Strong Roots is working to create a corridor of community forests, with the goal of connecting gorilla populations in Kahuzi-Biega and Itombwe Nature Reserve. This project is to build upon Strong Root’s current work empowering communities to use scientifically grounded conservation strategies alongside traditional knowledge and practices. The project aims to increase the population of Grauer’s gorillas through community conservation plans that ensure long-term protection. Strong Roots is using the lessons learned from our initial project in Bhuryini to scale up our work in the other 7 community forests that make up the corridor between Kahuzi-Biega and Itombwe.
We are excited about expanding our work throughout the corridor because legally designating these community forests would mean that a large portion of gorilla habitat outside of the two protected areas would be protected. This is a really unique moment to include communities in the larger conservation dialogue. For the first time, the 2014 Community Forest Law in the DRC makes it possible for communities interested in conservation to apply for land tenure. Community Forests qualify themselves for land tenure by establishing Conservation Committees and implementing a Conservation Plan. The Conservation Committees are charged with enforcing a Conservation Plan for the forest. Key areas are classified as off-limits and set aside for conservation and others remain open for resource use. These conservation committees will ensure that the larger community is included in the drafting of the conservation management plan. This quells the communities’ fears that they will lose control over their land and instead encourages buy-in from the communities to take ownership over conserving their forests.
Strong Roots works alongside these communities to provide the necessary training to design, implement, and monitor the conservation plan. As of now Strong Roots is the only organization working in this area and we hope that the success of the corridor project will encourage other stakeholders to consider community forests as strong allies in the fight for conservation making community conservation a reality.