Legal Network Protects Ecological Corridor of the Americas By Katiana Murillo

SAN JOSE, Costa Rica, April 2, 2002 (ENS) - Determined and farsighted ecologists envision a day when an uninterrupted, protected, and forested corridor extends all the way from Alaska’s Aleutian Range to the tip of Tierra del Fuego in Argentina, protecting much of the planet’s plant and animal species in an interlacing network of public and private reserves.


The Alaska Range is to the north of Lake Clark and the Aleutian Range to the south. (Photo courtesy U.S. NPS)
One of the concept’s early designers, the New York based Wildlife Conservation Society, calls the hemispheric initiative the Ecological Corridor of the Americas, or EcoAmricas, and conservationists throughout the Western Hemisphere have taken up the cause.

Ensuring permanent protection for so many wild acres requires a particular kind of conservation, one that involves deeds, decrees, and of course, lawyers.

Environmental attorneys with the Regional Alliance for Conservation Policies of Latin America and the Caribbean (ARCA) are already at work in four nations, figuring out what is legally required in order to add land, acre by protected acre, to EcoAmricas.

ARCA was formed in 1996 to strengthen links among conservation groups in Latin America and effectively promote environmental policy region-wide. Network members are leading conservation groups in 15 countries in Latin America and the Dominican Republic.


Birds converse on Costa Rica’s Osa Peninsula (Photo courtesy Osa Directory)
The groups involved in the EcoAmricas project, which is funded by the MacArthur Foundation, are: the Environmental Law and Natural Resources Center (CEDARENA) in Costa Rica, which serves as the project coordinator; the Peruvian Foundation for Nature Conservation (ProNaturaleza); the Environment and Nature Foundation in Bolivia; and the PRONATURA Fund, of the Dominican Republic.

According to Silvia Chaves, an attorney with CEDARENA, the project’s overall goal is to learn which legal approaches to safeguarding wild lands are the most effective under which circumstances, so they can be adapted throughout the EcoAmricas corridor.

To start, ARCA team members have selected one pilot area in each of their countries, based on the area’s proximity to the corridor, the high level of threat to particularly precious natural resources, and the level of local support.

“In all these areas, there are landowners who are conserving forests without any involvement by the state,” Chaves says. “Most need the necessary legal documents that will allow them to continue their conservation activities and sustainably use their resources in the present, while ensuring that their forests will be protected in the future, whether or not they continue to be the owners.”


Endangered spectacled bear (Photo by Jessie Cohen courtesy NZP)
ProNaturaleza in Peru is focusing on the 73,000 acre Tabaconas Namballe National Sanctuary, reports Oscar Franco, coordinator of the group’s Private Initiatives Program. The cloudforest sanctuary is near the border with Ecuador and is home to the endangered spectacled bear (Tremarctos ornatus) and the mountain tapir (Tapirus pinchaque). Also found in this region are Podocarpus montanus trees, the only species of conifer native to Peru and a highly prized timber species.

Franco says that ProNaturaleza plans to conserve the remaining forest in the region and work with local residents to help them develop activities allowing them to use natural resources legally and sustainably.

Working with community leaders is a priority of the ProNaturaleza project, Franco emphasizes. “There is a very strong conservation ethic among the local population,” he says, “since they have seen the destruction of their province and also have become aware of the importance of the sanctuary.”

Another goal is to secure a corridor of forested land that would connect the Tabaconas Namballe National Sanctuary with Podocarpus National Park, just over the border in Ecuador, and with forests in a neighboring Peruvian province, where local landowners are keen to develop ecotourism, with assistance from ProNaturaleza.

{Published in cooperation with "Eco-Exchange," a publication of the Rainforest Alliance.}