San Juan Nepomuceno
A case study of integrated planning for biodiversity
and resilience to climate change in Colombia
Colombia contains 10% of the world’s biodiversity and encompasses a large number of different ecosystems. It provides a home to more than 1,815 bird species, 4,000 fish species and 40,000 plant species. More than 13% of the national territory is under the protection of the National Natural Parks of Colombia (Parques Nacionales Naturales de Colombia), including both the terrestrial and marine ecosystems.
Mainstreaming biodiversity, ecosystem services and climate change considerations and decisions in spatial planning is an ongoing task in Colombia; some very important steps forward have been made already.
The Ministry of Environment, in cooperation with the Commission for Territorial Ordering - Comisión de Ordenamiento Territorial (COT), is playing an active role in the spatial planning of the country. In 2011 Colombia adopted the “National Policy for the Integrated Management of Biodiversity and Ecosystemic Services”, which includes valuable criteria, guidelines and recommendations for the sectorial and spatial management of the biodiversity and ecosystem services.
However, it is necessary to recognise and rethink territorial planning in Colombia, beyond its technical, political and administrative definitions, as a process that orders the integral socio-ecological dynamic.
IUCN and the National Natural Parks of Colombia are working together to integrate climate change and biodiversity concerns into spatial planning frameworks. The project, implemented in San Juan de Nepomuceno as well as in Santa Rosa (Cauca), aims to improve the understanding and management of urban and socio-environmental challenges, as well as to propose a reform in compensation to the municipalities that have large protected areas in their territories.
This project is part of the International Climate Initiative (IKI). The Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Building and Nuclear Safety (BMUB) supports this initiative on the basis of a decision adopted by the German Bundestag.
The lowland forests in the peri-urban area of Los Colorados, classified as a Flora and Fauna Sanctuary within the protected areas system, are located next to the town of San Juan Nepomuceno in the Bolivar department and maintain a small reserve of 1,000 hectares of endemic tropical dry forest.
Los Colorados contains one of the best-preserved relict dry forests in the region and an important shelter for organisms, such as primates and mammals which live in this habitat. It is also a source of supplies for migratory birds and it is considered and Important Bird and Biodiversity Area (IBA) since over 280 bird species have been reported in the area. Historically the area was inhabited by indigenous groups that were part of the Malibú Mokaná ethnicity, using predominantly medicinal plants from the Los Colorados mountains.
The Los Colorados protected area provides water, and helps regulate the climate thanks to the forests’ capacity to store carbon.
Los Colorados is part of an extensive connectivity network for fauna to transit to other areas.
Los Colorados are exposed to a series of natural threats such as desertification and erosion, as well as to threats related to cattle ranching, agriculture, wood extraction, wildlife trade, poor waste management and other pressures arising from the nearby town of San Juan Nepomuceno.
Families displaced by the 50-year conflict in Colombia have settled in the protected area, using Los Colorados for collecting water, gathering firewood, growing food, catching birds to sell, and clearing the land for cattle ranching.
Now that the conflict in Colombia has ended, and the peace-process begun, there is a chance that the families that settled in the Los Colorados-side of San Juan Nepomuceno will go back to their places of origin, but this is not guaranteed.
The local communities are divided on their view of Los Colorados: on the one hand the park is seen as a place to extract resources for the direct benefit of the people. On the other hand there is a traditional respect for Los Colorados as a place to respect and protect. Children at school are learning about the importance of protecting Los Colorados for the long-term benefit, for people and nature.
Local communities honour and celebrate the jaguars that used the park as a corridor to get to other areas, even though jaguars haven't been spotted in the area for many years.
"The jaguar festival is a social event, and does not yet have an educational side to it. We want to raise awareness among the community, to respect the forest, to do things for the jaguar to return", says Nelson. "Less than 1.5% of the original dry tropical forest is left in Colombia. Jaguars need proper corridors to move through, but now we only have small relics of tropical forest left" adds Gisela Paredes.
The relation between natural preserved areas and urban areas is not always clear. Including conservation activities in local planning can help prevent socio-environmental conflicts, preserve biodiversity, and combat climate change.The Integrated planning for biodiversity and resilience to climate change project is also being implemented in Santa Rosa (Cauca) in Colombia, and in Viet Nam, Tanzania and Zambia.
In Colombia, IUCN's main partner for this project is Parques Nacionales Naturales de Colombia.
• IUCN project page: Integrated Planning to Implement the CBD Strategic Plan and Increase Ecosystem Resilience to Climate Change
• IUCN Sur project page in Spanish
• Project flyer
Images: Valérie Batselaere/IUCN, and Parques Nacionales Naturales de Colombia (PNNC)