Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Kosrae is a small, mostly undeveloped island in the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM). The 42 square mile island supports a diverse number of intact and pristine ecosystems both under and above the sea. One such ecosystem is the Yela forest and its watershed. Yela is a freshwater swamp forest just above the mangrove line that supports the last Ka (Terminalia carolinensis) forest in the world. Such forests were once found on several islands in Micronesia but due to harvest and development extensive stands of Ka have disappeared.

The Yela forest is owned by 10 families committed to conservation who have organized themselves as a non-profit organization named Yela Environmental Landowners Authority (YELA). YELA’s Executive Director, Dr. Tholman Alik, approached The Nature Conservancy and others and asked for assistance in developing a plan for protection of this unique forest and the watershed that supports it.

One option for protection is to establish a conservation easement over Yela which prevents development and other activities inconsistent with the conservation values in perpetuity. Conservation easements are a legal tool in the United States that maintain property in the landowner’s possession while protecting defined ecological values. Essentially the landowner relinquishes the right to develop the property into homes, buildings, and roads forever. Only a non-profit or government entity can purchase and hold the conservation easement. If the landowner sells the property, the conservation easement still encumbers or follows the land.

The Nature Conservancy’s easement specialist, Mike Conner, visited Kosrae in October to educate YELA about easements and to build local support for the concept. Conservation easements are not established in the FSM legal system, therefore, another element of the trip was to gauge the interest and ability of the state to establish this legal tool for all of FSM. Support for the concept was overwhelmingly positive and a partnership to protect YELA and establish conservation easements was conceived. The newly established partnership consists of:

· Kosrae Governor Weilbacher
· Attorney General JD Lee
· Kosrae Island Resource Management Authority, Director, Simpson Abraham
· Kosrae Conservation & Safety Organization, Executive Director, Andy George
· USDA Forest Service, Katie Friday
· Secretariat of the Pacific Community, Integrated Forestry Expert, Eva Gonnermann
· YELA Executive Director, Tholman Alik
· TNC’s Bill Raynor, Sean Austin, Jeff Benz, Mae Adams, Ricky Carl, Fred Annand and Mike Conner

Together the partnership has created a road map of actions that we hope will result in both the establishment of 1) a conservation easement protecting Yela in perpetuity and 2) a new legal tool for conservation in the FSM. It is an ambitious goal but one that we feel can be attained based on the strength and commitment of the individuals that comprise the partnership. Stay tuned….!

1 comment:

Island Wanderer said...

I lived on this beautiful island for a year and hiked in to visit this amazing forest. Due to the remote location, even many local people were unaware of its existence. At that time there were plans to build a road through the forest, which would have certainly caused irreparable harm. I applaud the NC for working with the landowners in protecting this rare and beautiful place.