|Ecuador Cloud Forest|
Ecuador is among the most biodiverse countries in the world, where a substantial 17 percent of its land area is protected as national parks and ecological reserves. Protected areas are, however, only one contributor to biodiversity conservation in tropical mountain settings, where habitats vary tremendously over small distances and where endemism reigns. Tremendous biodiversity exists in wild habitats that are and will remain outside of formal protected areas. Because these forests and high-elevation páramos are often titled, Ecuador must find a way to enlist landowners as conservation advocates if the country’s grand biodiversity is to survive. Instead of generating additional income by converting wild habitats to domestic landscapes, farmers need alternative activities in which conservation contributes to family incomes.
To this end, the Round River is working with landowners and the Fundación Cordillera Tropical (FCT) in southern Sangay National Park, a mountainous region of incredible beauty. These mountains, called the Nudo del Azuay, are host to an intact wild fauna, including the Andean (spectacled) bear, mountain tapir, puma, brocket deer, golden-plumed parakeet and crescent-faced antipitta. The Nudo del Azuay also has a long history of human presence—most likely since the early Holocene. It contains many pre-Columbian roads, terraces, and ceremonial sites, and páramo landscapes perhaps created and maintained by hunter-gatherers beginning in the early Holocene.
The goal of FCT and its landowner allies is to develop sustainable incentives for conservation. Among the conservation tools employed are environmental education programs for the local residents of all ages, controlled studies to document the area’s biodiversity and hydrologic resources, support for community guards in Sangay National Park, ecological restoration, and compensation to landowners for their voluntary avoidance of deforestation and páramo cultivation.