Ricord's and rhinoceros iguanas collage.
The endangered Ricord’s iguana, left, and the endangered rhinoceros iguana are endemic to Hispaniola and among the largest remaining native land animals on the island.

Climate Risk Management Strengthens Biodiversity Conservation in Dominican Republic

Savings Achieved with CRM-Informed Habitat Restoration
By Jamie Carson, Elizabeth Hutchison
This blog is part of the Benefits of Climate Risk Management blog series that aims to provide evidence-based deep dives into USAID case studies.
 
Those who live in and around the Dominican Republic’s Jaragua-Bahoruco-Enriquillo UNESCO Biosphere Reserve have a first-hand understanding of the costly realities of climate change. Harsh, dry conditions and extreme weather make climate risks part of daily life and a top consideration in efforts to protect endemic species. This rang true for the Conservation of Hispaniola’s Rock Iguanas project. Launched in November 2018, the project aims to preserve the endangered Ricord’s and rhinoceros rock iguanas that make their home in the reserve’s dry forests. 


 
With support from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), USAID, and implementing partner Grupo Jaragua, the project incorporated climate risk management (CRM) and community engagement activities to advance its objectives – tapping into the strong national pride for the island of Hispaniola’s biodiversity to achieve results. A climate risk assessment conducted during the project’s design enabled implementers to coordinate conservation strategies with known weather events that could enhance or hinder iguana habitat restoration planting activities.

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Map of protected areas on Hispaniola in the Dominican Republic.
The island of Hispaniola, shared by the Dominican Republic and Haiti, is home to two endangered species of rock iguanas. Key rock iguana habitats overlap in the Dominican Republic’s Jaragua-Bahoruco-Enriquillo Biosphere Reserve.
Findings of the climate risk management assessment
 
The results from the project’s climate risk assessment confirmed the project managers’ assertions that coordinating planting with weather events from the outset would deliver the best outcomes. This meant thinking about contingency plans, including how the overall project schedule would change alongside shifts in planting timelines. For example, in anticipation of Hurricane Florence in 2018 and Hurricane Dorian in 2019, project implementers and managers paused planting and pivoted to other less climate-sensitive activities. The assessment also identified a high risk of drought conditions, a key consideration in habitat restoration and cultivation of plants that iguanas use for shelter and food. To address this risk, project timelines incorporated greater flexibility in planting schedules to account for rainfall pattern variability and avoided planting when dry conditions could hamper plant survival. Embedding flexibility into planting schedules aligned with the adaptive approach that island residents already take when planning agricultural activities amid regional climate changes and challenges.
 
Benefits of climate risk management
This flexibility allowed the project to save a conservatively estimated $14,882, or 15 percent of total grant funding, by avoiding costs associated with plant die-off and up to 10 days of habitat restoration efforts. This estimate accounts for investments in tree saplings grown in community nurseries, which could have perished had the team proceeded with planting during drought conditions, losing not only the trees but also six months of cultivation time and care.
 

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Project implementers with enclosure.
Implementers of the Conservation of Hispaniola's Rock Iguanas project conduct a field visit to a Bursera sapling enclosure established as part of habitat conservation efforts in the dry forests of the Dominican Republic. The enclosure will help prevent ungulate predation on planted saplings.

“If you consider all the effort, from the time to plan an event, bring everyone together, and coordinate logistics, carrying out a restoration event when it is not climatically suitable is throwing money away,” said Andrea Thomen, project manager with Grupo Jaragua.

 
The CRM supported project partners to identify other measures to manage climate risks, including monitoring migration routes and nesting sites of the target species and selecting drought-resistant habitat restoration plants.
Karen Pannocchia, a project management specialist for USAID in the Dominican Republic, said the climate risk management process helped make shared priorities explicit. “Even though the partner might know everything about the weather and technical aspects, it helped them to have such considerations flagged by USAID through the climate risk management process––giving implementers more confidence to talk about the technical aspects and operate under an adaptive project management framework,” Pannocchia said.
 
