By Al-Varney Rogers
Monrovia — The Second Steering Committee Meeting for the management and conservation of the Tai-Grebo-Sapo Forest Complex between Liberia and Ivory Coast was on Tuesday held in Monrovia. This gathering was the second annual Steering Committee Meeting, which is being held in Liberia, after having previously taken place in Abidjan in 2013.
The Tai-Grebo-Sapo Forest Complex consists of Sapo National Park, Grebo National Forest and several large forest concessions in Liberia and in Ivory Coast and it consists of the Tai National Park and three adjacent classified forests (Cavally, Goin-Debe, Haute-Dodo).
According to the Wild Chimpanzee Foundation (WCF) the Tai-Grebo-Sapo Forest Complex forms part of the world's thirty-four [34\ biodiversity hotspots and is extremely important for the conservation of numerous endangered species, most notably the rare and endangered Western chimpanzee.
WCF said, the forest is home to various endemic and endangered Western Columbus monkeys, the pygmy hippopotamus, various exotic species such as the red Liberian mongoose. WCF continues: "This remarkable tropical forest habitat harbors over 1,200 species of flora (300 of which are endemic), over 230 bird species, 145 mammal species, and numerous other rare and endemic species.
During the meeting, the focal members review works that have been led by various partners across the Tai Grebo-Sapo Complex in the past year, new corridor surveys to identify potential areas to increase connectivity between the protected areas, awareness raising campaigns, and protected area management program.
The focal members from Liberia are the Forestry Development Authority (FDA) and Fauna and Flora International, while focal members from the Ivory Coast are the Office Ivoirien des Parcs et Reserves and the Societe de Developpement des Forets as well as the Wild Chimpanzee Foundation.
The FDA Managing Director Harrison Karnwea said, the FDA remains committed to maintaining the connectivity of protected areas between Liberia and Ivory Coast "Today, as we gather in this historic city to move our agenda forward as evidence of our commitment to this initiative, we wish to inform you that our National Forestry Reform Law of 2006, mandates the creation of protected areas which is being linked by ecological corridors," Karnwea said.
Harrison Karnwea said the law provides that at least 30%, meaning 1.5 million hectares of the national forest be marked as protected areas. Mr. Karnwea explains: "As we speak, the GOL (Government of Liberia) has gazetted the Sapo National Park, East Nimba Nature Reserve, and Lake Piso Multiple Use Reserve and is currently in the process of gazetting the Gola National Park and conducting baseline studies for the proposed Grebo National Park and Wonegisi Nature Reserve."
He said the local population near the forest complex well-being should be taken into account in developing plans for the conservation of the biodiversity. The Director WCF Liberia Country Office Dervla Dowd said her organization is working with both countries to ensure that West Africa's largest remaining forest is properly managed. Dowd said it is important that both governments come together to see how they can manage the forest complex.
"We are bringing the FDA and its counterparts from the Office Ivoirien des Parcs et Reserves together to manage this important but threatened forest," Dowd said. "So we are here as partners to ensure that both governments reach some kind collaboration." Dowd said collaboration between the two countries would provide a corridor for animals to be able to move freely.
"The corridor is important because you got lots of isolated forest areas. If you look at the forest-fifty [50\ years ago and today look at the satellite image, you see that we have packages of forest that the animals are not going to be able to crossover. It's very important that animals have free movement," Dowd added.
She said the partnership is not to stop companies from logging, adding that they can do business without harming the wildlife. According to Dowd, her organization evaluates the forest to identify an increase or decrease in the wildlife. "We evaluate the wildlife to see if their population is going up or down," she said.
Dowd said community members form part of the protection of the forest adding that with such, the forest protection management can be achieved. Dowd said: "We hire local community members to help FDA control the park, to stop people from doing mining, hunting and farming inside the park." The Great Ape Survival Partnership (United Nations Environmental Program) Program manager Dr. Johannes Refisch said the collaboration process started in 2009 between Liberia and Ivory Coast.
Dr. Refisch said Liberia and Ivory Coast could jointly organize a tourism program that will benefit the two countries. Refisch said: "We have made some progress trying to put a management team together, I think everybody agree that natural resources are very important."
"We started 2009 but was confronted by the political crisis in Ivory Coast which slowed the process down. The global vision of this collaboration for the Tai-Grebo-Sapo Forest Complex is "Conservation of biodiversity and participatory sustainable management of natural resources of the ecosystems of the TSFC while taking into account the well being of the local populations."