According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, deforestation in Mesoamerica and the Caribbean remains “alarmingly high.” The deforestation rate was at 0.5% per year from 2000 to 2010.
That’s 5 times the global deforestation rate. Such losses contribute to climate change, deplete biodiversity, increase soil erosion…the list goes on and on. Since forest conservation resources are scarce, there is a critical need to get the best possible results from their use.
Over the past three years, SERVIR Applied Sciences Team member Allen Blackman and his colleagues at Resources For the Future have been developing two online mapping and analysis tools to help policymakers conserve forests in Mesoamerica.
The tools answer two critical questions: Where should future forest conservation policies be sited to get the greatest conservation “bang for the buck?” and How effective have existing forest conservation policies been in stemming deforestation? They are designed to be easily accessible to non-technical users, have all the requisite data on-board, and be flexible enough for adaptation to a variety of uses.
The Forest Conservation Targeting Tool (FCTT) is designed to answer the first question. Decision-makers can use it to quantify, visualize, and compare the returns expected from protecting specific forested regions and, based on that information, select the ‘best’ areas for conservation. The tool takes into account variation across space in the deforestation risk and in the benefits and costs of forest conservation, and it allows users to weight the different types of benefits—including carbon storage, provision of hydrological services, and biodiversity protection—as they choose.
The Forest Conservation Evaluation Tool (FCET) is designed to answer the second question. This tool helps users accurately measure the effectiveness of existing forest conservation policies like protected areas and payments for environmental services. It does so by comparing the rate of deforestation in areas affected by the policy to the rate in unaffected areas that are similar in terms of characteristics that drive deforestation. Such factors include distance to cities, elevation, and population density.
To introduce both tools and encourage their uptake by end users, Blackman and his colleagues have held several workshops. The most recent events were on October 12 (for US-based stakeholders) and October 17-18 (for Mesoamerica-based stakeholders). These workshops were sponsored by and held at the National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center in Annapolis, Maryland, a National Science Foundation funded center for interdisciplinary research on environmental issues.
Blackman reflected, “We were really pleased to have attendees from some of the leading forest conservation organizations working in Mesoamerica, including environment ministries, forestry agencies, universities, and international and domestic NGOs. These were people we thought would be effective ambassadors for the tools. Our goal was to lay the foundation for a long-lived community of end users.”
Both web tools have already been piloted by organizations working in Mesoamerica over the past three years. In 2014-2015, the FCTT, the first of the two tools developed, was used to target investments associated with the Mexico Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (MREDD+) project, administered by a consortium of NGOs led by The Nature Conservancy.
REDD+ initiatives transfer funds from industrialized countries to developing countries based on verifiable reductions in greenhouse gas emissions from forest clearing and degradation. Countries participating in REDD+ initiatives need accurate information to assess their forest carbon stocks and develop forest conservation strategies. Many Mesoamerican countries lack this information.
The FCTT helped MREDD+ define areas within the six MREDD+ pilot zones eligible for conservation investments; identify areas in the Yucatan Peninsula where funds would be spent to help improve forest conservation; and quantify the costs of forest conservation in support of discussions with the government of Mexico about REDD+.
In addition, the FCTT supported two Inter-American Development Bank (IADB) projects in Honduras in 2015 and 2016. One was a project on forest conservation and restoration aimed at combating pine bark beetle infestation, and the second one aimed at disseminating improved cook stoves. In both cases, the FCTT helped project managers identify forests where their interventions would generate the greatest return.
Continuing the momentum gained from the October workshops, Blackman and company will be hosting a webinar later this fall in conjunction with a full public launch. In addition, over the coming months the project team plans to extend the geographic scope of the tools from Mesoamerica to all of Latin America, and eventually to other regions as well.
Blackman noted, “Now that the work of developing these webtools is nearly complete, we are really excited to see people start to use them. We hope these tools will make the very difficult job of forest conservation professionals working in Mesoamerica a little bit easier.”
Learn about USAID's M-REDD+ and other climate change work in Mexico here.
This article was originally posted on SERVIR's website on October 31, 2016.