- The Government of the Federated States of Micronesia
- The State of Kosrae
- The Nature Conservancy
- The Kosrae Conservation and Safety Organization
- The U.S.D.A. Forest Service
- The David and Lucile Packard Foundation
KIRMA is a semi-autonomous environment and natural resource agency of the Kosrae State Government. KIRMA is charged with facilitating the sustainable economic and social development of Kosrae, while protecting Kosrae’s environment and natural resources. KIRMA delivers a range of programs in the areas of forest and wildlife management, marine conservation, historic preservation, climate change adaptation and mitigation, and community awareness. Visit KIRMA on the Web at www.kosrae-environment.org.
About the Micronesia Conservation Trust
Established in 2002, the Micronesia Conservation Trust (MCT) provides sustainable financing/grants and capacity building/training to support biodiversity conservation, climate adaptation and related sustainable development for the people of Micronesia in the Federated States of Micronesia, the Republic of Palau, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, the Republic of Kiribati, the US Territory of Guam and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. MCT is a private corporation with a 10 member governing board representing civil society, businesses and academic institutions. Visit the MCT on the web at www.ourmicronesia.org.
The Nature Conservancy is a leading conservation organization working around the world to conserve the lands and waters on which all life depends. The Conservancy and its more than 1 million members have protected nearly 120 million acres worldwide. Visit The Nature Conservancy on the Web at www.nature.org