Forests of Hope - Americas

Waterfall, Choco rainforest
Waterfall, Choco rainforest. Photo: Murray Cooper

Forest of Hope sites in the Americas

BirdLife’s Forests of Hope Programme builds on upon successful forest conservation work by BirdLife Partners in more than 50 countries. The BirdLife Partnership is working in tropical countries around the world to bring innovative management, financing and governance systems to the conservation and restoration of priority forests.

Forests of Hope sites in the Americas have been identified in the most biodiversity-rich regions with large numbers of threatened and endemic bird and other species.  As well as their high value for resident species, many of these sites are also of outstanding importance for migratory birds. They are located within five biodiversity hot-spots and eight global eco-regions, contributing to the conservation and management of the world´s most important ecosystems.

Forests of Hope sites in the Americas suffer from a broad spectrum of threats, the most important being conversion to agriculture and pasture, timber exploitation, forest fires, illegal hunting and road building. Deforestation and forest degradation is continuing at each site, at different scales and caused by multiple drivers. 

The annual rate of forest loss in South and Central America between 2000 and 2010 was over 4 million hectares, almost all of which was in the tropics.  According to another study, the region had contributed 60% of tropical rainforest loss globally between 2000 and 2005. 

Land ownership and tenure is complex in Latin America. At some Forests of Hope sites, large community properties predominate, while others are divided among many small private owners. BirdLife works to ensure that the ancestral land rights of indigenous people are also recognised. 

Tropical forests in the Americas

Forest covers or covered a vast area of the tropics from Mexico and the Caribbean to Paraguay, Argentina and Southern Brazil, including the vast forests of the Amazon Basin, Cerrado, Chaco and Andes. The region is estimated to hold around 48% of the world’s tropical rainforests. It also contains large areas of other tropical forest types, including moist deciduous forest, mountain forest, dry forest, shrubland and subtropical humid forest (which exists at higher but still tropical latitudes). On the coasts are extensive mangrove forests.

Some key species and habitats for BirdLife

The rainforests of South America hold the highest bird species richness of any ecosystems in the world, with many iconic species such as Harpy Eagle Harpia harpyja, Resplendent Quetzal Pharomachrus mocinno and Scarlet Macaw Ara macao, and spectacular families such as the manakins, cotingas and guans. Tropical America has around 1,000 restricted-range and endemic bird species, most of them forest species.  Many are threatened, and Forests of Hope sites in the Americas hold at least four Critically Endangered, 16 Endangered and 35 Vulnerable species. The Jaragua-Bahoruco-Enriquillo Biosphere Reserve in the Dominican Republic and San Rafael in Paraguay contain 12 threatened species each. The Serra do Urubu, Brazil, supports ten (including an exceptional three Critically Endangered).

Conservation Approaches

The approaches needed to secure the long-term conservation and management of these sites, with their multiple pressures and complex patterns of ownership, are equally complex. 

With so much forested land in the Americas privately owned, land purchase to create private reserves is a common approach used by BirdLife Partners in Argentina, Brazil, Dominican Republic and Paraguay. Establishing conservation easements on private and community land has strong traditions in Mexico in particular.

At most sites, Partners are working with local communities to implement Sustainable Forest Management. Encouraging community-based and ecological tourism presents great opportunities for conservation, livelihoods and sustainable development, particularly in the Dominican Republic and Ecuador. There are two validated REDD+ (Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) projects in Paraguay, and the feasibility of carbon-financed forest projects is being explored at other sites. BirdLife Partners in Brazil, Ecuador and Mexico are working with local and national governments to designate new protected areas.