Critically endangered Royal Cinclodes and endangered White-browed Tit-Spinetail and Ash-breasted Tit-Tyrant are among the bird species expected to benefit from a recent festival that resulted in 57,100 saplings being planted in central Peru in a single day.
More than 900 people from four communities came together for the tree-planting event, which was organized by the Peruvian conservation organization ECOAN (Asociación Ecosistemas Andinos) and supported by ABC.
The villagers planted two species of native Polylepis trees, members of the rose family. The often gnarled trees grow into forests that subsist at higher elevations than any others on Earth, benefitting a suite of threatened birds.
An outreach effort was also mounted to increase local awareness of the importance of Polylepis trees. In recent decades, forests in the high Andes of Peru and Bolivia have been disappearing rapidly. Andean peoples depend on the woodlands for fuel and for medicinal and ritual purposes. Also, more and more forests are being cleared for pastures and overrun by cattle, whose overgrazing prevents natural regeneration. Left alone, the native forests act like sponges, absorbing rain and releasing water slowly during dry times. Their disappearance harms the watersheds, ecosystems, and people living downstream.
Mitigation measures have included supplying local residents with hundreds of fuel-efficient stoves, thereby reducing demand for Polylepis as a fuel, and planting native and non-native trees to serve as an easy-to-grow source of alternative fuel. New fencing also now protects many parts of the forests from grazing animals.
ECOAN organized the activity as part of a Polylepis-planting festival in the district of Ollantaytambo, northwest of Cusco. ABC has helped ECOAN with a larger project for more than a decade, resulting in the creation of community-based private conservation areas that span more than 15,500 acres in the Vilcanota Mountains, east of Cusco. Over a million trees have been planted in Peru since 2002.
A version of this article appeared in the June 2015 issue of BirdWatching magazine. Subscribe.
This story was provided by American Bird Conservancy, a 501(c)(3), not-for-profit organization whose mission is to conserve native birds and their habitats throughout the Americas.