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.
Madang sustains 365,000 people and boasts a higher number of spoken languages than any other part of the country. That can make conserving the region’s incredibly vital rainforests — typically owned by local communities — difficult, especially when signing land rights away to timber companies is a common practice.
That’s why The Nature Conservancy is working with communities throughout Madang — an area slightly bigger than Massachusetts — to establish conservation-conscious enterprises. Please help us protect nature and help create the economic incentives that communities — the legal owners of the land — need to keep their forests healthy and safeguard their rights.
Helping Bowerbirds and People
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.
A Common Threat
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.
Most of Papua New Guinea’s forests nominally belong to the people, but many communities lack obvious livelihood opportunities and feel pressured to sell their land rights to large logging companies. The Conservancy is working to give those communities more options that make it economically plausible and environmentally sustainable to keep their land and manage it for generations to come.
For example, in 2003, the Conservancy supported the Almami Local-Level Government within Madang Province to adopt legislation that invites local land owners to enter into voluntary conservation agreements that protect their rights as well as forests. That first step prompted Madang to craft a province-wide forest protection law and led to similar 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. We helped the Josephstaal communities negotiate an agreement with the national government that kept local forests out of the hands of a major timber company.
To create tangible benefits for communities, we’ve also assisted the establishment of conservation cooperatives that grow sustainable cash crops and use the profits to pay for education and other basic services. One such cooperative in the Adelberts is producing the country’s first Fair Trade-certified cocoa and generating sustainable income for its members.
The Conservancy’s work with sustainable forest management arrangements in Madang offers important lessons for a potential 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.