The government of Peru has recognized two Private Conservation Areas on community lands in the Cordillera de Vilcanota, near Machu Picchu, that protect threatened forests composed of trees known as Polylepis, for the benefit of local communities and endangered wildlife. The project, sponsored by American Bird Conservancy in conjunction with its Peruvian partner group Asociación Ecosistemas Andinos (ECOAN), has been working with local communities to achieve the creation of a number of planned forest reserves, which are being made possible by sustainable development projects benefitting local citizens. 

“Not only we are conserving the Polylepis forests and their birds, but we are also creating a precedent that will encourage others to do the same,” said Hugo Arnal, American Bird Conservancy’s Director of International Sustainable Conservation. ”A new method of community-based conservation has been established through the Vilcanota project. This is biodiversity conservation by and for the local people.”   

Currently, less than 2-3% of the original closed canopy high-elevation Polylepis forest remains in all of Peru scattered in small patches across the country. Several bird species, including the Critically Endangered Royal Cinclodes and the Endangered White-browed Tit-Spinetail and Ash-breasted Tit-Tyrant that inhabit this vanishing forest type are imperiled. Polylepis forests grow at high-elevation with a low canopy.

“These new areas will benefit both people and nature,” said Jennifer Morris, Senior Vice President and Managing Director of the Global Conservation Fund at Conservation International (CI), a long-time supporter of the project. “Polylepis forests protect fragile soils from erosion, replenish watersheds, harbor dozens of species of medicinal plants used by local people, and provide firewood and building materials."

Five additional Private Conservation Areas are nearing official recognition, and the project’s ultimate goal is to create additional Polylepis reserves and to establish long-term financial support through community incentives and income generation from sustainable development and tourism.

“This is an unprecedented effort that sets the standard for similar initiatives in other regions of Peru and Bolivia, as well as in other countries or ecosystems where there is a combination of community land ownership, and where small populations of endangered species are scattered across vast landscapes,” said Arnal.

Eighteen farming communities and the town of Yanahuara have been engaged in the project: a total of 1,775 families. Thus far, 2,195 local people have benefitted directly from the project. For example, the project is planting trees so that communities will no longer have to rely on the dwindling Polylepis forests for fuel. In the Community of Abra Malaga, ABC and ECOAN are providing firewood while the multi-use plantations reach harvesting size. Through the implementation of 28 training courses for residents, yearly health and educational campaigns, and the construction of 33 greenhouses for food production, we have built significant trust in the local communities, essential for negotiating the creation of the Private Conservation Areas.

Some of the project accomplishments include the planting of 362,000 Polylepis saplings plus 33,500 other native trees for forest restoration, and an additional 109,000 saplings of fast growing trees for use by the community. Important tree growing capacity has also been developed so that the project can continue, including 30,000 Polylepis saplings under production at the local nursery in Quishuarani and an additional 44,000 fast-growing trees at the Pucyura nursery. To help reduce the use of firewood, 5,876 high-efficiency clay stoves have been distributed to local families. The stoves cut the amount of firewood needed by 20 – 28%.

The project is currently quantifying the energy needs of these isolated communities and identifying technologies that can meet these needs. Pilot projects using solar panels for lighting are being developed.

The project is also helping communities to establish land titles, to map their property boundaries, and to prepare the applications necessary for the creation of the Private Conservation Areas. To support Polylepis forest restoration and conservation activities, written agreements exist with 18 communities including seven agreements for the creation of the Private Conservation Areas on community lands.

“We wish to thank all of the contributors to the Vilcanota Polylepis Reserve project whose outstanding support has made all this possible,” said Tino Aucca of ECOAN.  “There are additional private conservation areas soon to be created, and the local communities are experiencing a better quality of life as a result of this project.”

This project has been made possible through the generous, multiyear support from the Global Conservation Fund at Conservation International, as well as by contributions from the Gordon and Betty Moore FoundationRainforest Concern, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Blue Moon Foundation, Marshall Reynolds Foundation, PROFONANPE, Accion Ambiental, and the W. Alton Jones Foundation.                                             

American Bird Conservancy (ABC) conserves native wild birds and their habitats throughout the Americas. ABC acts to safeguard the rarest bird species, restore habitats, and reduce threats, while building capacity in the conservation movement. ABC is the voice for birds, ensuring that they are adequately protected; that sufficient funding is available for bird conservation; and that land is protected and properly managed to maintain viable habitat. ABC is a 501(c)(3) membership organization that is consistently awarded a top, four-star rating by the independent group, Charity Navigator.

Conservation International (CI) applies innovations in science, economics, policy and community participation to protect the Earth's richest regions of plant and animal diversity in the biodiversity hotspots, high-biodiversity wilderness areas and key marine ecosystems. With headquarters in Washington, D.C., CI works in more than 40 countries on four continents. For more information about CI, visit

The Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, established in 2000, seeks to advance environmental conservation and scientific research around the world and improve the quality of life in the San Francisco Bay Area. The Foundation partners with Conservation International to develop new programs that improve and further sustain today’s global environment. For more information, visit

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