FREE CONSERVATION BEST PRACTICE
WWF’s global site-based conservation programs cover vast areas of countries and continents and, via its landscape approach, invariably has large programs that transcend national boundaries be it for species conservation, forest and habitat protection, or to maintain environmental flows and sustainable use. Past global studies have looked at guidelines and criteria for successful transboundary conservation programs, but a review of practical lessons from the field is lacking. This report reflects on the strengths and challenges of transboundary conservation programs, illustrated by a compilation of lessons from over two decades of work on the ground, and builds on previous knowledge, fills some knowledge gaps, and draws on firsthand practitioners’ experiences from 16 of WWF’s transboundary landscapes across Europe, Africa, Central America and Asia.
The report highlights the importance of transboundary conservation (TC) and the potential for its impact, and the multiple achievements of various landscapes. All landscape programs older than one year, have made significant progress toward developing transboundary partnerships and have created shared strategies or synchronized actions Formal recognition has been given to the transboundary landscape by national governments or international bodies (in some case formal recognition was achieved sooner than ten years) for nearly all programs that have existed for more than ten years. Beyond the first decade of implementation, some landscapes have achieved significant success in joint recovery of a transboundary species or in reducing a joint threat.
The report also clearly demonstrates the common challenges and barriers to success of transboundary conservation efforts in all locations, and that the challenges have increasing levels of complexity over time. Transboundary efforts begin with a relatively simple catalyst and the need to share information across a border, sometimes between individuals. Over time, the collaboration takes on increasingly complex functions and form, encompasses multiple layers of stakeholder
group, and must manage higher level, somewhat policy- centric challenges as the program develops.
Ultimately the challenge for NGOs becomes how to continue to fund / support the large institutional framework they have built, as well as the complicated form and functions of the landscape if the participating governments do not take up that role.
To address these challenges, project design must first account for and factor in an exit strategy in the long term, and second, that design must account for and be realistic about what can be achieved during the different phases of the program. Program design must take a phased approach starting from relatively simple and informal actions and goals and developed over the longer term (for a minimum of ten years) as more formal processes that reflect higher levels of transboundary socio-political complexity.
Many of the lessons and challenges are common to single country conservation efforts. However transboundary conservation includes added dimensions of complexity arising from the multi-national, multi-state, multi-cultural aspects of a TC situation. And on a day-to-day basis, immediate and ongoing challenges are likely to be cross border issues relating to the degree of border infrastructure, border disputes, military zones, and political differences between neighboring governments.
WWF takes a ‘landscape approach’ to much of its programmatic work on the ground globally. But what does this actually mean and how does this challenge or enable WWF to reach its goals? WWF’s site-based work on the ground recognizes the wider ecological and social contexts within which that site exists.
Transboundary landscapes exist simply because a political line happens to dissect an ecological landscape. Neighboring countries are therefore linked via environmental processes but may not in fact be jointly planning or managing for such transboundary processes.
Transboundary conservation (TC) programs exist globally as they are seen to bring the neighbours together to develop processes for maintaining and enhancing environmental flows between them, as well as supporting sustainable development and cooperation in the same space. In many contexts however, the neighbours may be at very different stages of development; not be the best of friends; or have very different national policy agendas. There are two overarching reasons for focusing work at a landscape scale – ecological and socio-cultural.
Ecological: First, the scale of the conservation solution must match that of the problem or threats to the conservation target. Many of WWF’s key biodiversity areas, priority species (especially those with large home ranges or migration routes) and habitats, cover large areas that mean they invariably link, or converge, with human dominated areas. These large areas, or land and seascapes, can often be defined clearly by mapping their extent, migration routes (e.g. elephant, wildebeest, whales), or by doing genetic analysis of metapopulations (e.g. jaguar, tiger, rhino), or can more easily be defined by natural barriers (e.g. ecotone, desert, watershed, coast, mountain range). Once the ecological boundaries are determined / estimated, we then tailor our programs at a scale that matches those ecological parameters because all the forces within and on that landscape are those that are contributing to the conservation challenges.
Terrestrial species landscapes are typically a mosaic of natural habitat with no human settlements (e.g. protected areas, tiger reserves, or inaccessible areas), natural habitat with resident communities, and vast areas that include villages, towns and cities, as well as agriculture, industry and transport infrastructure. The human parts of landscapes rely on the services provided by environmental provisions and processes afforded by all the natural parts. And the ecological parts of the landscape rely on the human parts for safe passage and transfer (e.g. of genetic material or nutrient cycling), and the maintenance of the wider mosaic for biodiversity protection. We know, however, that this balance is being severely tested.
Socio-cultural: Second, the human needs must be recognised and considered at the same scale of the conservation challenge, because it is the human side putting pressure on natural systems globally.
If we can work to mitigate this impact, plus shift toward sustainable practices, we can, in turn, take pressure off those environmental provisions and services we are trying to sustain across the landscape.
Overall, the approach is considered strategic, holistic and multi-disciplinary as it requires us to find solutions in each of the ecological, social and political spheres. Nested within the large landscapes are the site-based efforts (camera trapping, monitoring, patrolling, species protection, community partnerships) and priority sites (national parks, wetlands, natural forests, endangered species habitat) that underpin, or are the cornerstone of why WWF has a conservation program there. Those sites and efforts within the wider landscape are typically at the highest levels of purpose or vision for the WWF office in that country. Landscape programs in WWF, therefore, seek broad outcomes around maintenance of biodiversity, environmental provisions and services, sustainable economic development and production, and improved protected area management.
Some organisations (and in some contexts, WWF as well) use only site-based, as opposed to, landscape approaches. This means they are focusing their effort largely on key biodiversity areas and not on the entire range or landscape of a given species or environmental service. The justification and scope of their site-based work becomes the site itself, and not the wider ecological context within which that site exists. The reason for this could include: budget limitations; historical adoption of that site by the organization; strategic selection based on the mission of that organization; or just personal preference / selection. Various organizations believe that supporting the sustenance of separate breeding populations of particular species will be sufficient to maintain them in the long run.
While the landscape approach forces organizations to address increased ecological and socio-political complexity in design, it does offer up multiple challenges and opportunities:
It firmly links the success of conservation programs with the social processes in the same landscape. While this is similar for conservation at any scale, transboundary conservation increases the level of complexity;
It challenges what we consider or define as the landscape boundaries. i.e. boundaries could be based on environmental, cultural, or political lines. Regardless of the final mapped product, consensus is key but often takes many years to achieve;
The need to work with many stakeholders, some of which are not traditional allies of the conservation sector. For instance, multi-stakeholder platforms may need to be established that include extractive industries, high value commodities, or those that are incompatible with our goals. Additionally resources must be devoted to maintaining these platforms;
The need to try find balance between competing interests. For example, how to balance the need to protect forests for conservation, forests for use and then support the intensification of productive land around them? Examples of viable and scalable projects with strong conservation elements have been difficult to achieve;
The need to work beyond accepted ecological boundaries. This means a lot of time taken up with work and processes outside where the focal wildlife or forests are;
Accepting trade-offs and developments, that may not align strongly with the conservation goals, in order to get ‘wins’ in other parts of the landscape. For example, not opposing a road upgrade across a border, to ensure a nearby by river dam does not proceed by order of the same ministry;
Supporting development or intensification to ensure food security and productive systems to offset or mitigate pressure on natural habitats;
Achieving multi-stakeholder consensus / shared understanding on key issues, challenges and opportunities in the landscape;
Influencing government policy, markets and financial environments that may be negatively impacting the landscape and the conservation goal.