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+Survivorman Les Stroud and Dr. Thomas with the Hewa (photo by Laura Bombier)

 

 

 

 

New Guinea is a land of superlatives. It is the world’s largest tropical island and is one of the world’s most significant centers of biological and cultural diversity. Of the three great tropical forest wildernesses on earth —the Amazon, the Congo and New Guinea —New Guinea is the least explored. The island of New Guinea is home to over 700 species of birds, the world’s largest and smallest parrots, the largest pigeons and the Queen Alexandra’s Birdwing butterfly—again the world’s largest. Although logging has ravaged most tropical forests, New Guinea is still covered with 75% of its original vegetation. These forests contain an estimated 9,000 species of plants, including 1,500 species of trees and 2,700 species of orchids. More importantly, this incredible biological diversity is matched by the island’s cultural diversity, with 1,200 distinct languages spoken on the island.

In order to conserve this diversity, we have introduced an initiative called the Papuan Forest Stewards.  Building on twenty years of experience in New Guinea and a UNESCO certified "Best Practice," – see http://www.unesco.org/most/bpik12-2.htm -- the Papuan Forest Stewards represents a paradigm shifting rural development. The residents of these forests are remarkable stewards of the region’s natural heritage—it is their presence that has protected much of New Guinea’s forests. The aim of the Papuan Forest Stewards initiative is to build on this stewardship by are assisting interested communities with the conservation of their traditions and by partnering them with institutions dedicated to bio-cultural conservation.

Our initiative began with the Hewa community in New Guinea’s Central Range (142 30’E, 5 10’ S; elevation 500-3000 meters). They are the sole speakers of their unique language and the only inhabitants of ca. 65,000 hectares of forest in the Laigaip catchment of the uppermost Strickland River. This is the eastern edge of a rain-soaked upland zone in the center of New Guinea that recently identified as the richest in biodiversity on the island. This is where the four great river systems of New Guinea converge (Sepik, Fly, Digul, Idenburg), and the Hewa inhabit the forests where the Strickland meets the torrential Lagaip River. After years of recording the Hewa traditional environmental knowledge, the fifteen Hewa clans have agreed to set aside the drainages that comprise their clan boundaries as "Roads of the Cassowary." These lands will be allowed to return to primary forest. No gardens will be cut here. No hunting for cassowaries will be permitted. Hunting for any species with snares or shotguns is taboo. Fifteen pairs of paid teachers and apprentices are currently surveying their clan boundaries with timed-stamped digital cameras on a bi-monthly basis. The teachers are paid for their efforts.

In the long-term, the Papuan Forest Stewards model envisions:

  • Working partnerships with international cultural and natural history institutions supports creating a local, sustainable, knowledge-based economy through conservation program that.
  • Partnering with traditional rural societies throughout Guinea that will build their future upon the conservation of their cultural and ecological resources.
  • Expanding the current model based on traditional environmental knowledge to include the include Mt. Kaijende and the entire Laigaip watershed.
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