Looking beyond the treesThe landscape management approach has shown itself to be the most viable conservation model
Apart from its majestic mountains and extraordinary natural beauty, Nepal is known around the world for its efforts to restore forests and wildlife once threatened by short-sighted planning, policy execution, and human influence. The conservation success story in Nepal is an evolutionary one and has provided invaluable lessons and innovative models to other countries facing the dilemma of balancing human needs with those of nature.
The modern history of conservation in Nepal started with an approach focused on the protection of individual species. This evolved into the protected area management approach with the establishment of the country’s first national park—Chitwan National Park—in 1973. The conservation paradigm gradually shifted in the ensuing decades, with more recognition of people as part of the solution rather than merely the source of the problem. This gave way to the proliferation of community forestry, establishment of conservation areas where communities actively participate and benefit from conservation, and the buffer zone policy that shares half of the revenue generated by the national parks with local communities. The approach further evolved by the year 2001 into a holistic view of a broader, interconnected and interdependent landscape.
Balancing protection and management
Landscape management in Nepal has been the guiding approach to conservation over the past fifteen years. The Terai Arc Landscape is the first landscape level conservation program in Nepal. It was established to address the multitude of pressures, threats, and vulnerabilities both inside and outside protected areas to benefit ecosystems, wildlife, and people. Lush, pristine forests in national parks; human settlements and smallholder agriculture concentrated in villages; grasslands connecting patches of forest and functioning as wildlife corridors; wildlife prowling community managed forests; rivers and their tributaries streaming through, east-west and north-south; livestock grazing on understory in the forest; communities living in buffer zones mere feet away from growing populations of rhinos and tigers; tiles of varying sizes and shapes, some human-dominated, others natural with little to no external influence—this is the mosaic of land uses that comprise the landscape.
Landscapes are systems, and integrated management that is holistic in approaches and interventions continues to deliver benefits for people and wildlife at scale. Landscape management prioritises optimal land use that balances the protection and management of wildlife, forests, and grassland while sustaining human livelihoods, culture, and food and water security. Connectivity is also key in a viable, functioning landscape, through wildlife corridors that are important for movement and genetic variability for breeding. Maintaining ecosystem services at the landscape level is also crucial in securing the benefits both people and wildlife derive from nature.
Nepal continues to be a global leader in landscape level conservation. Today, the country has three conservation landscapes—Terai Arc Landscape, Sacred Himalayan Landscape and Chitwan-Annapurna Landscape—covering 8 million hectares. The government of Nepal is working with conservation partners like WWF and local communities across these conservation landscapes to deliver results at scale, across the multitude of land uses in pursuit of long term survival of charismatic species like tigers, rhinos, and snow leopards, as well as sustainable development for communities residing in these landscapes.
A successful approach
The landscape level approach has secured several conservation wins for Nepal in recent years. Tiger numbers increased by 63 percent between the last two surveys in 2009 and 2013, with 198 tigers estimated in the landscape. Likewise, the rhino population increased by 48 percent between 2008 and 2015, with a current estimate of 645 rhinos. The landscape approach has improved anti-poaching measures, and Nepal achieved 365 days of zero poaching of rhinos four times since 2011. The restoration of the Khata Corridor in Bardia is another success story with clear evidence of the movement of tigers between Bardia National Park and India’s Katarniaghat Wildlife Sanctuary through this functional corridor. The Terai Arc Landscape program has in turn empowered local communities to take conservation actions forward through community-based institutions and community forestry, and there is a growing sustainable livelihoods program that provides alternative livelihood opportunities for local people to reduce their dependence on forests and natural resources.
From the vast grasslands of the Northern Great Plains in North America, to the sand dunes of the Namibian desert, to the lush tropical forests of the Amazon, the landscape approach is now the guiding principle of successful conservation initiatives. These landscape programs often transcend national borders, as wildlife and ecosystems do not observe man-made borders. For example, the Kavango Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area (KAZA) encompasses 44 million hectares (more than 15 times the size of the Terai Arc Landscape) crossing five southern Africa countries—Angola, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe. KAZA aims to promote Community-Based Natural Resource Management, which helps to ensure that local communities benefit economically from wildlife on their land, through conservation of wildlife and their habitat, and the creation of a world-class tourism experience. Another example is the Northern Great Plains, which span more than 73 million hectares, crossing five US states and two Canadian provinces. At the crux of the Great Plain’s conservation vision is a mosaic of private, public and tribal lands managed in a manner that benefits wildlife and local communities.
Back in the Himalayas, Nepal remains a pioneer in landscape level conservation, and continues to be a hotbed for innovative community-based natural resource management models. Nepal is blazing new trails in landscape level conservation with the integration of programs like reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD+) and SMART patrolling. The recent federalisation of the country poses challenges, but also opportunities for advancing the landscape level conservation in a coordinated fashion. The work forges on across the conservation landscapes as Nepal works to manage and restore large areas to provide wildlife with the ample space they need to roam, the connectivity to make populations viable, and the ecosystems to sustain humans and wildlife alike for generations to come.
- Lohani is senior director of the Forest Program, World Wildlife Fund