Conserving our planet's botanical resources and ecosystems

Researchers, locals work together to save Ethiopia’s ‘church forests’

Article published at Mongabay.com by Heather D’Angelo on March 3, 2015 about Dr. Lowman’s work with forest conservation in Ethiopia.

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Two members of the research team and the stone wall they helped build to preserve a forest in Ethiopia. Photo by Meg Lowman.

Presenting a workshop on ecosystem services to a roomful of priests in Ethiopia may seem like an unlikely scenario for a conservation biologist to end up in, but for Meg Lowman, it’s an essential part of spreading her passion for bottom-up conservation. “Canopy Meg,” as she’s fondly referred to by her colleagues, believes in the power of local communities to be part of the solution, often in ways that are more effective than researchers can make alone.

“I thought long and hard about how to help the priests save their dwindling forests,” Lowman, who is the science and sustainability director for the California Academy of Sciences, told mongabay.com. “They needed some type of perimeter delineation (i.e. fence) but they could not afford it. I tried to garner a big donation from a fencing company without success. On my return trip, the priests were very excited to share a ‘surprise’ with me! Of their own volition, they had figured out that, by taking stones out of their own local pastures, they could not only build walls to protect their church forests, but they could also raise their crop yields. Now, the people tell me that ‘their church has clothing’ when a wall is built around the forest!”

Lowman said this was one of the most rewarding experiences in her long career protecting and conserving Ethiopia’s tropical forests, a mission that often raises a few eyebrows when hearing about it for the first time.

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