Conservation easement underway for the world’s last remaining intact stands of Ka forests in Micronesia

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TOFOL, KOSRAE, FSM, October 02, 2012– Of the unique island ecosystems found across Micronesia, the still-reputed and unspoiled Yela Ka Forest in Kosrae has set a precedent to terrestrial island ecosystem conservation across the region. The recent passage of a bill by the Kosrae legislature approving two grants totaling in the amount of USD505,000; gives island conservation entities and collaborators of Yela Environmental Landowners Authority (YELA), a green-flashy “GO” signal to request and implement funding support from the US federal government for a Forest Legacy Program (FLP).

According to Katie Friday, US Forest Service, FLP Manager for Micronesia, “Kosrae has marked another milestone of the forest legacy program in Micronesia through the passage of this bill by the island legislature”.

“Despite the several legislative hearings held, a significant turnout of 13-0 votes received from members of the legislature has implied a strongly conservation-minded body of island legislatures towards the state’s greater vision of conserving areas of biological significance which includes our remaining and ancient stands of terminalia trees and landscapes in the world; found only here in Yela, Kosrae”, said Director Robert H. Jackson of the Kosrae Island Resource Management Authority (KIRMA).

Kosrae’s forest areas are becoming destroyed, and mostly threatened to make way for economic development and modernized living; as evident from construction of roads, in-filling of mangrove areas for residential, and deforestation of natural intact landscapes. The remaining intact and undisturbed forest lands in Kosrae supply wood products for local needs, improve habitat for birds and wildlife animals, increase protection for soils and important plants that support and contribute to ecosystem services and supply food, enhance watershed protection and enrich recreational opportunities.  As these areas are deforested, further developed and disturbed, so do the benefits they will provide for future generations.

With the 2008 passage of the US Farm Bill, FSM has become eligible for getting assistance of the FLP. An Assessment of Need (AON) was required and completed prior to the initiation of the FLP in Kosrae state with a principle goal to aid in the protection of high priority native forests that are currently owned in private or will be transferred back to private in the future; with more emphasis into protection aimed at reducing conversion of forest to non forest uses. The FLP meets its goal and objectives by purchasing land or development rights of willing private landowners through legally-binding conservation easements.

KIRMA as a semi-autonomous agency of the Kosrae State Government with duties equivalent to the Environmental Protection Agencies of the other states of the FSM. It's mandate is to "Protect the environment, human health, welfare and safety; to abate, control and prevent pollution or contamination of air, land and water in accordance with Title 19 of the Kosrae State Code, and is overseen by a board of commissioners engaged to balancing the needs of economic and social development with those of environmental quality; and to ensure that economic and social development in Kosrae State is environmentally sustainable, and preserve the State's forests and wildlife and regulate activities that affect them."

As the environmental protection and conservation arm of the Kosrae State Government; KIRMA, with full support of Governor Lyndon H. Jackson is implementing the FLP in partnership with the USDA Forest Service to identify areas of biological significance or high priority native forest for conserving from degradation, and conversion to non-forests uses; in perpetuity through purchasing of conservation easements. A legally-binding agreement transferring a negotiated set of property rights from one party to another, without removing the property from private ownership until the end of time; a conservation easement is underway to prove its success on the first time ever to the Yela Ka Forest of Micronesia and greatly contribute to Kosrae’s commitment to effectively manage 20 percent of forest resources declared under the Micronesia Challenge.

YELA as the grantee and KIRMA would be a party as the grantor to the Conservation Easement, charged with the duty to enforce compliance under special circumstances described in the terms and conditions set forth when approved by both parties to the easement.  

The Yela Ka Forest Legacy project site contains a single parcel with an area of 316,375 square metres owned by 10 families that make up the heirs of Alik Kufus, as stated in the Kosrae Land Court issued certificate of title. The parcel is amongst several that occupy the lower Yela valley encompassing approximately 41 acres of the dominating terminalia forest. The legacy project site covers almost entirely the gateway into the Yela valley and comprised of three distinct ecosystems: from a view from the ocean towards the valley; a portion of the mangrove forest located south at the drainage area of the property, with a large portion of the only remaining stands of terminalia carolinensis trees, locally known as “Ka” dominating the central part of the property and upland-broadleaf forest within the elevated areas.  
The landowners will receive revenue from the sale of the permanent conservation easement but still maintain the right to own, use and enjoy their property as agreed to and stated in the easement. Additionally, a landowner’s forest stewardship plan will be developed to identify the landowner’s objectives and describe actions to protect and manage soil, water, aesthetic quality, recreation, timber, and fish and wildlife resources and other conservation and management values identified on the legacy parcel.

By sale of the easement, the YELA organization has made plans to set up a generational equity endowment that allows the organization to meet the needs of future generations. The endowment may also provide future opportunities such as providing scholarships for coming generations of the Yela family members are only some plans made available and known to date.

The FLP is a competitive grant program with 50 US participating states and territories annually competing for Federal funds under the program. A participating parcel will become a forest legacy project when approved locally and ranked high nationally in the program. FLP-funded projects serve public purposes identified by participating state’s AON and agreed to by the landowner, such as providing and preserving open space, protecting state watershed areas or rivers, and providing sustainable forest products to support the local or regional economy.
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The Yela Ka Forest Legacy Project, was approved locally and ranked well at 18th nationally, in the United States, and is supported by FSM National Government, The Nature Conservancy, US Forest Service Review Appraiser, the Micronesia Conservation Trust, Lucille & David Packard Foundation, US Forest Service, the Micronesia Challenge, Kosrae Conservation & Safety Organization and KIRMA to conserve in perpetuity the ancient and intact terminalia trees and landscapes in the Yela Ka Forest. With the approval of two grant proposals, an administration grant in the amount of USD 5000, and an acquisition grant of 500,000 dollars, submitted by KIRMA; further work accomplishment must strive to meet a dateline of one year by the project collaborators and the state agency.

“It has been over five years that the YELA organization seeks to get support from the state and the US federal government to put in place a concrete measure that will protect if not in perpetuity the only remaining intact stands of terminalia carolinensis trees in the world”, said YELA Executive Director Tholman Alik.

A forest legacy project focuses on private forest landowners and must rank high, nationally in the US to participate and receive funding under the forest legacy program. To maximize the public benefits it achieves, the forest legacy program targets mainly acquisition of interest in privately owned forest lands, by which 75 percent is granted funding with 25 percent coming from participating state, local or private sources.

With the bill passing the scrutiny and gaining support of the legislature, the full-fledged acquisition grant proposal which comprised of dollar amount based on the land appraisal value, whereby 75 % will be US federally funded and a matching 25 % coming from other sources. This 25% required matching is already committed by the Lucille & David Packard Foundation and will be administered by the Micronesia Conservation Trust based in Pohnpei State, FSM. Both funding source allocations have already been committed with pre-defined expiration dates. KIRMA, YELA and main collaborators from The Nature Conservancy and the Micronesia Conservation Trust are working currently hard to accomplish requirements and due diligence processes required under the FLP.

Spearheaded by the US Forest Service FLP Manager, at a three week interval; an international call conferencing has been in success since the early part of May of this year to bring up to date all requirements including due diligence processes from both parties of the conservation easement with full support from its main collaborators.

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