DETERMINING CONSERVATION PRIORITIES AND PARTICIPATIVE LAND USE PLANNING STRATEGIES IN THE MARINGA-LOPORI-WAMBA LANDSCAPE, DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF THE CONGO
Justice, Christopher O
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Deforestation and forest degradation driven largely by agricultural expansion are key drivers of biodiversity loss in the tropics. Achieving sustainable and equitable management of land and resources and determining priority areas for conservation activities are important in the face of these advancing pressures. The Congo Basin of Central Africa contains approximately 20% of the world's remaining tropical forest area and serves as important habitat for over half of Africa's flora and fauna. The Government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is currently laying the foundation for a national land use plan for conservation and sustainable use of its forests. Since 2004, the African Wildlife Foundation (AWF) has led efforts to develop a participatory land use plan for the Maringa-Lopori-Wamba (MLW) Landscape located in northern DRC. The landscape was recognized in 2002 as one of twelve priority landscapes in the Congo Basin targeted for the establishment of sustainable management plans. This dissertation focuses on the development of geospatial methods and tools for determining conservation priorities and assisting land use planning efforts in the MLW Landscape. The spatio-temporal patterns of recent primary forest loss are analyzed and complemented by the development of spatial models that identify the locations of 42 forest blocks and 32 potential wildlife corridors where conservation actions will be most important to promote future viability of landscape-wide terrestrial biodiversity such as the bonobo (<italic>Pan paniscus</italic>). In addition, the research explores three scenarios of potential agricultural expansion by 2050 and provides spatially-explicit information to show how trade-offs between biological conservation and human agricultural livelihoods might be balanced in land use planning processes. The research also describes a methodological approach for integrating spatial tools into participatory mapping processes with local communities and demonstrates how the resulting spatial data can be used to inform village-level agricultural land use for resource planning and management. Conclusions from the work demonstrate that primary forest loss is intensifying around agricultural complexes and that wildlife corridors connecting least-disturbed forest blocks are most vulnerable to future forest conversion. Conservation of these areas is possible with the development of land use plans in collaboration with local communities.