Assistant Secretary General Speech


September 21, 2015 - Washington, DC

Mr. Dan Ashe, Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Neil Parsan, Acting Executive Secretary for Integral Development
Permanent Representatives, Alternates, Special Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Good morning and thank you for joining us today at this event organized by the U.S. Permanent Mission to the OAS, the Department of Sustainable Development, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to celebrate the first year of implementation of a new initiative to promote sustainable development and conservation of natural resources at the community level in Mesoamerica. Building on decades of work from the Mesoamerican Biological Corridor, this complementary program will support “Conservation Corridors”, which is quite an innovative and transformational idea.

Given that existing protected areas within Central America alone are too small and isolated to maintain ecosystem functions and large scale processes, Mesoamerica 2020 uses a landscape-scale approach to conserve the region’s unique ecosystems, jaguars, tapirs, monkeys, macaws, and other iconic wildlife that can also serve as umbrella species for the rest of the region’s biodiversity.

There are already several Conservation Corridors that exist, but the long-term goal is to bring these corridors together and have landscape and ecosystem corridor management from Canada all the way to Patagonia in South America. Successful conservation initiatives include the US-Canada “Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative”, the Mesoamerican Biological Corridor, as mentioned, the Andes Amazon -- and finally from the Patagonian Grasslands and Pampas to Chile's Lake District. Such Corridors provide land and water pathways that connect protected areas, allow plants and animals to pollinate and migrate while adapting to the impacts of global warming.

Turning to the Mesoamerica Region – with its diverse geography that acts as a terrestrial land bridge between North and South America, is home to two oceans and the second largest coral reef system in the world, extensive mountain chains with peaks that reach up to 4,211 m, and climates ranging from deserts to very wet rain forests – makes it a most strategic and awe-inspiring location.

For example, Panama has almost 1000 species of birds — more than Canada and the United States combined. The Mesoamerican region itself contains 8 percent of the world’s mangrove forests and it is considered to be one of the world’s most important centers of origin for agricultural crops: its indigenous peoples bred various beans, maize, squash, and chili peppers from wild species endemic to the region.

It is also worth noting that the Mesoamerican countries recently signed a “Plan Director Corredor Biológico MesoAmericano (CBM) 2020: Gestión Territorial Sostenible” as well as the “Environmental Sustainability Mesoamerican Strategy (EMSA)”. Both initiatives will work in tandem.

Another initiative is the “Caribbean Challenge” where 20% of the marine areas of each signatory State would be protected by 2020. This is being carried out through the ReefFix project, with support from the Government of Mexico.

Our hope for this Mesoamerica 2020 initiative is that with the support of Member States of the OAS -- beginning here with the Mesoamerican Ambassadors -- a modest investment in capacity building exercises and small project grants will yield large conservation and socio-economic results. By combining science and stewardship, we seek to maintain and restore ecosystem integrity required for efficient use of natural resources.

Great progress has been achieved in this regard in the last year. Through a partnership effort with the Centro Agronómico Tropical de Investigación y Enseñanza (CATIE), the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the OAS held the Meso-America Regional Meeting entitled, "Advancing Biodiversity Conservation Practice in Mesoamerica" at the CATIE Campus in Turriabla, Costa Rica in August of last year. The meeting brought together conservation practitioners from 7 Mesoamerican countries as well as representatives from other countries in the Americas to share lessons learned, promote the use of best practices, and identify training needs for the region.

The Mesoamerica 2020 Initiative therefore hopes to protect ecosystem services such as clean water and fertile soils, promote peaceful cooperation and foster regional economic growth and integration. We should be able to reduce deforestation and add forest cover as Costa Rica has done where it has more than doubled its forest cover since 1970. It is our hope that this Initiative will continue to promote sustainable conservation efforts within our hemisphere and bring together both local communities and governments in betterment of our regions.