As a direct result of CRM, the project team identified "hectares of restored habitat” as a new project indicator. Monitoring and evaluations through the end of 2019 reported the following related successes:
 
  • Identified approximately 4,000 hectares suitable for future restoration.
  • Restored 191.3 hectares.
  • Planted 114,556 prickly-pear cactus cladodes (a shelter and food source for iguanas), with a more than 70 percent survival rate by November 2019.
  • Incorporated 319 iguana-friendly plants into restoration design.
  • Engaged and provided incentives to 43 community members (31 men, 12 women) for restoration work.
The incorporation of CRM into the project’s work plan showcased the value of including project activities that were unaffected by climate risks. Doing so allowed Grupo Jaragua to continue to advance the project when climate-sensitive habitat conservation activities had to be paused due to undesirable weather conditions. Examples of project activities that were able to carry forward with minimal impact from climate risks include regular surveillance of key rock iguana habitats for threats, efforts to reduce outbreeding (iguana reproduction by crossbreeding with different species) through capacity building in existing captive facilities, and public education through a nationwide iguana awareness campaign.
 
Broader Climate Risks
 
The Dominican Republic ranked as the 11th most vulnerable country in the world to climate change in 2017. It experiences a variety of climate stressors, including rising air and sea surface temperatures, changes in the seasonality of precipitation, and increased drought, storms, flooding, and hurricanes. The island also has been challenged by Lake Enriquillo’s fluctuating water levels, which rose for several years until 2013, when they began to recede. These stressors make communities more vulnerable to financial hardship due to agriculture impacts, loss of property value, and food shortages and higher costs. Residents in turn are more likely to seek income through forest cutting and charcoal making activities, which threaten rock iguanas’ habitat quality, food availability, and nesting success.
 
Community Engagement and Climate Risk Awareness Bolster Conservation Strategies

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Project outreach and an iguana mascot in a school in Dominican Republic.
Iguana mascots provide interactive opportunities to teach children about iguana ecology and the difference between regional iguana species. The Conservation of Hispaniola's Rock Iguanas project identified community education as a valuable strategy for building understanding about the country’s rich biodiversity and the need for continued habitat restoration.
Public outreach efforts have already achieved positive results, connecting with 6,631 people as of March 2020, and appealing to community members’ deep commitment to the region’s biodiversity, while encouraging the adoption of conservation behaviors that help preserve restored habitats. The robust community engagement effort is not only educating people about rock iguanas but also showing signs of changing attitudes about iguana-threatening activities. These include a willingness to stop iguana poaching and charcoal making if sustainable, alternative income sources and opportunities are available. A special emphasis on classroom and public presentations inspires the younger generation through iguana ecology lessons and invites them to explore how climate impacts their habitats.
Notably, habitat conservation efforts, like those deployed through the Conservation of Rock Iguanas project, may help sustain Dominican Republic’s ecotourism industry in the long-term, which is vital to the country’s employment growth rate and sustainable land-use practices. Iguana-based ecotourism is mostly limited to the Jaragua-Bahoruco-Enriquillo UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. The project team sees potential for the rock iguanas to be used as a national symbol to promote the country.
 
The project conducts several monitoring activities, often directly engaging community members. These efforts support habitat health, a key factor in iguana conservation, and provide an avenue for sharing lessons learned, including climate risk impacts. Monitoring activities assess plant survival, iguana abundance, deforestation, illegal land occupation, and charcoal production, which can degrade habitat, and iguana trafficking, poaching, and trapping.
 
Pannocchia said climate risks may not be a daily consideration for partners who work on wildlife trafficking and are focusing on targeting, policing, and surveillance. But, she added, sharing CRM results helps all stakeholders build a holistic view of the risks that threaten wildlife and the factors that strengthen the management of the restored habitat.
 
