Money does grow on trees!

On Saturday, April 22, 2017, Willy Kostka and Betty Sigrah of the Micronesia Conservation Trust (MCT), and Ricky Carl of The Nature Conservancy’s (TNC) Micronesia Program, met with the 10 Heirs of Alik Kufus to hand $21,000 ($2,100 per family) over to the owners of the Yela Ka Forest Reserve in Kosrae, Federated States of Micronesia. This is an event that takes place every April with the funds coming from the proceeds/earnings of the Yela Conservation Easement Endowment Fund, managed by MCT. The endowment, which was established to support this conservation easement agreement with funds from a US Forest Service Forest Legacy Grant and with matching funds from the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, has a current total value of approximately $520,000.
As a Micronesia Challenge ( site for the FSM, the Yela Ka Forest in Kosrae is a special place that holds the world’s last remaining stand of the Ka tree (a species of Terminalia found only in Pohnpei and Kosrae). Because this forest area is privately owned, and because it is a unique and special place that provides pertinent ecosystem services to the people of Kosrae, as well as serves as a very critical habitat/nursery for the creatures/animals in the area, Yela qualified under the Forest Legacy Program. Conservation easements are comprehensive plans that involve different components and partners.

While the families have relinquished some of their development rights (e.g. road building, large infrastructure development, tree cutting/harvesting, etc.) to Kosrae State (KIRMA), who now retains the lease on the property, the families continue to own the property and can still enter and carry out sustainable and cultural activities (e.g. ecotourism, hunting, gathering of medicinal plants) within the area. According to the Executive Director of the Yela Landowners Authority, Dr. Tholman Alik, YELA receives about 25 visitors per month and charges an entry fee of $20 to visitors and $10 to locals. These funds, along with other grants from FSM Congress and international donors, are used to pay for the three permanent staff of YEKA, who manage the area on a regular basis and carry out activities, such as feral pig and other invasive species control and eradication. They also serve as guides for the tours to Yela.
This year’s is the fourth disbursement to the families since this first co nservation easement in Micronesia went into effect with the signing of an agreement between the Kosrae State Government represented by the Kosrae Island Resource Management Authority (KIRMA), US Forest Service, The Nature Conservancy (TNC), the Micronesia Conservation Trust, Kosrae Conservation & Safety Organization (KCSO) and the Yela Landowners Authority (YELA). Established as part of Bill Clinton’s Forest Legacy Program, conservation easements are a resources management tool which has been used all over the USA and in some other countries around the world. TNC has been a partner/broker in numerous conservation easements in the USA and abroad, and along with the US Forest Service, provided the technical assistance that led to the establishment of the Conservation Easement in Yela.
MCT, the US Forest Service, TNC and other partners hope that other conservation easements can be established in Micronesia to help manage some of our special places and to provide long term income for the families who own those lands.