GOVERNMENT officials from the Environment and Conservation Division have successfully completed a protected areas verification process at the Barekasi Protected Forest Area in North Vella Lavella, Western Province, on 30 April.
The Barekasi Tribal Association is amongst many who are now pushing to have parts or all of their forests conserved and sustainably managed.
Faced with threats of increasing logging operations on the island of Vella Lavella, the tribal-based group established their association with a vision to conserve their forest and protect it from the logging industry.
In 2007, landowners opposed and successfully stopped a logging company from harvesting their biodiversity-rich forest.
Since then, they had continued to engage in conservation programs as an ongoing effort to protect their forest from commercial logging and other human activities.
With the support of the Natural Resources Development Foundation (NRDF), an Environmental Organisation based in Gizo, Western Province, the tribal group received funding from the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Funding (CEPF) to help their conservation efforts.
One of their activities is to commence the national process to have their forest area legally recognised as a protected area under the Protected Areas Act 2010.
In 2020, the group applied for the ECD’s involvement to assess and verify their proposal.
The key objective of the protected areas verification was to ground-truth the proposed area and its natural features and boundaries, review the forest management plan, consult with the management committee and to meet leaders and community members of Leona Village and the Barekasi Tribal Association to verify other interests and issues relating to the proposed protected area.
ECD Officer Fredrick Dotho said verification is necessary as mandated under the Protected Areas Act 2010 that permits the Director of ECD to ‘verify the rights and interests in the area; identify, assess, evaluate the conservation, protection and management options for the area’.
“We are trying to ensure that technical and legal requirements were considered during the preparation of the application by the group including conducting consultations with neighbouring tribes and stakeholders,” Dotho said.
As part of the verification process, the ECD visit is an opportunity to provide awareness on key components of the Protected Areas law, which is important for the community members to understand.
During the community meeting, many community elders were grateful for updates on their application and are looking forward in obtaining a national declaration of their area soon.
There was also growing interest to explore the Carbon Credit scheme through the MFAT Funded Nakau Program of which will be an opportunity to add value to their forest conservation program.
CEPF rep, Ravin Dhari who was also part of the visit, highlighted that CEPF is grateful to have provided the funding support to Barekasi Tribal Association.
CEPF supported Barekasi through a number of key areas, which includes; strengthening of governance structures and systems, ranger support and this initial protected area process.
“We hoped that through this support, Barekasi was enabled to grow as an Association and would have the potential to better manage its resources,” Dhari said.
“We also wanted to see that their aim come true and they are able to achieve a protected area status soon,” he added.
Speaking during the close of the community meeting, Chief Marlon Kuve of Barekasi thanked the Ministry of Environment through ECD in carrying out the PA verification process.
He also thanked CEPF for the funding support and anticipates a smooth process towards obtaining their forest PA status.
To date, only three areas in country are legally protected under the Protected Areas Act 2010 administered by the Environment and Conservation Division.