Indigenous-led conservation is championing forest protection

Indigenous-led conservation is championing forest protection

Indigenous-led conservation is championing forest protection

By Emily Jerome, Digital Engagement Assistant

With long-standing relationships with and ancient knowledge of the land, Indigenous-led conservation is championing forest protection.

Protecting nature isn’t about keeping humans out. It’s about finding a balance where nature and humans can cooperatively coexist. With long-standing relationships with and ancient knowledge of the land, Indigenous peoples have lived in balance with nature for millennia. In 2021, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the Fund for the Development of Indigenous Peoples of Latin America and the Caribbean (FILAC) released a report showcasing the value of Indigenous-led forest conservation and climate action.

common squirrel monkey in amazon rainforest
Common squirrel monkey in the Amazon rainforest. Photo by Diego Guzman from Unsplash.

The report highlights how Indigenous and tribal territories are better at protecting forests from deforestation than other protected areas. It states that deforestation was reduced twice as much in Indigenous territories as similar protected areas in the Peruvian Amazon between 2006 and 2011. In fact, 45% of the remaining intact forests located in the Amazon Basin are on Indigenous territories. According to the report, “Indigenous peoples physically occupy 404 million hectares in Latin America” or approximately one-fifth of the total area. Therefore, Indigenous-led conservation is critical to the ecological integrity of South and Central America and Mexico.

But, why exactly are forests better off on Indigenous and tribal territories? The president of FILAC and Indigenous Nicaraguan, Myrna Cunningham offers some insight. “Indigenous peoples have a different concept of forests,” said Cunningham to The Guardian. She continues to explain that, “they are not seen as a place where you take out resources to increase your money – they are seen as a space where we live and that is given to us to protect for the next generation.”

Forests are a key climate crisis solution

Forests are critical in mitigating the climate crisis as they suck in vast amounts of carbon and store it in soils. The report found that one-third of carbon stored in Latin America’s forests is found on Indigenous and tribal territories. And while 28% of the Amazon Basin is Indigenous territory, it only produces 2.6% of the carbon emissions from the area. As a result, Indigenous territories in the region aren’t a significant contributor to the climate crisis as the areas absorb almost as much carbon as they produce.

Tree trunk in Amazon rainforest
Amazon rainforest. Photo by Cris Paulino from Getty Images/Canva.

Indigenous-led conservation in Canada

The FAO and FILAC report shows that Indigenous land management presents a path towards reducing carbon emissions and biodiversity loss. So, what is Canada doing to support Indigenous approaches to conservation? Well, Environment and Climate Change Canada is investing over $100 million into Indigenous-led conservation projects throughout Canada. Two such projects are the Indigenous Guardian Pilot Program and Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas (IPCA’s).

As highlighted in a previous NET post, the Guardians program was created “to empower communities to manage ancestral lands according to traditional laws and values,” according to the Indigenous Leadership Initiative. Guardians monitor ecological health, maintain cultural sites, protect sensitive areas and species, play a vital role in creating land-use and marine-use plans, and also promote intergenerational sharing of Indigenous knowledge. By supporting these projects, Canada can work towards protecting 25% of lands and oceans by 2025 and 30% by 2030 and simultaneously meeting reconciliation goals.