Lessons Learned for Climate Risk Management
 
As the Conservation of Hispaniola's Rock Iguanas project nears its two-year mark, several lessons learned contribute to sustaining project success. Key takeaways include:
  • Flexible timelines, informed by CRM, contributed to the success of climate-sensitive activities, such as habitat restoration. Likewise, project design should include contingency planning to account for climate risks and identify other activities unaffected by climate that can support progress toward goals when climate-sensitive activities are paused.
  • The value of adaptive work plans that account for climate-sensitive activities should be communicated to stakeholders, including donors and collaborators. Informing stakeholders how CRM guides decision-making can build buy-in for strategic programming flexibility.
  • Public engagement in restoration projects is key to building conservation stewardship in communities and increasing awareness of CRM strategies as integral components of conservation efforts.
Intentional incorporation of climate risk management processes strengthened stakeholder coordination and endorsement of the essential need for adaptive planning to mitigate risks. Given the benefits of adaptive planning, including time and monetary savings, the project team stressed the value of climate risk management integration in all habitat restoration strategies. The Conservation of Hispaniola's Rock Iguanas project is developing a dry forest restoration best practices manual to advance this recommendation in future work.
 
For more information about the Conservation of Hispaniola's Rock Iguanas project:
The Conservation of Hispaniola's Rock Iguanas through Habitat Restoration and Improved Surveillance of Key Sites, Captive Facility Management and Education (Conservation of Hispaniola's Rock Iguanas) project, implemented by Grupo Jaragua, was funded by USAID and implemented in partnership with USFWS Caribbean Program. The project supports joint USFWS and USAID efforts to reduce threats to key species and ecosystems in the Caribbean and strengthen the capacities of local individuals and institutions to undertake sustained biodiversity conservation actions in the long-term. The Habitat Conservation of Rock Iguanas project completed its first year in November 2019 through USAID funding, and continues efforts to reach project goals by 2023 through cooperation and collaboration with local organizations. Local volunteers, in coordination with Integración para el Desarrollo Comunitario of Duvergé, will support future monitoring and patrolling of habitat. To sustain habitat restoration and patrolling activities through 2022, the project is also leveraging support from CESAL Dominicana, Spanish International Cooperation and Development Agency , and the Global Environment Facility Small Grants Program office in the Dominican Republic. The Conservation of Hispaniola's Rock Iguanas project team has systematically collected data on outcomes by routinely monitoring and patrolling restored areas. The project expects to continue to regularly survey threats in 75 percent of key iguana areas by 2021 and increase native vegetation by 20 percent on 700 hectares of degraded habitat by 2023.
 
For more information about climate risk management:
  • Geoffrey Blate, Ph.D., Environment Officer, Climate and Cross-Sectoral Strategies, USAID/DDI Environment, Energy and Infrastructure Bureau, [email protected]
The Climate Integration Support Facility (CISF) blanket purchase agreement supports USAID to conduct climate risk management across all USAID programming. Climate risk management (CRM) is the process of assessing, addressing, and adaptively managing climate risks that may impact the ability of USAID programs to achieve development objectives. This worldwide support mechanism can assist USAID missions, bureaus, and offices with climate risk management by providing analysis, facilitation, training, evaluation, learning opportunities, and related services. The agreement may also support focused adaptation, clean energy, and sustainable landscapes programming with such services.
Strategic Objective
Integration
Topics
Adaptation, Biodiversity, Climate Change Integration, Climate Policy, Climate Risk Management, Forestry, Migration, Monitoring and Evaluation, Sustainable Landscapes
Region
Latin America & Caribbean
Jamie Carson headshot

Jamie Carson

Carson+Co Global

As founder and chief executive officer of Carson+Co Global, Jamie Carson leads the company’s vision, strategy, and business operations. Carson serves as key personnel under the Abt Associates consortium on the USAID project – Climate Integration Support Facility (CISF) and helped lead capacity building, communications, and knowledge management activities under the U.S. Agency for International Development project, Climate Change Resilient Development (CCRD). Carson emphasizes the power of partnerships in communications strategies, and education and engagement to create lasting knowledge and sustainable and equitable behaviors.

Elizabeth Hutchison headshot

Elizabeth Hutchison

Carson+Co Global

Elizabeth Hutchison, chief operating officer at Carson+Co Global and personnel on USAID Climate Integration Support Facility (CISF), has more than 15 years of experience in strategic communications. Working with organizations across a multitude of sectors, Hutchison has led the design and implementation of communications strategies customized in tone and functions to build understanding and inspire engagement. She believes adaptability and listening to audiences are at the heart of leading change and advancing cooperation through information exchange.

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