Dr. Lowman talks about her recent project involving the church forests of Ethiopia:
One of my most recent projects involved global conservation of African forests. During January, I traveled to Bahir Dar, Ethiopia,a center of the Coptic or Christian Orthodox churches in this proud country. Working with the one (and only!) forest conservationist in northern Ethiopia, I presented a workshop to the church clergy, explaining the value of the forests surrounding their churches. In Ethiopia, a church is not considered to be serving its mission unless it is surrounded by a forest. As a consequence, some forest patches are over 1500 years old (as are the churches…. some amazing architecture!). (When I think of our Florida churches, usually surrounded by cement parking lots, I am quite embarassed!) Ethiopia’s landscape is predominantly cleared for agriculture, and also deforested for fuel; so these church forests house their last remaining biodiversity. This includes pollinators (important for their crops), birds, animals, and trees many of which are already listed by the United Nations as endangered species. Even more important, springs of fresh water are often housed in these forest patches, providing the only clean water supply, thanks to the surrounding trees.
Together, my colleague and I asked for the blessing of the bishops for our conservation project. When I showed them photos of their church forests using Google Earth, they gasped. They had never seen Google Earth, much less a computer! They understood that NO OTHER forests existed within miles of their own sanctuary, and they could also see the rings of soil color changes, indicating rapid shrinking of their property due to encroaching agriculture. They fervently asked for our support, because maintaining these forests (not just the building itself) is part of the responsibility of the clergy.
One simple solution is barbed wire fences. For approximately $10,000 we can create perimeter delineation for at least 10 churches since labor is almost free. TREE Foundation generously funded this workshop for the bishops, and now we seek additional funding to help Ethiopia save its important biodiversity. Who knows if the cure for cancer exists in their unstudied vines or tree canopies! If anyone has any thoughts about philanthropy that supports religion and/or environmental issues, this project is a real win/win/win for the donors, the church, and the planet!