Drone video of our Cerro Candelaria Reserve and the proposed “Forests in the Sky” corridor, by Backpacker Films. Thanks very much to Jeremy and Greg for making this for us!
Every year, during the first two weeks of October, the World Land Trust (the UK charity which is our largest source of funds) has a major fundraising campaign, the “Big Match” campaign, for one of their partner’s urgent projects. This year, they have chosen us as the beneficiary, for our project to protect a critical strip of forest, the “Forests in the Sky”, connecting Ecuador’s northeast Andes to its southeast Andes. During these 15 days, donations to the WLT for this project will be matched 1:1, so any donation is effectively doubled.
If the campaign is successful, we will be able to protect the remaining forest corridor between two national parks, Los Llanganates and Sangay, so that animals like the rare Mountain Tapir (Tapirus pinchaque), Spectacled Bear, puma, Black-and-chestnut Eagle, and others will continue to be able to pass between the northern and southern ranges of the eastern Andes in Ecuador. This interchange is important in order to avoid inbreeding and maintain genetic diversity in animals whose population sizes are low. Genetic diversity is especially important in a fast-changing world such as our current one— climate change and introduced diseases will pose novel challenges to these animals, and genetic diversity will provide the raw material permitting each species to meet these challenges.
The elevation map of Ecuador above clearly shows the strategic importance of the gap we are trying to protect. Blue represents low elevations, while red and white represent high elevations. The map shows that the Ecuadorian Andes are divided into a western range and an eastern range, with a dry central plateau (almost completely deforested) separating them. The eastern range has only one deep blue cut, in about the center of the country. That low valley, which is now partly deforested, is the valley of the Rio Pastaza, where we work. This is the place in the eastern Andes where deforestation will break the connectivity of the eastern Andes. This is the place that has to be saved if connectivity is to be preserved.
The importance of this corridor was first realized in the late 1990s by the Fundacion Natura and the World Wildlife Fund, who sponsored a series of scientific studies of the area. As a result, the town of Banos, along with several neighboring towns, passed resolutions declaring this the “Corredor Ecologico Llanganates-Sangay”, and recognized the special status of the area in their official land use plans. The governments pledged to encourage sustainable development and ecotourism in the area. In 2002 the World Wildlife Fund declared this corridor a “Gift to the Earth”, the only Ecuadorian landscape which has received this designation apart from the Galapagos Islands (which received it in 1997).
With the help of Fundacion Natura staff (especially Xavier Viteri and Dania Quirola), management plans were drawn up, and workshops were held for the local people living in the corridor. There was broad local support for the initiative, and many very nice plans. However, in the end the local governments did not establish any reserves to protect this forest. There was a willingness to do so among some departments, but no funds available. The local governments also did not pass any real measures to restrict land use in the corridor, and Fundacion Natura itself went bankrupt and disappeared.
Our Fundacion EcoMinga was formed in 2006. Shortly after its formation, the environmental officer of the town of Banos told me that a large tract of land between the two national parks had been offered to the town for purchase, but that there were no funds to buy it. He asked if we might be able to buy it, so that it would not be lost for conservation. We therefore made a proposal to the World Land Trust, and they quickly found a donor, Puro Coffee, to sponsor the purchase. This was the beginning of our Cerro Candelaria Reserve, whose southern border is Sangay National Park. Over the years we have extended this protected forest northward towards the other national park, Los Llanganates, with the help of WLT corporate donors PricewaterhouseCoopers and Naturetrek. We have now protected an almost-continuous strip of forest from Sangay National Park to the Rio Pastaza, and we work closely with WWF-Ecuador in helping to create a new management plan for the whole corridor.
Researchers Karima Lopez, Gorki Rios, Carolina Reyes, and our own Juan Pablo Reyes and the Recalde brothers, have placed many camera traps in this protected strip. The cameras reveal healthy populations of all the large mammals that might use a corridor. For example, Gorki Rios was able to identify (on the basis of variations in the bears’ “spectacles”) at least eight individual Spectacled Bears using this forest. Puma, mountain tapir, brocket deer, and smaller mammals were also recorded.
Marc and Denise Dragiewicz, Eyes of the World Films, filmed the upper parts of the Cerro Candelaria reserve recently (thanks Marc and Denise!):
Their time-lapse video of Cerro Candelaria’s clouds:
This month’s Big Match campaign will, if successful, allow us to continue extending our protected corridor across the the Rio Pastaza and northward to finally connect with the Los Llanganates national park. We will finally be able to make the local community’s proposal into reality.
The land we are trying to buy, on Cerro Mayordomo, is itself some of the most interesting and unique forest in Ecuador, as WWF also recognized in their “Gift to the Earth” declaration. Cerro Mayordomo is where I first discovered the spectacular evolutionary radiation of the orchid genus Teagueia. It is also the place where I discovered several new species of Lepanthes orchids, such as L. marshana, L. aprina, and L. mayordomensis. A spectacular recently-described tree, Meriania aurata, is also found on Cerro Mayordomo, though it was first discovered near our Rio Zunac Reserve. There are likely to be many more discoveries of new species as we explore it more.
Cerro Mayordomo is also where I first found a nest of the endangered Black-and-chestnut Eagle (Spizaetus isidori), about eighteen or nineteen years ago. I’ve written more about that eagle here. Below, the eagle flies over the Corridor. You can see the Banos-Puyo highway breaking its continuity. However, this road disappears into a very long tunnel just off the right-hand side of the picture. The forest we will buy for the corridor has the highway running deep underneath it!
There is considerable urgency to make these purchases now. In December of this year, the President of Ecuador will resubmit to Congress a law establishing very high capital gains taxes for large land sales. If this law is passed, prices for large lots will double or triple, making the Corridor economically very difficult to complete.
Please help us make this corridor a reality. Donate to the World Land Trust’s 2015 Big Match Campaign for the “Forests in the Sky” corridor; your donation will be duplicated by them!