Forests of Hope site - Gola National Forest, Liberia
Site name: Gola National Forest
Country: Liberia, linking to Sierra Leone
IBA: Lofa-Gola-Mano LR03
Location: Gbarpolu and Grand Cape Mount Counties, NW Liberia
Site area: Proposed National Park c. 88,000, part of Gola National Forest, 206,990 ha
This site is part of a block of forests that extends into Sierra Leone, with significant and coordinated activity by the BirdLife Partnership in both countries.
Values of the site
The Upper Guinea Forest of West Africa is one of the world’s priority biodiversity hotspots. It extends from Guinea and Sierra Leone in the west, through Liberia, Côte d'Ivoire and Ghana, to Togo in the east. In addition to the unique habitat it provides for wildlife, the forests are of vital importance for the livelihoods for millions of West Africans and provide key ecosystem services of local and global importance.
Liberia’s Upper Guinea forests are exceptionally diverse, with very high rates of endemism. The Gola National Forest, situated in north-west Liberia, is one of the largest remaining intact areas of seasonal dense moist evergreen and semi-deciduous forest in the whole region.
There is still much to learn about the forest’s biodiversity and socio-economic importance. Building on a Rapid Assessment Programme coordinated by Conservation International in 2005, six Liberian research technicians have been trained to conduct biological surveys. These and other surveys to date have suggested a fauna and flora similar to that found in Gola Rainforest National Park, Sierra Leone.
Recent surveys have also led to the discovery of several species new to science: six dragonfly and damselfly species, three butterfly species, one frog species and possibly one mammal species.
The Liberian population’s dependence on forest resources is very high: most domestic energy requirements are met by wood-fuel and charcoal and non-timber forest products in Liberia’s subsistence-dominated economy are hugely important, with bush-meat providing the majority of the rural population’s protein. The forest also provides communities with fruits, nuts, traditional medicines and building materials. Socio-economic surveys have confirmed these values in and around Gola Forest.
Key threats to the site include:
- Commercial and artisanal mining
- Licensed and illegal logging and pit-sawing
- Charcoal production
- Unsustainable extraction of non-timber forest products
- Bushmeat hunting
- Shifting cultivation
Gola National Forest, like many other parts of the region, is characterised by low income levels, growing population and weak governance over natural resources, exacerbated by limited Government capacity to implement conservation activities such as law enforcement and improved forest governance. As a result, at least 70% of the Upper Guinea Forest has been lost and the remainder is highly fragmented. Liberia holds the largest remaining portion (42%) and, within Liberia, Gola National Forest is one of the largest remaining areas of intact rainforest.
Historical conservation approach
Gola was among the first 12 National Forests proclaimed in Liberia in the 1960s. Between 1989 and 2003, armed conflict resulted in encroachment of Gola National Forest by displaced people who established permanent settlements within the boundaries of the forest.
After the war, the Government of Liberia proposed to establish a National Park covering around 88,000 hectares, largely within the boundaries of the existing National Forest. The process leading to the establishment of this new National Park is currently underway, conducted by the Forestry Development Authority, which is the Government entity responsible for the management of Liberia’s protected areas and forests.
The proposed National Park will cover an area where no permanent settlements are found; the communities will continue to have access to the forest area (and its products) outside the proposed park, in what will remain as Gola National Forest.
Government, international NGOs, civil society organizations and donors have started to work together to protect the forest whilst various community forest management and alternative livelihood initiatives are being developed and implemented in the area.
New conservation approach
The upgrade of the Gola forest from National Forest to National Park, scheduled to be completed in 2013, will significantly increase its level of protection. Once Gola National Park has been established, the area will be linked to the Gola Rainforest National Park in Sierra Leone, creating a unique transboundary Peace Park covering over 2,000 km², providing important additional collaborative opportunities between the two neighbouring countries for promoting conservation and sustainable management across the politically divided ecosystem.
In May 2009 the presidents of Liberia and of Sierra Leone jointly launched the European Union funded project Across the River—a Transboundary Peace Park for Sierra Leone and Liberia. The aim is to improve forest governance in both Liberia and Sierra Leone through a management system that links the forest areas in the two countries. The project is managed by BirdLife International in collaboration with five implementing organisations: the Forestry Division in Sierra Leone, the Forestry Development Authority in Liberia, Conservation Society of Sierra Leone (BirdLife in Sierra Leone), the Society for Conservation of Nature in Liberia (BirdLife in Liberia) and the RSPB (BirdLife in UK).
The project is working to create a sustainably managed protected area, through an unprecedented international collaboration. The programme will be continued through a project financed by the Aage V. Jensen Charity Foundation, which aims specifically to facilitate the establishment of Gola National Park in Liberia and support communities to sustainably manage forest resources, maximising the benefits to them whilst protecting globally threatened endemic wildlife.
Significant progress has been made by the RSPB, working with the Conservation Society of Sierra Leone, in developing a REDD project for the Gola Rainforest National Park in Sierra Leone. It is likely that similar potential exists on the Liberian side of the border, and the initiative in Sierra Leone could serve as a model to initiate the same there.
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