The challenge of the century: to restore and protect ecosystem services through native forest restoration

In a commitment to protecting the high Andean Polylepis forests, which are the main habitat of endangered species such as the Royal Cinclodes (Cinclodes aricomae) and the Ash-breasted Tit-Tyrant (Anairetes alpinus), in 2017 Asociacion Armonia restarted the restoration program for Polylepis pepei forests in the protected areas Madidi and Cotapata. Since then we have planted approximately 30,000 seedlings of this species of Polylepis, considered Vulnerable to extinction by the IUCN, in coordination with members of the Puina community. 

Today, the teachers and students of Puina’s school run a self-sustaining reforestation program through which approximately 500 seedlings are planted annually. In the same way, Armonía cooperated with the staff of the Cotapata Protected Area to establish its own reforestation program for its Polylepis pepei forests.

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Reforestation by Puina students in Nov. 2019. Photo by Monica San Cristobal.

The Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF) was an important supporter in the reactivation of Armonia’s restoration program of the Polylepis forests in the department of La Paz. During this time, we also established a collaborative partnership with various communities and municipal authorities, protected areas (Madidi and Cotapata) and other non-governmental organizations (e.g. ACEAA, CODESPA and WCS) that work for the good of the same key biodiversity areas.

The intervention of Don Gregorio, a member of the Puina community (see video), is a sign of how the perception of community members has changed in favor of protecting the Polylepis forests.

The last quarter of 2019, and practically the whole of 2020, was a period in which we had to face monumental challenges. Bolivia was hit by a political crisis that paralyzed the country. Then, as if the political crisis had not been tough enough, the arrival of COVID-19 shocked the country that was just recovering. The health crisis paralyzed all of Bolivia and left us on the brink of the most acute economic crisis of the last 25 years.

Despite the difficulties that arose from the quarantine that was imposed in the country, the Andean forest restoration program acquired a new greater dimension with its expansion to the department of Cochabamba. This was possible thanks to the support of the Andes Action alliance, which is led by Global Forest Generation, a global organization based in the United States, and ECOAN, South American leader of the Andes Action initiative.

During 2020, as members of the Andes Action alliance and even with restrictions resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, we established in the Cochabamba department a strong partnership with the departmental government, the Tiquipaya Municipality, the Tunari National Park, various indigenous communities living within this protected area (Cruzani, Laphia, Thola Pujru, Linkupata and Totora), other peri-urban communities in Cochabamba, and numerous civil society organizations wishing to protect Tunari Park.

Soldiers helping reforest the OTB Alto Mirador Ecológico. Photo by Ruth Marquez.

The goal by the end of February 2021 is to plant at least 100,000 seedlings of native tree species to restore the dry native forests and Polylepis subtusalbida forests that originally covered the entire altitudinal gradient of the Tunari mountain range. This effort begins a 5-year program whose goal is to restore and protect the ecosystem functions that this protected area that provides for the metropolitan region of Cochabamba, with approximately 1 million inhabitants.

A significant part of the Tunari Mountain Range is also a National Protected Area that produces (directly or indirectly) almost 100% of the water consumed by the inhabitants of the Cochabamba metropolitan region. The degradation of native vegetation within this Protected Area compromises this ecosystem function, as it decreases the recharge capacity of the underground aquifers that sustain life in the valley. But it also compromises the security of housing located in areas vulnerable to landslides and mudslides, of which we have a clear example in Tiquipaya, where hundreds of families were put at risk.

The native forests of this mountain range are also home to biodiversity endemic to Bolivia and threatened with extinction such as the Monterita Cochabambina (Poospiza boliviana) and many other species. It is clear that there is more than one important reason to support the restoration of the native forests of the Tunari mountain range.

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