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Benefiting Bhutan's Mountains, Citizens, And Tourists Through Smart, Sustainable Land Management

Benefiting Bhutan's Mountains, Citizens, And Tourists Through Smart, Sustainable Land Management

Bhutan, a small Asian country which rarely finds itself among international news headlines, stands to be the next staging area for an ambitious new conservation program. Scaling Up Mountain Ecosystem-based Adaptation is a three year, jointly implemented program by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and The Mountain Institute.

Scaling Up, funded by a grant from the German government, seeks to expand Ecosystem-based Adaptation approaches to mountain communities and ecosystems across the globe. This includes Nepal, the Andes, and Uganda, and during 2019 will look to add Bhutan, Colombia, and Kenya.

In January, a delegation from the IUCN arrived in Bhutan to learn about the Payment for Environmental Services (PES) in the country, and to discuss opportunities of expansion for these programs as well as implementation of Ecosystem-based Adaptations.

A jaw-dropping tourist area of Bhutan called “The Tiger’s Nest” has seen a boom in hotel construction since over the last ten years. These hotels rely on a single watershed to sustain them. Officials in Bhutan have been quoted for years as wanting to deploy a “High-value, low-impact,” strategy of tourism, and feel it’s important to maintain the Himalayan landscapes throughout the country.

Conservation in the Namey Nichu watershed which feeds the hotels has been done with a simple PES strategy that requires any business that relies on the watershed to pay for its conservation like they would pay for any other utility. This fee goes to the Namey Nichu Watershed Management Group, part of a greater 10-year forest management plan that sees the watershed and surrounding ecosystem cared for.

PICTURED:  Monarch Butterflies Spring Awakening in Mexico’s Monarch Reserve, another dramatic location that has experienced a reduction in deforestation as a result of PES strategies

PICTURED: Monarch Butterflies Spring Awakening in Mexico’s Monarch Reserve, another dramatic location that has experienced a reduction in deforestation as a result of PES strategies

The Future of Conservation

More and more, Payment for Environmental Service strategies are becoming the tune to which environmental organizations are dancing for joy. They easily fit into most business models and circumnavigate the oftentimes unsuccessful attempts to appropriate money for wildlife, forest, and watershed conservation by land management ministries in developing countries.

The idea is not too dissimilar to strategies we have in the United States such as the Pittman Roberson Act, and while putting a dollar value on a virgin rain forest or river system may seem vile, it’s one of the only consistently proven ways to protect natural habitats.

Multiple templates for PES programs exist throughout the world. Normally they consist of monetary incentives for private landowners to adopt better land use, conservation, and watershed maintenance practices, or payments from local businesses to a fund or collective responsible for preserving an ecosystem which the businesses directly utilize and benefit from.

PES strategies generally perform better than other environmental policies because they involve incentive-based rather than disincentive policy such as additional taxes, penalties, or restrictions. The more locally the policy can be deployed, the more it can generally experience success.

The classic example of this is Costa Rica. Costa Rica is a success story of sustainable forest management and restoration. Its Payment for Environmental Service strategy, the Costa Rican Forest Fund, collects $33 million which it uses to make sure the forests of Costa Rica have everything they need to continue their work, which includes providing sustainable wood and watersheds among other things.

In August 2017, a large meta-analysis of data gathered from different PES programs all around the world demonstrated generally positive findings. In a randomized controlled trial, villages in western Uganda receiving government incentives experienced 50% less forest loss than villages without PES incentives.

Mexico experienced increase in forest cover through several observations across multiple regions, while agricultural sectors in Germany and China also benefited from reduced soil erosion, reduced use of agri-chemicals, and increased valuation of agricultural assets.

In Colombia, not only was there an increase in the score of an environmental services index, but the sustainable land use practices continued for years after incentives and payments had ceased.

One question recurrent in PES literature is whether or not rural populations are even capable of participating in PES practices. The meta-analysis included literature from both Mozambique and Nicaragua which demonstrated that, in fact, not only can poorer populations participate, but that they can participate to a greater extent than better-off populations.

PES and Ecosystem-based Adaptation strategies are a well of recurring success stories, and demonstrate how local policy has just as large a role in combating climate change, pollution, and environmental degradation as politics conducted on a national scale.

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