For many, tropical forests exist only as idyllic daydreams: dense green oases on faraway islands filled with exotic animal species. Today, even the real-life equivalents of these magical worlds are close to becoming nothing more than fantastic memories. In Papua New Guinea’s Madang Province, where tropical forests are still a reality, The Nature Conservancy is working with local government and communities to keep it that way.
Focused on the lush rainforests of the Adelbert Mountain range on the north-central edge of Papua New Guinea, The Nature Conservancy is working directly with local communities to preserve the resources they need to survive—and you can help.
The majority of Madang’s people live in customary villages and grow just enough food to survive. Without obvious economic opportunities, many communities feel pressured to sell their land rights to timber and development companies.
That’s why The Nature Conservancy is working with communities throughout Madang, an area slightly bigger than Massachusetts, to keep their forests healthy and safeguard their rights for their future generations.
FROM LAND TO SEA
Like many island nations, Papua New Guinea faces development pressure from logging, mining and oil palm plantations, as well as natural threats like rising sea levels. The Conservancy is working with the government and communities to assess the full range of opportunities and threats.
We’re also linking conservation on land and in water, acknowledging that what happens on land—such as runoff from land clearing or mining—will have an impact on coral reefs and fish. We call this process “Ridges to Reefs” conservation planning because it considers a full, interconnected range of habitats, from the mountains down to the coral reefs.
By working with communities to identify threats and opportunities, we can help them keep their land and manage it for generations to come. This kind of land-use planning helps protect important areas, builds stronger communities and ensures that people are benefitting from their natural resources.
Since 2003, the Conservancy has been working with the Almami Local-Level Government in Madang Province to help local land owners to enter into conservation agreements that protect their rights as well as forests. That first step prompted Madang to craft a province-wide forest protection law. We’re using a similar approach for local-level regulations in West New Britain and Manus Provinces that are also improving marine conservation.
We’re also providing direct, on-the-ground help to communities that want to engage in smarter land-use planning and management. The Conservancy and our partners worked with 11 communities to develop 3-D models of their landscapes using both natural materials and computer modelling. Through these models, communities reached agreement on which areas have important natural and cultural values—and how to address threats from development, climate change and natural disasters.
All 11 communities now have detailed plans for how to use their land for hunting, agriculture, forestry and conservation, and they have signed agreements with the local government to protect and manage nearly 55,000 acres of forest.
The Conservancy’s work with sustainable forest management in the Adelbert Mountains of Madang offers important lessons for the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD)+ program. We all depend on our planet’s remaining forests to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, and the Conservancy is happy that keeping those forests intact is empowering and benefiting the people of Madang.
Our work in the Adelberts is already leading to more sustainable outcomes for forests, including lower carbon emissions and better protection for wildlife. In response, Papua New Guinea’s National Forestry Board selected the Adelbert project site as an official REDD+ pilot project, preparing Madang Province to become a REDD+ model for the country.
In the Adelberts, the Conservancy has worked with partners to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions by using forest resources more responsibly. Our preliminary results show that community members have made positive changes to the way they use forest resources, reducing carbon emissions and protecting forestland. In fact, a Conservancy study shows that unmanaged forests were lost twice as fast as managed areas over a 12-year period from 2000-2012.
In a recent community survey, villagers have observed benefits coming from land-use planning and conservation areas, such as an increase in wildlife resulting in better hunting. This is important to the community members for providing additional protein in their diets. Land-use planning is a traditional method of conservation practiced by ancestors that has now been formalized with conservation agreements. People also reported other benefits like less conflict with neighboring clans and an increase in plants used in traditional medicines.
Both local communities and the provincial government are eager to have the Conservancy replicate its land-use planning program to other areas of the country. That’s why we’re gathering evidence to determine whether existing conservation areas are large enough to protect some iconic species, like cassowaries, bandicoots and birds of paradise.
UNIQUE FOREST CREATURES
The Nature Conservancy has identified 57 mammal species, 336 bird species, 423 butterfly species and 103 reptile and amphibian species likely to be found in the region. The province is also home to tree kangaroos, giant bandicoots, alpine wallabies and bougainville monkey-faced flying foxes, and botanical surveys have identified 973 species of plants in a single stretch of the province.
That incredible diversity makes Madang’s preservation a priority—for Papua New Guinea and the world, for the Conservancy and you. For example, the province’s iconic fire-maned bowerbird—the country’s rarest bird—is found only in the lower-lying forests of the Adelbert Mountains.
Confronting the drivers of that habitat loss while preserving economic activities for people is central to the Conservancy’s mission in Papua New Guinea. Protecting forests and helping to improve qualities of life for people and wildlife are not incompatible goals—all around the world, our work in forests is teaching us that these objectives must go hand-in-hand.
Many of Madang’s plant species have significant cultural and traditional importance to local communities and are—like the fire-maned bowerbird—threatened by the destruction of Madang’s forests.
More than three quarters of Papua New Guinea is forested. However, over 60 percent of the country’s forests are threatened by logging, a specter looming over the well-being of both people and wildlife in Madang.
Since we’ve been working in the Adelbert Mountains on land-use planning, we’ve seen a marked improvement in forest health that’s resulted in increased biodiversity: both the Victorian crowned pigeon and cassowary have returned to the Adelberts.