As humans pass the 7 billion mark, no doubt exists that we now own and manage the earth. As our numbers and impacts multiply, working to protect natural places and systems becomes ever more important. Conservation of biological diversity happens at many different scales, from backyards and county parks to wildlife refuges, wild and scenic rivers, wilderness preserves, and national parks. Successes at every scale warrant celebration; however, size really does matter when it comes to long-term security for the planet’s major centers of biological diversity. The entire world should rejoice with the recent announcement that a huge piece of the Ecuadorian Andes has been dedicated to conservation restoration and management.
I congratulate the World Land Trust—U.S. and its Ecuadorian partner, the Fundación Jocotoco, for completing a historic public-private cooperative conservation project with the Ecuadorian government and the city of Quito, a long-sought partnership with a complex history. At the heart of this landscape-scale success story is the magnificent Antisana Volcano, 50 kilometers southeast of Quito and Ecuador’s fourth highest peak (5,753 meters). But its real treasures are the vast ecosystems and biological gradients down-slope from the craggy, snow-capped rocks. Now finally protected via a 264,382- acre mosaic of ownerships, Andean Condors and Black-faced Ibises occupy unbroken expanses of paramo—the diverse and picturesque high-altitude grassland ecosystem unique to the northern and central Andes. Below the tree line, an intact elevational gradient from elfin woodlands down to humid tropical forests supports phenomenally diverse wildlife communities, including healthy populations of spectacled bear and the globally endangered mountain tapir. Human-occupied areas of the preserve, once disastrously overgrazed, are being restored to their native condition.
This enormous step forward has everything to praise, both for its biological significance and its complex human story. Global warming is especially threatening for mountain ecosystems, because ecological zones drifting upslope endanger species that are confined to the uppermost zones. Protecting intact elevational gradients has emerged as a global priority, and Antisana contains one of the best remaining examples in the world. Moreover, the preserve links with several other large-scale national parks, creating the best–protected region on the entire Andean cordillera. From a human standpoint, the Antisana Preserve protects an ecosystem that supplies almost half of the water for the Quito area.
Until recently, more than 80 percent of the reserve area had been privately owned by a number of large haciendas managing the land for cattle, effectively prohibiting large-scale conservation despite the growing human need to do so. A decade ago, Fundación Jocotoco began its stubborn efforts to “accomplish the dream,” eventually drawing in both the Ecuadorian Environmental Ministry and the City of Quito to purchase private haciendas at scales previously unheard of in South America.
Two crucial purchases by the Quito Water Authority were completed in September 2011, and, with generous support from individuals and foundations, Fundación Jocotoco purchased the final piece just after Thanksgiving. Restoration of the natural ecosystems has already begun, and today Antisana represents a truly great accomplishment for the entire world to celebrate and emulate. Dreams can be made to come true, as long as we never give up. Congratulations to everyone who helped make this happen.
—John W. Fitzpatrick
Louis Agassiz Fuertes Director