Iwokrama Reserve, Guyana (part 2)
Dec 11, 2004
|(written by Ted)
On Dec. 10-12, Karen, Ted, and Byron, along the Driedger family from Canada (Ed, Joan, and their daughter Jane; Jane has a Guyanese friend and had wanted to visit), visited the Iwokrama forest reserve. Byron eloquently describes our trip in the previous entry. This entry contains a little background information about the reserve and Guyana's forests in general. The information comes from Iwokrama's staff, publications and website (http://www.iwokrama.org/), and an interview with Conservation International-Guianas staff, as well as their web site (http://www.conservation.org/xp/CIWEB/regions/south_america/guianas/guianas.xml).
The Iwokrama International Centre for Rain Forest Conservation and Development is an autonomous non-profit institution established by Guyana and the British Commonwealth. According to its brochures, its philosophy is that protected areas will only halt the rapid destruction of tropical forests if they also work with local and national interests. The Iwokrama Centre manages the nearly 1 million acre (371,000 ha) Iwokrama Forest in central Guyana to demonstrate "how tropical forests can be conserved and sustainably used to provide ecological, social and economic benefits to local, national, and international communities."
Global Rain Forests:
Tropical rain forests cover 6% of the planet, but are home to over 50% of the world's plants and animals. Forests have always been a source of food, housing and medicines for local people. Today, the economic basis of many developing countries is created with resources that are found in tropical forests.
Global rates of deforestation remain the same as ten years ago. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates the rate of South American tropical deforestation at 21,000 square miles annually! To date, 55% of the world's tropical forests have been converted to non-forest uses. Unchecked, this rate of deforestation will result in the total elimination of tropical forests in 100 years. Estimates of plant and animal extinctions range from one to 137 species disappearing every day.
Tropical rain forests are crucial to human survival and development. In spite of the fact that tropical forests cover such a small area of the world's surface, their loss will cause severe global changes. Through various direct and indirect means, deforestation releases CO2 into the atmosphere increases the greenhouse effect. This in turn may raise global temperatures, causing flooding, plant and animal extinctions, loss of agricultural land, systems failures and many more consequences. Forest loss will negatively affect economies, health, cultures and political stability worldwide. According to Iwokrama, the cause of rampant deforestation is business development with little concern for social, cultural and ecological impacts, set in a context of poor governance. One of many major global challenges is the development of mechanisms for the management of tropical forests to meet the needs of local, national, and international stakeholders.
The Guiana Shield:
There are only four relatively unharmed tropical forests left in the world: the Amazon, the Congo Basin, Papua New Guinea, and the Guiana Shield. These are called "frontier forests", and all are extremely vulnerable. The Guiana Shield, which is where Iwokrama is located, is that portion of South American tropical forest that covers much of Guyana, Surinam and French Guiana, as well as eastern and southern Venezuela, and northeast Brazil. The Guiana Shield is one of the oldest regions on Earth (2 billion years).
Several features distinguish the Guiana Shield frontier forests from other tropical forests. Pressures on natural resources have historically been relatively low. This is because of low human population densities, low agricultural potential of the highly weathered forest soils, low commercial timber volumes and growth, and relative inaccessibility. These features mean that Guiana Shield frontier forest ecosystems represent one of the highest per capita forested areas in the world and one of the largest well preserved landscapes.
Current developments in the region include growing pressures on national governments to attract large-scale investments for the natural resource exploitation of gold, timber, diamonds, and bauxite. This large-scale resource exploitation is often associated with increasing road access to new areas. At the same time, economic shifts have caused local livelihood strategies to move toward dispersed extractive commercial enterprises including small-scale gold mining, chain saw logging, and wildlife trading.
Recent declines in world market prices for the region's commodities, including gold, bauxite, timber, diamonds, sugar and rice, have exacerbated existing debt burdens and reduced national income that could be directed towards development. These economic and social changes increase pressures on the relatively well-conserved Guiana Shield forest ecosystems. The current paradigm in the Guianas and many other less developed countries is to sell off natural resources for quick cash rather than to consider their long-term importance or to develop domestic industries. Unfortunately, national natural resource management systems have also weakened as human and financial resource bases have dwindled over the last 30 years.
Conservation International lists the threats to Guyana's forests as logging, mining, road construction, and the lack of protected areas. CI considers mining to be the most significant issue. Illegal and small scale mines silt up rivers, and mined areas tend not to be rehabilitated after they are exhuasted. Deforestation is not as big a problem as it is in Brazil. Guyana has a small population, and is largely unexplored. Also, logging is supposed to be done "sustainably." However, the government has granted huge logging concessions (much bigger than the area deeded to Iwokrama) to Malaysian, Chinese, and other international companies. We drove through the Malaysian concession, which has its own police protection, registers people passing through on the road, and prohibits photography. We saw large stacks of old-growth logs, and a regular stream of trucks carrying logs to the coast. Soils we saw in the Guyana Shield are generally poor: sandy, little or no organic matter, and highly erodible. Regrowth after logging or mining (which is done with pressure hoses) may be difficult. Another significant problem is the killing or capturing of wildlife for pets, furs, traditional medicine, etc. (see next entry for an example of this).
