Interview with Charlotte Opal – Executive Director of Forest Conservation Fund | EnvironMental Podcast

“No deforestation is not the same thing as forest positive.” – Charlotte Opal

This episode of EnvironMental with Dandelion is particularly exciting for us! We get to sit down with Charlotte Opal – the executive director of the Forest Conservation Fund, the nonprofit that we donate to every month!

Choosing Forest Conservation Fund

The Forest Conservation Fund (FCF) is a nonprofit based in Switzerland that chooses forest protection and conservation projects.

We chose this nonprofit as our conservation partner because they are dedicated to working within rain forest areas that are at serious risk of deforestation from agriculture. They choose to focus on tropical rain forest conservation because the rain forest is home to more than half of global biodiversity. They are also some of the hardest hit ecosystems by man made climate issues.

FCF always focuses on funding projects that are built within local communities. They support forest stewards and indigenous peoples and they always seek to promote the natural biodiversity. One thing that we loved in this conversation was the reminder that nature will regenerate herself. We just need to leave her alone.

The sad truth is, even if land is considered a “protected area” it’s still cut down 80% of the time.

It isn’t always the big bad guys

Because nature can heal herself, a lot of the focus on a conservation project comes down to education, patrolling, and staying vigilant about checking satellites. It’s crazy, but you can see farm conversion from satellite imagery! They also rely a surprising amount on signs! This is simply to help keep folks in the community aware of when they’re stepping into a protected space.

When we think about deforestation, we’re very quick to jump into the problems with Big Ag. Charlotte gave us real insight into how deforestation often starts with people who buy land adjacent to a project and simply don’t know! Once deforestation starts, more and more people whose land butts up against a preserved area start clear cutting. When there are no consequences, farm conversion can become an issue pretty quickly! (Thus, the signs.)

What about fences? We asked that too. The FCF likes to fund projects that have a community impact. Where the people involved are forest friendly and have used the forest in sustainable ways for generations. They want to work with interactive projects that empower the community – not put up fences that keep the locals out!

So what happens when an empowered community does happen upon an illegal operation? Well, Charlotte says that FCF recommends that they stand vigilant and contact the local authorities. Because the community is involved, the local authorities are more likely to take action!

Creating More Sustainable Livelihoods

Here’s something we’re consistently looking into, and finding road blocks for. What about the livelihoods of people who are living off unsustainable practices? (We covered a similar issue on this Instagram post)

We recognize that there are billions of people on our planet, and a lot of their livelihoods are in danger. Whether from climate change itself or the changes we have to make to save our species from the impact of climate change, there are going to be casualties in the race to climate neutrality. That’s especially true for folks whose communities and livelihoods are rooted in things like agriculture, fisheries, forestry, coal, and fossil fuels. There’s no easy answer. It’s clear, however, we need to create sustainable livelihoods for folks who are put out by climate change conservation efforts.

How do we create sustainable jobs for communities that have grown up around unsustainable practices?

We posed this question to Charlotte and she had an interesting insight in this case. The solutions to this question have to be answered very locally, and by the community itself. Indigenous folks and people that are stewarding the planet have a very close relationship with nature. Data shows that they manage projects and protected areas better than people that are brought into the projects.

She made it clear again that conserving the forest doesn’t mean not using it. It means making sure that nature can heal itself and flourish for generations. You can have agriculture (and many of their communities do) as long as you work towards being regenerative. It may be that the land can support the community in general, but they have an issue with efficient harvesting and storage. It could also be that a project does need to take a community in a completely different direction for sustainable growth – like ecotourism!

There is no single answer here, it’s going to take all of us, doing our part locally.

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