US Forest Service gathers partners to pause and reflect on project results and plan

The annual partners meeting of the US Forest Service (USFS) – under the umbrella of the Partnership for Conservation of the Amazon Biodiversity (PCAB) gathered for three days, in December, partners from the Brazilian government and civil society to discuss the results chains, evaluate progress and identify gaps.  

The ongoing partnership with the Chico Mendes Institute for Biodiversity Conservation (ICMBio) has grown since 2012 with the additional support of USAID and, from 2014 onwards, became part of PCAB.

As a technical implementing partner, the USFS has the support of other technical partners:  the U.S. National Parks Service, the Colorado State University, University of Montana, West Virginia University, the National Indian Foundation (Funai), as well as civil society Implementing Partners (NGOs working in the field).

The program stretches into 38 Protected Areas in the areas of Public Use associated with Sustainable Tourism; Capacity Building and Institutional Strengthening of Management Plans for Conservation Units (Protected Areas which are not Indigenous Lands); Sustainable Value Chains; Fire Management and Civil Society Engagement through volunteering programs for biodiversity conservation.

Anna Toness, USAID/Brazil’s Environmental Director, pointed out that this is the biggest project under the PCAB’s bilateral agreement and emphasized the long-term nature of the partnership, which will last five more years: “We will keep working together and want not only focus on the success achieved, but on what is not yet working and on what we can do better to reach better results.”  

The fire management collaboration dates back from 2008. It began with fire combat and now aims to use fire as a tool for integrated fire management.  

Claudio  Maretti, director of Socio Environmental Actions and Territorial Consolidation in Conservation Units of ICMBio, stressed the Evolution brought by the partnership: “Today, value chains aren’t discussed in each Conservation Unit, but in sub-regional contexts: extractivists and indigenous people. Tourism is not only about concessions or opening a trail controlled by us (ICMBio). It is volunteering and community based tourism, which is expanding.”

Michelle Zweede, Brazil Program Coordinator for the US Forest Service -International Programs, highlighted that this partnership is an exchange of experiences. The US Forest Service hopes to  bring back to the US and take to other partnering countries the course methodologies and modules created in Brazil by partners. Two examples are capacity building in Brazil Nut value chain developed by The International Education Institute of Brazil (IEB) under the PCAB and the courses developed on public use planning.

Building stewardship through visitation

Zweede also stressed the importance of public use in the US, where “people love the parks”. The connection with nature is also increasing in Brazil, through the visitation growth experienced in Conservation Units.  

In 2017,  some 10,7 million Brazilians visited Parks, Reserves and other Conservation Units - an increase of 30% compared with the previous year. The growth energizes local economies, as they spent an estimate of US$ 2.2 billion (R$ 8.6 billion). The estimate is directly connected to the partnership: the ICMBio’s Brazilian methodology was adapted from the experiences of managing public lands in the United States. In Brazil, the methodology was developed to also include estimates for potential profits from taxes locally, at State and at National levels.  

Another adaptation brought about by the partnership is changing the way Management Plans for protected areas are created. Two pilot projects are already in place and a third is on the way. The new planning process was developed with support from the US Park and Forest Services and turned out to be the answer for a problem that specialists at ICMBio have been debating for some 15 years.  The former management planning process and length of time taken by primary research sometimes failed to support managers in their day-to-day work.

ICMBio’s technical staff saw the management planning process used by the US National Park Service as a process that could be adapted to provide a foundation to build management plans into working documents, with defined priorities that helped local managers to allocate their resources according to their capacity.

Forest harvesting

Forests  harvesting in a sustainable way can provide opportunities for traditional population to develop economic opportunities and, at the same time, prevent traditional populations from being displaced in the Amazon. From the three Community and family forest management plans that received technical assistance through the PCAB program, the most advanced is the one at the Extractive Reserve Verde para Sempre (Forever Green). One of the communities is in the second harvest and six others are forming a co-operative to trade the first harvest. As forest management only lasts a few months per year, extractivists are receiving support to develop other value chains.

Being one of the biggest Extractive Reserves in the country, withy 1,3 million hectares (bigger than Jamaica), it suffers pressure from illegal deforestation. Last year, it was ranked the 12nd most affected by illegal deforestation among the top 20 federal protected areas suffering from invasions of illegal loggers. The official satellite monitoring from the National Institute of Space Research (INPE), shows that illegal deforestation at Verde para Sempre has been contained in the project`s areas of influence, covering 6% of the Resex total area. The unfair competition from illegal loggers has prevented the communities involved in forest harvesting management to reach better prices for their timber. Still, communities involved in the project have found buyers eager to trade with legal and licensed sellers.

The meeting provided the opportunity to take a deeper dive into the  programs of work with the US Forest Service, USAID and partners to share knowledge and program results.  The USFS program will build in pause and reflect opportunities throughout the program cycle to provide a participatory approach to learning and making informed design and implementation decisions.