Protected areas are a relatively new concept in Guyana, but CI is working with Guyana's government and indigenous communities to make this a national priority. CI has proposed the creation of the country's first new protected area in the Kanuku Mountain region of southwestern Guyana, which is home to the largest known population of the endangered harpy eagle. CI is also working to increase awareness throughout Guyana on the importance of biodiversity conservation.
In 2000, CI applied for and received an exploratory lease in the upper Essequibo Region for the country's first "conservation concession." A new conservation financing mechanism, conservation concessions allow groups like CI the chance to lease forest tracts from the government in the same way a timber company would, but for conservation.
CI considers Amerindians in Guyana to be good conservationists. The Wai Wais of Southern Guyana (Konashen), the Government of Guyana and Conservation International Guyana have established a Community Owned Conservation Area. The government issued title to more than 1 million acres of Wai Wai lands in February 2004. The Wai Wais requested the area be declared a community owned conservation area immediately thereafter.
According to Iwokrama, the Guiana Shield forest ecosystems offer numerous opportunities for developing effective resource management systems because of their presently well- preserved nature. Growing threats at local and national levels and severe human and financial resource constraints to developing effective natural resource management systems also exist. The challenge for Guiana Shield countries is to develop management approaches, within human and financial resource constraints, that can capture the full range of forest values and consequently reduce the threats to these values.
The Iwokrama Approach:
Iwokrama's mission is to "promote the conservation and the sustainable and equitable use of tropical rain forests in a manner that leads to lasting ecological, economic, and social benefits to the people of Guyana and to the world in general, by undertaking research, training, and the development and dissemination of technologies." They "learn by doing - building partnerships with local communities and the private sector. These partnerships combine traditional knowledge, science, and business to develop green, socially responsible, and sustainable forest products and services. These products and services include low-impact timber harvesting, ecotourism, training forest rangers and guides, and harvesting aquarium fish. Businesses provide local and national benefits, and so help maintain global biodiversity and climate. Iwokrama evaluates the social, economic and ecological changes that occur as a result of business development. The objective if to become a model for business development that results in the worldwide conservation of tropical forests."
Unfortunately, Iwokrama is $1 million in debt. Partly this is a lack of tourism in Guyana, and a lack of interest so far by logging companies. The center had to reduce its staff, and further cuts could be expected. Fortunately, the President of Guyana promised to find funding.
A physical description of Iwokrama:
At 1000 metres high, the Iwokrama Mountains form the geographic focal point of the Forest; they once provided a "place of refuge" for the Makushi people. The Iwokrama Forest encompasses about almost one million acres (3,710 km2). The Georgetown-Lethem Road dissects the Forest, traversing about 72km (45 mi.) between the northeastern and southern boundaries.
The Forest's boundary is arbitrary with respect to the regional ecosystem. Resources flow between the Iwokrama Forest and surrounding areas (Rupununi Wetlands, Pakaraima Mountains) through wildlife and fish migrations, and through extensive foraging by predators like Harpy Eagles and Jaguars. The Forest lies within the Guiana Shield, a region distinct from Amazonia, although there is some cross drainage during rainy seasons.
Waterways form all but 3% of the Forest's boundary. The Essequibo River, the third largest drainage system in South America after the Amazon and Orinoco, form the eastern boundary; the northern boundary is the Siparuni River. The Burro-Burro River runs through the centre, and most of its watershed is within the Forest.
The elevation of the Forest rises from 30m (98 ft.) above sea level to the 1000m (3281 ft.) tall Iwokrama Mountains. The terrain is generally rolling. Other major physical features are the Pakatau Hills in the northwest, and Turtle Mountain in the northeast.
The geology of the area includes acid intermediate volcanics, subvolcanic granites, gabbro-norite sills and dykes, granitoids and greenstone.
The region receives between 1,400mm (55 in.) and 3,000mm (118 in.) of precipitation per year. Of the total rainfall, 50 to 70% occurs between May and August.
Flora and Fauna of Iwokrama:
The Iwokrama Forest is ecologically a cross between Amazonian and Guianan flora and fauna. As a result, it contains high species richness and several species of animals that are threatened or extinct across most of their former geographic ranges.
So far, 3,770 species of plants have been identified in the Iwokrama Forest. Most of the Iwokrama Forest comprises a mixture of forest types, with no particular species dominating. Rather, there are changes in the relative abundance of essentially the same suite of canopy species. Iwokrama Forest has been identified as a global hotspot for several plant families, including Lecythidaceae and Chrysobalanaceae.
Wildlife is abundant, with numerous macaw and parrot species, harpy eagles, jaguars, howler monkeys, giant otters, black caimans, and many others. The Iwokrama Forest holds an incredible animal diversity, estimated at least 200 species of mammals, 500 species of birds, and 150 species of amphibians and reptiles. It has the highest species richness for fish (over 420 described so far) and bats (90) for any area this size in the world. More than 30% of the mammals and many other animals are listed as endangered under the International Convention on the Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). This healthy animal population helps make the region a prime conservation and ecotourism area.
Iwokrama Forest is the homeland of the Makushi people, who have lived in and used the forest for thousands of years. The success of Iwokrama relies on the good will and skills of the local people. Iwokrama fully involves local people in every aspect of its work.