Polylepis forests are the most threatened high Andean ecosystem. Today these forests survive as small patches mostly restricted to areas of low agricultural importance. However, they are the most important habitat for numerous bird species threatened with extinction like the Royal Cinclodes (Cinclodes aricomae) and the Ash-breasted Tit-tyrant (Anairetes alpinus) in La Paz, and the Cochabamba Mountain-Finch (Poospiza garleppi) in other areas of the central Bolivian Andes.
In 1996, only 10% of Bolivia’s Polylepis forests still existed. Though no thorough estimate has been made recently, there is no doubt these forests continue disappearing. This is also occurring with other Andean ecosystems such as the dry forests of the central Bolivian Andes, locally known as “valles secos”. The metropolitan region of Cochabamba, for example, has completely replaced the dry forest that once occurred in this valley. Likewise, most dry forests in the inter Andean dry valleys of central Bolivia have been replaced by agriculture fields.
Some of the numerous native trees being prepared in our partners’ nurseries.
For over 10 years Armonia has made efforts to protect these forests and the most threatened bird species that depend on their future. Armonia conducted numerous educational activities, habitat restoration programs, and research, and today we focus our conservation efforts on protecting the key sites for these threatened ecosystems. In 2018 we coordinated with two local Quechua communities (Puina and Keara) and the Madidi National Park to carry out the largest Polylepis reforestation in Bolivia (28,000 saplings). Since then, over 30,000 Polylepis saplings have been planted in the same area.
Today, in conjunction with the Cochabamba regional government, several local communities, and the Tunari National Park, we are undertaking to plant 100,000 native saplings each year to restore the forests of the Tunari National Park. Through these actions and the support of local communities’ sustainable development, we aim to protect Tunari’s most important ecosystem services for the inhabitants of Cochabamba: 1) water cycle regulation and protection of underground water reservoirs, 2) prevention of natural disasters like the landslides that occurred in 2018 and 2020, and 3) development of nature-based tourism.
Marcia Mireya Salvatierra Gomez, Armonia’s project coordinator for the Action Andes initiative in Bolivia.