We are currently quite active in the purchasing tracts of rainforest in Ecuador. These are extremely lengthy and complex processes. Think of the following steps:
1) Carefully determine which areas need to be saved most urgently
2) Search for and speak with owners and other stakeholders to determine which tracts can be bought
3) Appraise the tracts and find out what kind of offer the owner would be willing to accept
4) Apprise ourselves of the local circumstances, build a good reputation, gain trust, make friends and, where needed, outmanoeuvre other interested parties
5) Check out the deeds and if these do not exist, find out how to obtain these
6) Have official documentation produced and stay on top of transfer process
7) Thoroughly investigate the status of a tract and determine whether it’s spoiled in any way
8) Estimate the cost of maintenance and management and re-planting of trees if needed
9) Execution of steps and keeping tabs on process and progress
Regarding (1), we are primarily looking for vulnerable frontier areas. It is easy to buy a tract of land deep in the rainforest, but this would have limited effect. We can make a much bigger impact by purchasing the most-threatened frontier areas and halt the movement of the frontier.
Regarding (2), it can be difficult to determine who owns a certain tract of land. At other times it is simply a matter of asking people whether they are willing to sell. This works best when we operate through a trusted acquaintance of the owner.
Regarding (3), sometimes people need to sell because they need the money to buy something else. Sometimes there are other interested parties that have already offered money and then renege on the deal. Also, sometimes oil companies mention huge amounts. Sometimes we can move very quickly, while in other cases we’re better off letting the matter rest for a number of months.
Regarding (4), it is very important to approach land owners in their own language. Only after you have gained their trust, does their word carry weight. In that case, they may want to deal with us rather than third parties they don’t know, such as developers, oil companies, foresters or farmers, who may have the wherewithal but have other plans and don’t necessary respect the forest.
Regarding (5), when deeds are present, it needs to be determined whether there are any liens and whether the alleged owner is indeed the rightful owner. Often there is no formal documentation and this needs to be produced before anything can be done. This entails determining where the property lines are. Sometimes people have to be summoned from afar to ascertain that a certain tract has been family-owner for generations. This process involves people that know the local situation and customs.
Regarding (6), we need to decide how a certain parcel can be maintained and managed. This may entail an overnight survey by forest rangers that may need boats or horses. Depending on how safe the area is, we need to determine how often patrols would be needed. In case a parcel needs to be reforested, we will need a quote as to the cost of this.
Regarding (7), if we can determine which species are at risk to disappear first (indicator species), we will know the state of a tract of forest. If only a small part is at risk, while it borders on untouched rainforest, it will be easier to restore.
Since Save the Native Forest and its sister foundation Conservemos Nuestros Bosques Nativos (CNBN) in Ecuador are being run by people with local ties and expertise, we are able to execute all these steps quite well. CNBN is essential for the purchasing of land in Ecuador. It was founded by the Dutch-Ecuadorian Stalin Armijos, who was a co-founder of STNF and maintains close ties with both foundations.