|UBON RATCHATHANI, Thailand, February 18, 2003 (ENS) - Transboundary conservation areas throughout the world are increasing in number and size as governments recognize that species and ecosystems are not limited by political borders. To facilitate greater crossborder cooperation in tropical forest conservation, park managers and policy makers from 30 countries have gathered here for a workshop jointly convened by the International Tropical Timber Organization and IUCN - The World Conservation Union.
From 59 transboundary conservation areas that existed in 1988, the number of such areas has more than doubled. In 2001, it was estimated that there were 169 transboundary protected area complexes involving at least 666 individually proclaimed protected areas. That number will grow to 180 transboundary conservation areas by the end of this year, the conference organizers say.
The International Tropical Timber Organization's (ITTO) transboundary conservation areas, for example, now cover some 10 million hectares (24.7 million acres) in nine tropical countries. A commodity organization, the ITTO includes countries which produce and consume tropical timber to exchange information and develop policies on all aspects of the world tropical timber economy. Headquartered in Yokohama, Japan, the 57 members of the ITTO together represent 95 percent of world trade in tropical timber and 75 percent of the world's tropical forests.
Dr. William Jackson, director of IUCN's Global Program, said, "The creation of some 40,000 protected areas around the world has been one of the greatest conservation achievements of the 20th century, but we still face many challenges. Many protected areas - including transboundary conservation areas (TBCAs) - lack sufficient investment to ensure their long term survival."
Through its program in Asia, IUCN aims to promote regional links with global and national policies and foster collaborative efforts through an ecosystem approach. "Experience from Asia demonstrates how the transboundary conservation concept can be implemented at a regional scale and provides lessons that will help governments address the challenges facing TBCAs in the tropics," Jackson said.
The Pha Taem Protected Forests Complex, shared by Thailand, Laos and Cambodia and supported by grants from ITTO, is one Asian example of a transboundary conservation area. On Friday, the Royal Forest Department of Thailand will host a field trip to the Pha Taem forest for workshop participants. The protected area covers some 173,000 hectares (427,500 acres) and four existing protected areas - Pha Taem, Kaeng Tana, and Phu Jong Na Yoi National Parks, and Yot Dom Wildlife Sanctuary, as well as the proposed Buntrik-Yot Mon Wildlife Sanctuary.
Yongyut Trisurat of the Faculty of Forestry, Kasetsart University Chatuchak, Thailand, will explain how the Pha Taem Protected Forests Complex has been selected as a pilot project because there is an increasing pressure on biodiversity from trade in plant parts and animal poaching across the border with Cambodia and Laos.
Besides the trading of biological resources across the border, other important issues in Thailand include illegal logging, grazing, encroachment in buffer zone, the proposed Emerald Triangle Development Project, landmines along the border and logging concessions in Laos.
Preliminary findings from data collection, remote sensing and GIS analysis reveal that the Pha Taem Protected Forests Complex contains dry evergreen forest, mixed deciduous forest, and dry dipterocarp forest, and more than 288 tree species have been identified, says Trisurat. At least 49 mammal species, 145 bird species, 30 reptile species and 13 amphibian species are found there, but large wildlife species such as wild elephant, banteng, and bear are observed only along the national borders. Recently, a Siamese freshwater crocodile, the most endangered crocodile species in the world, was caught by villager on Lam Dom Yai River in the Yot Dom Wildlife Sanctuary.
"ITTO's program, amongst others, recognizes the special conservation and security benefits of TBCAs and the important role they can play in promoting regional cooperation and economic development while safeguarding ecosystems split by national boundaries," said ITTO Executive Director Dr. Manoel Sobral Filho.
Workshop speaker Trevor Sandwith of the Cape Action Plan for the Environment is co-chair of the IUCN/World Commission on Protected Areas Task Force on Transboundary Protected Areas. In many parts of the world, transboundary conservation programs are viewed as a new opportunity to establish, expand and improve the sustainability of protected areas. But, Sandwith says, critics regard these programs as "the latest passing fashion." There is uncertainty whether the costs involved in these complex programs really justify the biodiversity, social, institutional, political and economic benefits.
Drawing on a new guidance document prepared by IUCN, the Biodiversity Support Programme and Europarc Federation, and the insights of the IUCN/WCPA Transboundary Protected Areas Task Force, Sandwith will explore the decision making process for undertaking a TBCA initiative, the TBCA planning process, and the challenges for monitoring, evaluation and adaptive management.
