Fundación Cordillera Tropical


Mission Statement

To conserve biodiversity in the Amazon headwaters of Ecuador.


Planetary thinkers, you among them, may share our dismay that the headlong rush to environmental calamity, however well understood by science, is inescapable. Extreme weather, sea-level rise, warming temperatures, disruptions in food production, the catastrophic decline in biodiversity, collapsing ecosystems, polluted oceans, pandemics—it is a discouraging list.
Our dismay is fueled not only by the crisis itself, and earth’s poor prognosis, but by our sense that as a global citizenry we are incapable of implementing solutions. Because the problems appear overwhelming, paralysis can overtake us, and all we yearn to do is hunker down and shelter in place.
We take heart, however, in the efforts of many environmental activists, often working in anonymity but doggedly forging healthier futures. They don’t get much press, but we know they’re out there. One of these doers is Fundación Cordillera Tropical, a dedicated conservation nonprofit operating in the Amazon headwaters of Ecuador. We are a laboratory for earth solutions, with two guiding goals:
First, we demonstrate at a local level how conservation can be achieved. Our vision is to enlist landowners on the agricultural frontiers of the Andean Amazon (center photo, below) to conserve their remaining forests and use the system of streams and rivers to create corridors that connect remnants of native vegetation. Ecosystem vitality recovers when forest fragments are connected, allowing species to move as climate changes. And because a large part of Ecuador’s vast biodiversity is found outside the national park system, the integration of private landowners contributes decisively to species survival. Saving native forests and linking them together have simultaneous benefits for climate change mitigation, biodiversity conservation, and sustainable development.
Moreover, we are crusaders for successful interventions that can be scaled up. We are gratified when a particular intervention meets our project goals, but FCT's efforts can only be deemed successful when they are replicated, taken up by other NGOs or government entities, funded at higher levels, and become the object of public discourse and support. We aim to make private conservation and forested corridors a metric by which Ecuador measures its response to the global environmental crisis. And to the extent that this goal is achieved, the planet will benefit.
FCT's activities have been supported by a great variety of conservation and development organizations, including World Wildlife Fund, USAID, Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund, Overbrook Foundation, Fondo Ambiental Nacional (Ecuador), Gaylor Nelson Institute of Environmental Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Blue Moon Fund, Round River Conservation Studies, Conservation International, United States Fish and Wildlife Service, The Nature Conservancy, Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), New England Biolabs Foundation, Corporación Eléctrica del Ecuador (CELEC), and multiple grants from regional and municipal Ecuadorian governments. We invite you to join us in this endeavor.

Program Details

Fundación Cordillera Tropical is seeking funding for three critical conservation initiatives: restoration of montane forests in Sangay National Park’s buffer zone, completion of the Ningar Scientific Station, and the Mazar River Project.
Restoration of montane forests in Sangay National Park’s buffer zone
Remaining wild habitats in Ecuador’s Nudo del Azuay are islands surrounded by deforested lands and the buzz of human activity. Most native wldlife—including the Andean bear, mountain lion, Andean fox, brocket deer and mountain tapir—are restricted to these isolated pockets. Here they survive but are extremely vulnerable.
FCT continues its successful program of riparian forest restoration, which establishes biological corridors between Sangay National Park and the agricultural landscapes outside the park. These corridors increase the species diversity of agricultural areas and allow both wildlife and wild plants a safe haven and expanded territory, permitting them to move, exchange genes, and adapt, while also improving the livelihoods of property owners through the provision of wood, medicinal plants, and forage for their cattle. The net effect is to create a biologically more robust buffer for the wild fauna and flora of Sangay National Park.
Our goal is to plant a minimum of 9000 native trees during 2020. As in previous reforestation initiatives, this collaborative effort includes volunteers and community environmental promotors. FCT will provide mapping and technical support, saplings, and material for fences erected to protect the young trees from cattle, while landowners will contribute fence posts and labor.
With the participation of landowners and promotors, each section of stream bank to be reforested will be surveyed using transects to document baseline measures of biodiversity. Most riverbanks are occupied by pasture, hosting an empoverished array of plants and animals. Because providing restored habitat and connecting remnant forests are the long-term objectives of riparian corridors, the biodiversity baseline allows us to measure the corridor's progressive restoration. From the array of new wild species that become established, we will be able to identify their geographic source and the flow of genes to and from the forested end points.
A total of $48,000 is required to fully finance the project through June 2021. Costs include the purchase of 9000 saplings, barbed wire for fencing, road transport of trees and personnel, horse transport to remote sites, a technical administrator to oversee the planting and baseline study, food for communal lunches on planting days, and mapping and sharing of the results with local institutions and the public.
Completion of the Ningar Scientific Station
Andean high altitude grasslands known as “páramos” represent a fragile and unique ecosystem (right photo, below). In addition to being home to surprising levels of biodiversity and endemism, páramos are also critical to sustaining the lives of rural residents and their livestock, providing water for consumption, hydroelectric power, and irrigation for agriculture. Equally as important, organic páramo soils function as “carbon sinks,” sequestering large stocks of carbon over time. Nonetheless, páramos are facing serious threats, including exotic pine tree afforestation, overgrazing, and plowing for agriculture, as human activities extend to higher elevations.
To better understand how to protect the precious resources of Ecuador’s páramos, FCT has begun construction of a scientific station on private lands located within Sangay National Park. The station will be a center for the study of páramo and high montane forest ecology, fauna, flora, soils, geomorphology, and the impact of human interventions. In addition to hosting researchers, it will also be an educational hub for students from Ecuador and around the globe, providing them with an opportunity to initiate their careers in earth and social sciences.
Completing the Ningar Scientific Station will require an investment of $164,000 over the next two years to cover construction costs, equipping the station with a state-of-the-art laboratory, installation of a hydroelectric plant, costs of initial operation and management, and outreach to educational institutions in Ecuador and abroad.
Mazar River Project
Originating within Sangay National Park, the Mazar River is among a handful of critical watersheds for the Paute Integral hydroelectric plant, which produces 35% of Ecuador’s total electrical output. The quality and behavior of these waters directly impact this electricity supply and its cost to the public. The purpose of the Mazar River Project is to study and maintain a continuous record of the river’s discharge and sediment loads at the Mazar River measurement site. Specialized, automated instrumentation extracts water samples for data collection.
Begun in 2014, the Mazar River Project seeks to explain the relationship between river behavior and the conservation status of upland native forests and páramos. For examply, how does deforestation impact downstream water quality? How can we “read” the river to understand its wellbeing? By measuring fluctuations in water volume and sediments and comparing these results with those of other stream networks, the project data will aid decision-making about how best to protect Andean watersheds.
To keep the Mazar River Project operational through June 2021, FCT needs to raise $9200. These funds are required to maintain the automated sampler, periodically visit the site and download data, analyze sediment loads, purchase a new pressure transducer, maintain the participation of hydrologists who model the long-term river behavior, and keep government institutions informed of our progress.
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