Kolonia, Pohnpei - Although the participants of the FSM Watershed Learning Exchange are from different states, they gathered together last week to focus on something they have in common: the belief that FSM's forests are one of the nation's most valuable natural resources, and that the need to protect them has never been stronger.
"Land has always been the most precious commodity to any islander," said Pohnpeian Senator Aurelio Joab in his opening remarks. Epert Mikehl, Soulik en Soamwoai, reiterated that sentiment when he said, "should the rainforest go, we're going to go with it."
The learning exchange, which happened in Pohnpei state from July 13th through 16th between Pohnpei and Kosrae, was held to share experiences, ideas, and innovative techniques regarding watershed management and protection. The exchange was co-sponsored by Conservation Society of Pohnpei (CSP) and the Pohnpei State Department of Lands and Natural Resources (DLNR), and made possible with funding support through the Micronesians in Island Conservation (MIC) from the Micronesia Conservation Trust (MCT) under the German Lifeweb fund.
Even though the people of the FSM recognize the importance of their forests, every year more forests are attacked and taken over, water resources polluted, and watersheds cleared away altering critical habitats and natural systems that support life. Each clearing jeopardizes some of FSM's endemic species, provides a new home to invasive species, pushes sediment into the streams and oceans, and makes landslides more likely to occur.
The challenge of preserving the watersheds is one that Pohnpei and Kosrae have approached differently. In 1987, when Pohnpeians began thinking about forest management, they passed legislation (the Watershed Forest Reserve and Mangrove Protection Act of 1987) to prevent further damage to its valuable forests. Essentially, the law forbids further clearing, building, grazing of livestock, disposal of waste, and growing of certain crops in the upland forests, where most of the clean rainwater falls. It also bans dredging, road building, and waste dumping in the mangrove forests. Since then, the state has passed more than 100 pages of legislation and continues to use the "top-down approach." In contrast, Kosrae got a later start in their watershed management activities but has modeled its approach on the strategy used in Palau and the Babeldoab Watershed Alliance. Kosrae has focused on gaining the landowners' support and understanding first, and developing laws later. Consequently, Kosrae has encountered very little resistance to the forest conservation projects on their two sites (YELA and OLUM) whereas Pohnpei has met challenges enforcing its existing watershed law.
In order to reach a better level of understanding between watershed efforts in both states, the exchange was organized by CSP and modeled after the 2008 learning exchange held in Palau. There was tremendous participation from stakeholders, including heads of three municipal governments (Kitti, U and Nett), as well as from the DLNR and Forestry division, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), FSM Department of Economic Affairs (DEA), FSM Office of Environment, FSM Protected Area Network Coordinator, United States Natural Resources Conservation Services program, Pohnpei Utilities Corporation, Pohnpei State Legislature Senator Aurelio Joab, and Mr. Epert Mikehl representing the Wounkoapin Soamwoai communities in Kitti.
From Kosrae, participants included the YELA, KCSO and KIRMA organizations, as well as a community representative and Senator Lipar George from the Kosrae Legislature. Umiich Sengebau of Palau, the Vice Chairman of the Palau Conservation Society (PCS) Board, represented his nation and offered his additional perspective. In addition to the conferences that took place on the 14th at the College of Micronesia-FSM Pohnpei Campus, participants also had the opportunity to visit Nan Madol, explore the Nanpil Dam and Forest, and meet with the Nett Municipal Government, the Nett District Legislature, and high ranking Nett traditional leader Iso Nahlaimw Higinio Iriarte to learn from Nett watershed management initiative taking place in Pohnpei.