Mt Maetambe and the Kolombangara River Catchment steps toward becoming a Protected Area
Published Monday, 20th November, 2017
In a crucial step to protecting tribal lands of Mt Maetambe and the Kolombangara River Catchment, Choiseul Province, Ecological Solutions Solomon Islands (ESSI) in partnership with Ecological Solutions Foundation (ESF) held a meeting in Taro with tribal chiefs from the Kolombangara River catchment and representatives from Lauru Land Conference of Tribal Community, Choiseul Provincial Government, Natural Resources Development Foundation and CHICCHAP on Monday 13th November 2017. This meeting initiated the third phase of the Critical Ecosystems Partnership Fund and Bread for the World co-funded Ridge to Reef Project expected to run for 2 years.
In Phase 3 of this Ridge to Reef Project will see the steps taken towards the development of protected areas under the Protected Areas Act 2010 for these important tribal lands. ESSI and ESF in partnership with Lauru Land Conference of Tribal Community, Choiseul Provincial Government, Solomon Islands Government and the customary landowners will follow the steps outlined in the Protected Areas toolkit developed by the NSW Environmental Defenders Office to guide the preparation of applications for Protected Areas to the Director of Environment and Conservation Department. ESSI Co-Director; David Boseto says he is “excited to be embarking on the next phase to protect the natural resources of Mt Maetambe and Kolombangara River Catchment. I have undertaken a lot of work in this area of Choiseul and ESSI is committed to working with the customary landowners to protect it. We want this to be a showcase of how customary landowners can gain long term benefits from their resources rather than selling them to logging companies for short term gain.”
Over 30 people were in attendance at the meeting on Monday in Taro; the first step of the 12-step process outlined in the toolkit. Participants included chiefs and representatives from Kona, Voba, Matakale, Koloma, Jito, Garasa, Batono and Siporae tribes as well as representatives from other key stakeholders. Reverend Graham Mark, President of Lauru Land Conference of Tribal Community opened the meeting with a prayer and reflection identifying the importance of the protection of our natural resources and sustainable management of resources critical for food and shelter. Reverend Graham Mark also spoke of the importance and power of the partnership built to undertake this project and that it will be seen as an example of how we can work together to protect our land.
The 12 steps for preparing an application for a protected area under the Protected Area Act was outlined by ESSI staff member Lina Dorovolomo as well as information about the rights of the customary landowner and the potential benefits of protecting land including the exclusion of logging and mining as well as the development of a management plan to ensure long term sustainability of resource use. An important point is that the customary land owners have to be in agreeance with every step of the process and land ownership does not change under this process but remains with the customary landowner. The next step in the process is to consult with customary landowners, ESSI/ESF team is preparing to go to each tribe and provide further information throughout December 2017, January and February 2018 and proposed dates and venues were provided to the tribes.
The Ridges to Reefs project was proposed by The Nature Conservancy in one of the Lauru Land Conference of Tribal Community meeting in 2009 in partnership with the Choiseul Provincial Government in response to the large-scale and widespread logging operations that were being undertaken in the Choiseul Province and the need to inform customary landowners of the potential impacts and support them in protecting their natural resources and the important water source of the Kolombangara River Catchment. This project is now a part of the Choiseul Provincial Governments 3 year rolling Development Plan guiding strategic direction for the provincial government, as outlined at Monday’s meeting by Cynthia Baripapa (Choiseul Provincial Government Planning Officer).
In 2014 Ecological Solutions Solomon Islands joined the project with funding from Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund to undertake Phase 1; a survey of the Mt Mataembe/Kolombangara River Catchment to develop a baseline biological inventory of the area. In this survey unique and endemic flora and fauna of Choiseul Island were found reiterating the importance of protection of this area.
Phase 2 of the Ridge to Reef project also funded by Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund was initiated in 2015 and sees 9 tribal customary lands mapped by ESSI in conjunction with customary landowners. ESSI staff worked with local customary landowners to build their capacity to map their land using GPS, this was cross referenced with neighbouring customary landowners to ensure agreement on boundaries. Apart from some digital mapping undertaken by logging operations in the area this is the first-time mapping of this kind has been done and is important in not only enabling customary landowners to manage their resources effectively but also settle land disputes.
ESSI and ESF team would like to recognise the Critical Ecosystems Partnership Fund and Bread for the World for providing funding for this showcase project as well as acknowledge the commitment from Lauru Land Conference of Tribal Community, Choiseul Provincial Government, the Kona, Voba, Matakale, Koloma, Jito, Garasa, Batono and Siporae tribal landowners and the Solomon Islands Government to making this project a success.
ESSI/ESF Media Press Release by Peta Holocombo – ESSI AVI