New Caledonia has a unique ecosystem. Dry tropical forests are among the most endangered ecosystems on our planet. Nine public and private partners mobilised in 2001 to establish the dry forest programme with the aim to conserve and restore this precious ecosystem.Priority actions have included protecting fragments of dry forest from further threats notably, from invasive exotic species and fire, by fencing to enable natural regeneration and active planting. Many more tree nurseries can today reproduce indigenous dry forest species and offer them to the wider public.
The area of dry forest fenced and thus protected from grazing animals rose from 55.9 ha (0.3%) in 2000 to 692 ha (4%) in 2017. The number of sites fenced to enable natural regeneration went from 3 to 12 between 2001 and 2017. In addition legally established PAs cover 127.3 ha (including a buffer zone).
Overall, 178,384 saplings were put in the ground through plantation campaigns over the 17 years of the programme.
A list of 68 floral species from the dry forest were submitted to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, and 48 saw their status revised. No species became extinct.A long-term governance structure has been established (the CEN) to take the dry forest conservation programme forward and the Province Sud changed its environmental code in 2009 to provide regulatory protection of the dry forest.
Lessons and success factors
Key lessons learnt over the course of this project are:
- Causes of degradation and values of forest types need to first be defined: Conservation and restoration cannot take place without an understanding of the values of specific forests and the underlying causes of their degradation and loss.
- Ground implementation in scientific knowledge: Solid knowledge of the ecological elements of the landscape and ecoregion provides the starting point for implementing forest landscape restoration interventions.
- A hierarchical strategy for intervention is needed: Restoration is much more than only planting trees. It is a matter of scales (time and space) and strategy.
- Advancing practical implementation: While understanding the ecology of species and the socio-economic dynamics within the landscape are key foundations, it is important to couple this understanding with pilot interventions for stakeholders to better appreciate the practical application of the science.
- Commit to the long term: Restoration requires long term efforts. In New Caledonia, early public sector engagement in the programme helped to secure the necessary long term commitment.
- Consider scale and the mosaic of land use across a landscape: Linkages in the landscape promote resilience and sustainability. Because of the highly fragmented nature of New Caledonia’s dry forest, it was particularly important to consider connections across larger scales and the viability of different forest patches.
- Partner for sustainability: Bringing diverse stakeholders together around an FLR programme supports multiplication and continuity. A partnership approach was initiated early on in New Caledonia and proved an essential foundation for all future work on restoration.
- Citizen involvement leads to stronger ownership: the role of individual citizens is important in large scale restoration initiatives as they can support actions at different levels. This is particularly true where land ownership is largely private, as is the case in New Caledonia.
- High restoration costs call for alternative approaches: The high per hectare costs involved in restoration generally, and in the case of New Caledonia’s dry forest specifically, hamper wide-scale implementation. Other technical alternatives may be tested (e.g. passive restoration) for long term and larger benefits.
- Landscape-level thinking requires a shift in mindset: Small, individual sites tend to fit with private ownership, and in the case of New Caledonia, with the highly fragmented nature of remaining forests. Restoration actions therefore, tend to be implemented around these sites, even if there may be a wider landscape-scale planning or desire to integrate restoration in land use planning tools.
- Design an exit strategy: Due to the long-term nature of FLR, the leading organisation carries an important
The dry tropical forest of New Caledonia is a unique ecosystem yet it is dangerously close to disappearing. Over the last 20 years, WWF and its partners have managed to maintain some dry forest fragments and start restoring others, raising awareness among local populations about the fate of this exceptional natural heritage. While the area of dry forest has stabilised, much remains to be done to restore this threatened ecosystem. Many of the threats, in particular invasive alien species, fire in a proven context of climate change and ecological isolation by urban or agricultural development, continue to challenge the survival of this fragile ecosystem. Accurate monitoring and follow up are essential to better inform management actions. Scaling up the area restored remains a challenge.