MacArthur today announced 16 grants totaling nearly $4.5 million for efforts to protect the biodiversity of the Lower Mekong region, which stretches from central Vietnam, through Laos and Cambodia, to the Mekong river delta. The region, one of the most biologically diverse in the world, is threatened by deforestation, the expansion of cash-crop plantations, and a variety of infrastructure projects. Grants will be used to help local institutions strengthen staff capacity and planning techniques to better manage forest resources.

"The economies of Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia are among the most dynamic in the world, demonstrating new levels of entrepreneurship and creativity in business," said Jonathan F. Fanton, President of the MacArthur Foundation. "That same spirit animates the conservation sector, as provincial governments, universities, and scientific institutes reach out to local communities to involve them more directly in forest protection and management. These grants support innovative partnerships that will help the Lower Mekong region preserve biodiversity and natural resources."

Grantmaking focuses on conserving the biodiversity of living organisms and maintaining tropical ecosystems, home to some of the world’s most diverse natural communities and critically endangered species. The Foundation provides support to help create and manage parks, increase the skills of local governmental and non-governmental institutions and individuals, and strengthen environmental law and policy. In addition to traditional conservation focused on protected areas, the Foundation seeks to address both economic and conservation needs by promoting the sustainable use of natural resources and helping the local population manage the biodiversity on which they depend for their livelihoods.

The 16 grants awarded to advance this work in the Lower Mekong include the following:

The Wildlife Conservation Society will receive a grant of $600,000 over three years to work with government officials in Cambodia and Lao PDR to develop a landscape-level management plan for Mondulkiri Province (Cambodia) and Bolikhamxay Province (Lao PDR). The plan will include strategies to address illegal hunting of wildlife and forest loss, promote alternatives for using resources that do not threaten biodiversity, and monitor implementation of the plan in the two regions.

The World Wildlife Fund will receive a grant of $575,000 over three years to plan and implement a sustainable forestry plan in southern Lao PDR. Grant funds will also be used to develop a short-term training program for mid-career professionals to help implement the plan and to build the capacity of local institutions to better manage conservation efforts.

A grant of $380,000 over three years will be awarded to Community Forestry International to engage rural communities as resident managers of the forests in Cambodia’s tropical forests in four provinces: Ratanakiri, Kratie, Kompong Thom and Pursat. Grant funds will be used for training, outreach, organizational development and research.

A grant of $325,000 over three years will be awarded to the Asian Institute of Technology for research on how to protect the forests of Thua Thien-Hue Province and how to better support local communities who depend on forest resources for their livelihood. This will involve establishing a long-term biodiversity monitoring system, experimenting with the domestication of several important marketable forest plant species, and training members from the local community to help conserve and manage forest resources. Funds will also be used to provide graduate-level training to provincial forestry officials and instructors at the university who train district forestry officials in central Vietnam.

The American Museum of Natural History will receive a grant of $325,000 over three years to develop a standardized data collection and monitoring system to better coordinate conservation efforts in central Vietnam and Lao PDR. The system will allow conservation practitioners to use data from multiple sources for monitoring and planning purposes, enabling the various groups working in the region to coordinate their efforts.

A grant of $305,000 over three years will be awarded to Chicago’s Field Museum of Natural History for research to determine the amphibian and reptile biodiversity of the Lower Mekong, particularly in the remote mountainous areas of Lao PDR and Cambodia. Grant funds will be used for a series of surveys and analyses of the amphibian and reptile biodiversity, comparisons of the snake and frog communities, and training for regional scientists on the biodiversity status of amphibians and reptiles.

A grant of $250,000 will be awarded to BirdLife International to support local government institutions and communities that are managing and protecting important wetlands and lowland forest habitats in central Vietnam and eastern Cambodia.

A grant of $250,000 over three years will be awarded to Village Focus International to provide technical assistance and train members of 22 communities in the dense highland forests of Xe Sap in southern Lao PDR how to manage conservation activities in their region. Although the Xe Sap region has been declared a protected area, there is no formal conservation staff. Traditionally, the communities in the region have been the stewards of the forests.

The International Crane Foundation will receive a grant of $250,000 over three years for research, restoration, management and monitoring activities in 11 key wetland ecosystems – eight in Vietnam and three in Cambodia. The project is designed to engage local communities and local government staff in the conservation of wetlands through the development and demonstration of models of sustainable wetland resource management. Grant funds will also be used to set up two new wetland-focused education institutions in the region at Mahidol University in Thailand and at the Vietnam National University of Ho Chi Minh City.

The Institute for Tropical Biology will receive a grant of $200,000 over three years for a “training core group” to provide scientific and technical training for staff and officials from government, academic institutions, protected areas and provincial-level research center in southern Vietnam. Research activities undertaken during the training process will generate data on threatened species and critical habitats that have not been extensively studied.

A grant of $200,000 over three years will be awarded to the Center for International Forestry Research to partner with the World Wildlife Fund and other agencies involved in conservation work in the Lower Mekong region to help them better understand and measure their impact on both biodiversity and the economic health of communities that depend upon the land for their livelihood.

A grant of $200,000 over three years will be awarded to the Thua Thien-Hue Provincial Forest Protection Department to develop a new management structure for the Phong Dien Nature Reserve in Thua Thien-Hue province. The new structure will encourage community participation and the involvement of local leadership in management decisions and sustainable use planning.

A grant of $200,000 over three years will be provided to the Quang Nam Provincial Forest Protection Department to strengthen forest management and protection in the Quang Nam province. Grant funds will be used to help forest guards enforce regulations on illegal and unsustainable extraction of natural resources, improve management of the reserve through training and community outreach, and to develop community-based forest management mechanisms for ten communities.

A grant of $150,000 over three years will be awarded to the Forest Inventory and Planning Institute for an in-depth survey in central Vietnam of areas recognized as exhibiting high biodiversity importance, including existing protected areas, forests and natural landscapes outside of the current protected area system.  The project aims to revise and assess the status of the current protected areas and to make recommendations on improving the system by proposing new areas for protection, introducing improved management schemes and proposing new linking corridors.  The results of the research and consultation will lead to a re-planning process for the protected area system in central Vietnam that is based on scientific surveys as well as the socio-political realities of the local situation.

The Center for Natural Resources and Environmental Studies at Vietnam National University will receive a grant of $150,000 over three years to develop a management structure for a new nature reserve in Da Krong District, just north of Thua Thien-Hue province. As a first step toward making the reserve operational, grant funds will be used to help staff carry out field surveys in an effort to verify anecdotal evidence about species in the reserve.

Internews Network will receive a grant of $135,000 over two years to help local journalists more effectively cover environmental issues in the region’s media. In coordination with the Vietnam Forum of Environmental Journalists and the Media Forum on the Environment in Cambodia, Internews Network will conduct a series of workshops for local journalists, manage a fellowship program, and help disseminate information on biodiversity conservation.

Conservation & Sustainable Development, Conservation