Many scientists consider Andean cloud forests the world’s greatest conservation priority. Because the Andes mountains of Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru are very tall and straddle the equator, they are the most biodiverse cloud forests on Earth. They contain the greatest number of endemic plant and animal species that are found nowhere else on earth.
These forests also play an important role in the water cycle. Because they are generally higher in elevation than rainforests, and receive much of their moisture through persistent cloud cover, they act as a sponge, absorbing and retaining water in the wet season and releasing it in the dry season.
Throughout the tropical Andes, cloud forests are threatened by uncontrolled land use, especially clearing of land for low-grade cattle pasture. Because of their steep slopes, the clearing of forest typically leads to soil erosion and loss. Unfortunately, deforestation continues in this species-rich ecosystem, and today only 5% to 20% of the original cloud forest cover remains in most areas, with continuing loss of 1-2% per year.
Nature and Culture International employs a targeted approach to protecting this vanishing ecosystem and its threatened species – any of them literally unique. Using local legislative action, international advocacy, community action and land purchase, we have conserved hundreds of thousands of acres of cloud forests in Latin America.
Accomplishments to Date:
- One of our notable accomplishments is the establishment of FORAGUA, the watershed conservation fund for southern Ecuador. The municipalities that are members of FORAGUA impose a conservation fee that is added to the water bill paid by users and dedicate the funds to the conservation of the cloud forests within the municipalities’ watersheds for its drinking water supply. By 2012, FORAGUA has grown to twelve municipalities that collect about $500,000 annually and have protected over 200,000 acres of cloud forest in newly created municipal reserves to protect and restore the ecosystems that supplies water for more than 400,000 people. We are now working to expand the FORAGUA model to other regions in Ecuador and Peru.
- In Piura, Peru, NCI has led the establishment of the community reserve of Samanga, officially declared by Ministerial Resolution No. 117-2013-MINAM, and will protect 7,220 acres of cloud forest and paramos, benefiting 1,000 community members. This is the first such reserve in the Department of Piura, and is part of a long-term goal of creating a conservation corridor linking the cloud forests and highlands of northern Peru with those in Ecuador.
- Cajas, Ecuador. NCI assisted the government and local partners create the technical documents to designate the Cajas Biosphere Reserve, officially declared by UNESCO in May of 2013. This global designation will cover 2,230,000 acres of land with natural ecosystems as diverse as paramos, cloud forests and coastal areas. Along with its spectacular biodiversity, the area provides the water supply for nearly 850,000 inhabitants, and produces 50% of the hydropower of the country.
- Numbala Valley. NCI has purchased land to create the 3,000 acres of cloud forests surrounding the Podocarpus National Park in the Numbala Valley. This area around Podocarpus Park is recognized as one of the most important sites for biodiversity in the world. Over 40 percent of the park’s 3,500 plant species are endemic, or restricted to this area, including an astonishing variety of orchids, bromeliads, ferns and trees. Along with such attractive mammal species such as the spectacled bear, mountain tapir, ocelot, and puma, the park is home to 600 bird species, including 61 species of hummingbirds and 81 different tanagers! The Numbala Valley is especially important as it has the last stands of enormous Podocarpus trees, and hence has the highest biomass per acre ever measured in Latin America! These lands are clearly a global priority, and NCI continues to buy lands from willing sellers at $160 per acre.
- In Amazonas, PPeru, we are working with the local community to establish the 50,000-acre La Jalca community private protected area that would protect rich cloud forests and paramo ecosystems. In addition to protecting such charismatic species as the Baird’s tapir and rare ones like the chestnut-fronted antpitta, restricted to the forests of this area, La Jalca is known nationally as the center of folklore and Andean culture.
- NCI is leading the establishment of several important protected areas totaling 500,000 acres in the cloud forests of both Amazonas and Cajamarca Regions in northern Peru. We are supporting the development of four new regional protected areas (Vista Allegre, Condor-Puna Shipago, and the Gocta-Chinata-Yumbilla) that will protect Andean cloud forests and paramo ecosystems. Gocta-Chinata-Yumbilla will also protect one of the world’s highest waterfalls. Endemism levels are high throughout these areas, and new species have been identified at all sites.