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BATS: Biodiversity Analysis and Technical Support
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Protected areas are a key feature of the landscape in Southern Africa, and play a critically important role in conserving habitat for the rich biodiversity and natural resource base of this region. Maintenance of biological and cultural diversity, local community livelihoods, homelands for indigenous peoples and countless social, economic and environmental benefits point to the importance of effective management of the regions’ many protected areas. A growing trend in the region is the development of cross border conservation initiatives. Close to 20 transfrontier areas have been created over the last few years. Not only are governments, local nongovernmental organizations, conservation organizations, and the international donor community turning to these cross-border initiatives for environmental concerns, these initiatives are also seen as a means to enhance political cooperation, encouraging more economic development and stability in the region.

Given the increasing social, political and economic complexities in southern Africa, land management agencies are placed under more strain, demand and challenges to effectively manage the resource base. Such challenges for the land manager include:

  • the increase on the part of governments to turn to co-management schemes, both with communities and the private sector;
  • the evident decline in financial resources for environmental initiatives;
  • the lack of an appropriate institutional capacity strategy to maintain an effective managerial base;
  • the impact of uncontrolled wildfires on forest protected areas
  • government transitions;
  • and the impact of such diseases as HIV/AIDS.
These challenges can bring abrupt changes within agency structures and personnel, creating an even stronger need for training, information, and experience across environmental organizations and institutions. The US Forest Service, with a network of partners, is committed to addressing such complexities and encouraging the development of knowledge and expertise of practitioners, via capacity building, policy reforms and applied research, to facilitate successfully managed protected areas in the southern African region.  

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US Forest Service Activities in the Region
The US Forest Service is currently working with three partners engaged in protected area management issues in the southern African region: the University of KwaZulu Natal/Centre for Environment, Agriculture and Development (CEAD), the South African Department of Water Affairs and Forestry (DWAF), and the University of Montana (UMT). CEAD and UMT are currently engaged in a series of agreements to work collaboratively to address the growing need for interdisciplinary training, research and outreach activities in protected area management. The DWAF is trying to address the issue of uncontrolled wildfire negatively impacting forests by increasing their ability to predict and prepare for fires.

Specific Activities are listed below:


The third African Leadership Seminar (ALS) on People and Conservation (June 2008) sought to facilitate shared learning around the pressing issues of people and conservation. This third seminar built on the first two, very successful African Leadership Seminars, held July 2007 and August 2006. In the third seminar, participants shared experiences and consolidated lessons from Africa and further afield. These lessons have been compiled and are being used to inform and influence conservation management, research and policy reform. Issues that were addressed in the third seminar included: Conservation Challenges; HIV and AIDS: Implications for Effective Conservation Practices; Community Based Conservation and Collaboration; People and Conservation; Transfrontier Conservation; Making Conservation Pay; Education, Research, and the Conservation Agenda; and Leadership and Conservation. This seminar was implemented by CEAD with funding from the USFS, and support from the International Centre for Protected Landscapes, Wales. All partners will seek to maintain this seminar as an annual event. For more information on this seminar, please contact Lauren Chitty, US Forest Service Africa Programs, at


Since July, 2001, the University of Montana has been working in Cooperation with the US Forest Service, Office of International Programs, CEAD, and the South African National Park Management Agency (SANPARKS) on an applied research project studying how to increase capacity for protected area managers in southern Africa to engage directly with surrounding populations. This work has allowed University of Montana to build reference material on understanding the social context of protected areas in a southern African context, and to build the capacity of park management professionals on social aspects of protected area management.


In the fall of 2006, the USFS and the DWAF held initial meetings in Pretoria and in Washington DC to discuss opportunities for collaboration on the issue of wildfire management. Both sides agreed that technical exchange and transfer regarding fire prevention, management and suppression should constitute the basis of the partnership, at least initially. Specific areas for collaboration were identified as follows:

  • Support to the development of a National Fire Danger Rating System in South Africa;
  • Use of fire data for decision making, planning and deployment of resources (models);
  • Establishing Fire Weather Data Stations (RAWS);
  • Technical Training in wildfire management, incident command system, and/or suppression tactics;
  • Study tours / targeted training activities for South African DWAF fire officials to the US

The partnership blossomed with USFS fire danger rating system efforts collaborating with DWAF officials to refine and improve South Africa ’s fire danger rating system, which was set up in 2004 based on a model used in the US. Collaboration expanded in April 2008, when USFS fire weather systems experts traveled to South Africa to support the installation of new software and fuels models to ensure that the local fire danger rating system is operational. Specific findings from the April 2008 mission include:

  • There is a clear mandate for a robust operational fire danger rating system for South Africa. The partners in this endeavor are eager to see progress.
  • Complex systems require an identified development and application cycle which provides for constant evaluation and improvement. All system interdependencies must be clearly defined and documented. When components of the system change, notifications and corrections should be made.
  • There is a clear lack of technical understanding of NFDRS but this can be mitigated through training and more exposure to the system.
  • The main partners in this endeavor have the necessary skills to manage the system.
  • The US National Fire Danger Rating System should work adequately throughout South Africa when correctly implemented and properly managed.

High Priority Action Items Include:

  • Install the new version of the Burning Index Calculator for operational use at South African Weather Service (SAWS.) The system must be run daily to maintain its integrity.
  • Re-assess parameters choices, index selections and threshold values used in current model implementation. This depends on good weather records for all fire danger areas.
  • Department of Water Affairs and Forests (DWAF) needs to gain working knowledge of system and monitor output through training and experience.
  • Modify system to allow retrospective processing of fire danger from weather observations.
  • Establish remote connection between US Forest Service and SAWS to facilitate remote collaboration.
  • Build capacity to understand the relationship between fire danger and fire occurrence. This includes the development of a fire reporting system (Veldfire Information System)
  • Develop a systems operations manual at SAWS.
  • Develop a clear pathway for end-to-end system maintenance.
  • Develop mechanisms for archiving system inputs and allowing analysis of historical fire danger.
  • Implement NFDRS on the unified gridded forecast system at SAWS.


In April 2008, partners from the University of KwaZulu-Natal, Copperbelt University in Zambia, University of Namibia, University of Montana and US Forest Service explored the opportunity of forming a consortium to facilitate exchange and capacity building among students and land managers in protected area management. The consortium among universities is being finalized, and will receive valuable technical support from US Forest Service. There is a particular emphasis on taking an integrated approach to protected area management, implicating institutions of higher learning and government land management agencies, as well as non-governmental organizations and other civil society entities in issues effecting conservation.

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