Master of Environmental Science and Management: Master's Group Project
Combining Conservation and Community Empowerment to Protect Grauer’s Gorilla
Strong Roots Congo
In the Sud-Kivu province of the Democratic Republic of Congo, development of agriculture and infrastructure has fractured wildlife habitat between two critical biodiversity hotspots, Kahuzi-Biega National Park and Itombwe Nature Reserve. Separated by over 40 kilometers, these areas contain two of the remaining populations of the critically endangered Grauer’s gorilla. To establish wildlife connectivity across the landscape without infringing on local access rights, the government has passed legislation that permits community-based forest management (CBFM), a strategy that involves local peoples in forest management and governance. Here, we put forth a combination of connectivity, climate projection, and socioeconomic models to identify priority conservation and restoration areas within the Kahuzi-Biega-Itombwe corridor and to understand community sentiment on forestry protections. The connectivity model highlights areas within the corridor necessary for gorilla movement, as well as geographic obstacles to movement. The climate model suggests that under future climate scenarios, optimal Grauer’s gorilla habitat is likely to experience shifts in range and extent of submontane and montane forests. The socioeconomic model on community opinions reveals that disagreement with conservation initiatives increases with community distance from protected areas. These results reveal potential obstacles to the preservation of Grauer’s gorillas. Opposition to conservation efforts could dampen the benefits from CBFM implementation, and current landscape barriers and future fragmentation due to climate change threaten connections of vital habitat. Moving forward, the community forest management plan should consider these results when developing spatial plans and community engagement activities to ensure the long-term coexistence of local communities and connected habitat for Grauer’s gorillas.
Bren School: Frank Davis, Professor; Brian Lee, PhD Student; Ashley Larsen, Assistant Professor; Bruce Kendall, Professor and Associate Dean
Will McClintock, Research Scientist, UCSB Marine Science Institute
Sarah Tolbert, Community Engagement Manager, Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International