Kathy MacKinnon with the World Bank's Environment Department will describe the bank's support for projects which "foster a landscape approach to conservation, linking protected areas through wildlife corridors and sustainably managed forests and rangelands that promote biodiversity conservation and sustainable use, often across national boundaries."
In Central Asia the bank is supporting protected areas, landscape planning and tri-national collaboration between Kyrgiz Republic, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan in the mountains of the West Tien Shan, says MacKinnon.
Cooperation between Romania and Ukraine in the Danube Delta is leading to better protection of the deltaís wetlands while three countries - Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda - are working together to combat problems created by invasive water hyacinth in Lake Victoria, MacKinnon says.
In Central America national projects in Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua and Panama contribute to protected area and forest management in the Meso-American Biological Corridor and the offshore barrier reef. A new project in southern Africa provides support for protected areas and adjacent community lands in the Maloti-Drakensberg mountains on the borders of South Africa and Lesotho, a designated Peace Park and new World Heritage site.
Natarajan Ishwaran of the UNESCO World Heritage Center and Seema Paul of the United Nations Foundation will explain to delegates the role of the UNESCO World Heritage Convention in promoting transboundary conservation initiatives. In nominating sites for World Heritage designation, member countries have proposed crossborder sites, and several of them have been granted this status by the World Heritage Committee. This recognition includes the inscription of both crossborder sites as a single entry such as Kluane Wrangell/St. Elias of Canada and the United States, or as separate entries such as the Iguacu Falls of Brazil and Iguacu Falls of Argentina.
Other speakers will present their experiences in developing transboundary conservation areas in Africa, Central America and Asia. Transboundary cooperation and development in the framework of the Costa Rica ‚ Panama Agreement on the La Amistad Protected Area will be reviewed by Francisco Mora of Parque Nacional Tapanti, Costa Rica.
Mavuso Msimang of South African National Parks will describe South Africa's experiences with six transfrontier conservation areas and parks. The involvement of the Peace Parks Foundation has assisted the success of these developments. In May 2000, the first transfrontier conservation area in Africa was signed into existence in a ceremony between the South African and Botswana presidents at the newly named Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park.
An international agreement on the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park was signed between ministers from Zimbabwe, Mozambique and South Africa in November 2000.
The signing of the Trilateral Protocol between Mozambique, South Africa and Swaziland took place in June 2000 for the Lubombo Transfrontier Conservation Area. The Namibian and South African governments have started negotiations to develop the Ai-Ais-Richtersveld Transfrontier Conservation Area. A memorandum of understanding was signed in August 2001.
The Maloti-Drakensberg Transfrontier Conservation Area is at an advanced stage of negotiations and a Memorandum of Understanding has been signed.
The Limpopo Shashe Transfrontier Conservation Area's draft Memorandum of Understanding has been drawn up between Botswana, Zimbabwe and South Africa, and a tourism development study has taken place. This park incorporates Vhembe-Dongola National Park and the historically significant site of Mapungubwe, around which a special cultural centre is being planned.
Carlos Ponce of Conservation International, Peru, will describe the transborder cooperation between Peru and Ecuador that has lessened the conflict over the region of Cordillera del Condor in the mountain border between the two countries that has been disputed for decades. After biological assessments were carried out in the early 1990s, the region was recognized as an important habitat for several threatened and endemic species in its diverse forests. But it was not until the signing of the Presidential Act in1998, Ponce says, that both countries reached an agreement that ended the hostilities and opened new venues for bilateral cooperation on conservation issues. The agreement included measures to establish Adjacent Zones of Ecological Protection, the transboundary protected area.
Both governments requested that the International Tropical Timber Organization provide technical and financial support to undertake a scoping study to assess the feasibility of different conservation strategies for the Cordillera del Condor. As a result of this first study two new projects were endorsed by ITTO to consolidate the network of transboundary protected areas present in the region.
"It is expected that the different conservation efforts carried out in Cordillera del Condor will lead to the establishment of a Conservation Corridor in this transboundary area," Ponce says. Conservation corridors, explains Ponce, are a "new planning and management strategy that integrates parts of natural ecosystems, including natural protected areas, and areas being managed for other forms of land use to foster sustainable development practices, while maintaining the biological diversity and ecological processes of a given territory."
The World Parks Congress to be held in Durban, South Africa from September 8 through 17 offers an opportunity to address the opportunities and limits of these transboundary conservation programs and to determine strategic approaches for the next decade.