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The countries of Central Asia--under the Russia, Europe and Near Asia program--include Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. From steppe, grasslands, and desert to alpine forests, lakes, and tundra, this region consists of a wide variety of ecosystems and landscapes. A high-level of biodiversity and endemism accompany this diversity in natural conditions. The area is home to 7,000 species of angiosperm flora, 172 species of mammals, and approximately 540 species of birds. Unique plants and animals in the region include ancient fruit and nut forests, the snow leopard, the saiga antelope, the Bukhara deer, and Marco Polo sheep. With a predominantly rural population of over 50 million, livelihoods and economic opportunities in Central Asia are inextricably linked to these natural resources.
Threats to the Resource Base
Central Asian countries face numerous challenges in the sustainable use and conservation of natural resources and biodiversity. Major issues include degradation of arable land and pasture, deforestation and forest degradation, water scarcity and inefficient water use, and global climate change.
After an initial collapse in livestock and pasture use in the region due to the breakup of the Soviet Union, livestock production has steadily increased. Current pasture practices have resulted in several disturbing trends. Pastures near human settlements are overgrazed and distant pastures are underutilized. Increases in livestock production and the lack of rotational pasture management have caused significant decreases in pasture productivity. Poor management and inappropriate use of pastures has resulted in severe land degradation throughout the region, including instances of soil erosion, salinization, and water-logged soils. Given the importance of livestock production and pasturelands to rural livelihoods and local economic development in the region, the continued degradation of pastures may undermine the long-term economic viability of farms and rural communities.
Central Asia’s unique forests are threatened by a range of human and natural pressures. The illegal felling of trees and unsustainable logging for fuelwood and timber resources has led to substantial deforestation in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. Invasive species, including the mealybug and gypsy moth, pose a major threat to the walnut and pistachio forests of Kyrgyzstan. Localized human-caused instances of fire have also resulted in the loss and degradation of forest resources. Finally, the impacts of climate change on forest resources have already become evident in the region. Naturalists have observed an altitudinal shift in the range of fruit and nut tree species. Global climate change will also exacerbate the aforementioned threats to Central Asia’s unique forest biodiversity.
Water scarcity and inefficient water use are major challenges faced by countries in Central Asia. Overall, total supply of water in the region is insufficient with 62 to 90% of water needs satisfied in urban areas and 70-76% of needs satisfied in rural areas. Water is also a potential source of conflict in the region. Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan are the main suppliers of water in Central Asia. These countries bear the burden for reservoir maintenance and water transportation facilities. As the major consumers of water in the region, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan irrigate more than 75,000 square kilometers of land. The disparity between suppliers and consumers has given rise to disputes over payment for water services and seasonal distribution of water. With the onset of global climate change, water scarcity is likely to be exacerbated. Specifically, aridity is expected to increase across the entire region of Central Asia, especially in western parts of Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Kazakhstan. Temperature increases in these countries are also likely to be high in summer and fall, accompanied by decreases in precipitation. Glacial melt in the Pamir and Tien-Shan ranges is projected to increase, initially increasing the flows of the Amu Darya, Syr Darya, and Zeravshan systems for a few decades, followed by a severe reduction in flow as glaciers disappear. Rapid melting of glaciers has increased runoff leading to an increase in glacial lake outbursts that can cause devastating mudflows and avalanches in the mountainous regions of Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan.
Why Does the US Forest Service Work in Central Asia?
Given the range of threats in Central Asia and analogous natural resource management issues in arid areas of the U.S., significant opportunities exist for the U.S. Forest Service to work collaboratively with counterpart government agencies, non-governmental organizations, the US Agency for International Development, other donors, and organizations to implement sustainable natural resource management practices. By working with partners in Central Asia, U.S. Forest Service experts may gain important insight into approaches for managing natural resources in the face of global climate change. Further, given the importance of the Central Asia region for the U.S. efforts in Afghanistan and Pakistan, technical and scientific cooperation on natural resource management can play a strong role in establishing partnerships to ease tensions and generate good will.
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In 2010, U.S. Forest Service assisted USAID in conducting a biodiversity assessment for Central Asia. The assessment is designed to identify the major threats to biodiversity conservation in the five Central Asian countries, examine the impact of global climate change on biodiversity in the region, and identify concrete recommendations on incorporating natural resource management and conservation into USAID programs and activities. In support of this assessment, U.S. Forest Service fielded two staff members to the region to meet with major stakeholders, visit relevant field sites, and interview counterpart government agencies.
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Payment for Ecosystem Services
The USFS also recently provided technical assistance to the Regional Environmental Center for Central Asia (CAREC) in the development of pilot projects on payment for ecosystem services in Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan. Specifically, a USFS technical team visited the region in October 2010 to work with representatives of CAREC to assess the feasibility of the implementation of a payment for ecosystem service program in the Talgar River watershed in the Almaty region of Kazakhstan. USFS also participated in a joint USFS-CAREC workshop on watershed management and payment for ecosystem services. The workshop participants included stakeholders from three pilot PES sites in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, including non-governmental organizations, government officials, and local citizens. The meeting provided an opportunity for these stakeholders to share their views and discuss implementation of payment for ecosystem service programs to address natural resource degradation.
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Transboundary Protected Area Management in the Pamir Landscape
USFS is also working with the Wildlife Conservation Society in Tajikistan to promote dialogue and discussion in addressing concerns among national and local-level stakeholders and to identify opportunities in a trans-boundary initiative among Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and China in the conservation of the unique biodiversity in the Pamir Mountains. The Forest Service and Wildlife Conservation Society plan to hold consultative meetings with local stakeholders and conduct a stakeholder assessment in Pamir region around Khorog, Tajikistan. These efforts will be followed by a workshop on protected area management in Dushanbe, Tajikistan with national level government and non-governmental stakeholders. These efforts will be aimed to share experiences, challenges, and benefits of transboundary protected area management in North America and enhance momentum in working towards collaborative efforts among the countries that share the Pamir landscape. Diplomacy through science and technical cooperation can be a key part of the effort to build dialogue and ease tensions in this high priority region for the U.S.
- U.S. Agency for International Development
- Regional Environmental Centre for Central Asia
- Wildlife Conservation Society
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