The Gilgit-Baltistan Province of Pakistan has been historically underserved and geopolitically ignored, but it is a region of critical biodiversity and security importance. Gilgit-Baltistan borders Afghanistan, China, Azad Kashmir, Indian-controlled Kashmir, and Pakistan’s Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa – currently an area of intense instability and conflict. Fiercely independent communities live in a rugged, mountainous landscape, which means that many parts of Gilgit-Baltistan continue to function as essentially autonomous regions. It is in this province that three of the greatest mountain ranges in the world – the Himalayas, the Karakorams, and the Hindu Kush – collide. The enormous geographic diversity found there has led to an equally diverse assemblage of biodiversity, ethnicities and languages. It is also home to some of Pakistan’s most marginalized and poor communities who depend directly on environmental benefits from local ecosystem processes for their livelihoods and their very survival.
For the past 18 years, in close coordination with the Government, WCS has been working with local communities to build capacity and facilitate community based management of their natural resource base for future generations. WCS has achieved “trusted partner” status with these communities through years of persistent work building their capacity to sustainably manage their resources.
- The WCS Pakistan Program is now estimated to reach over 400,000 community members across six districts in the Province of Gilgit-Baltistan, building governance structures and institutional capacity, training in wildlife management and monitoring, and helping to link these communities with the provincial and central government.
- WCS has facilitated the creation of 65 community-based governance institutions (Wildlife Conservation and Social Development Organizations) across Gilgit-Baltistan, whose objectives are to sustainably manage local natural resources, mainly wildlife and forests. WCS also helped to register these organizations with the government.
- WCS fostered the development of a local umbrella institution, the Mountain Conservation and Development Program (MCDP), covering all the valleys in the program and consisting of two duly elected representatives from each community-based resource organization as well as government officials from the relevant line agencies.
- WCS has also facilitated the creation of “community-managed conservancies” – essentially the grouping of related valleys (and their community resource organizations) into larger resource governance structures that closely match markhor and other wildlife habitat “units.” These enable more comprehensive landscape-level planning and conservation implementation as opposed to operating on a valley-by-valley basis, as few individual valleys are large enough to contain a single wild caprid (markhor, ibex, urial, Marco Polo sheep and blue sheep) herd’s range. For example, previously a herd may have been protected in one valley but been hunted when they crossed over into another valley. Community-managed conservancies, consisting of multiple communities and their resource committees, more accurately cover herd distribution and thus comprehensively manage and protect these herds.
- The community ranger program has now identified, trained, and deployed over 100 community wildlife rangers, which has led to regular monitoring of markhor, other wildlife species and habitat as well as enforcement activities aimed at stopping illegal hunting and logging. Many valleys of the conservancies have now banned large mammal hunting and banned cutting forests unsustainably (but do allow for the collection of deadfall for firewood; and specific exceptions are made upon community institution review if construction needs arise). All such decisions are made using community-supported traditional committees and valley resource organizations jointly established by WCS and the government. Wildlife monitoring by these rangers has shown that economically important wildlife populations are showing demonstrable increases in numbers.