Eastern Arc Mountains Forests of Tanzania
Forest and Beekeeping Division Ministry of Natural Resources and TourismIsaya Mnangwone
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The term ‘Eastern Arc’ was introduced in 1985 to describe the forest-capped ancient crystalline mountains of eastern Tanzania and south-east Kenya, which are under the influence of the Indian Ocean climatic regime, and therefore contain predictable local climates (Lovett 1985). The area has been identified in all the major analyses of global biological priority. Starting in the 1970s, the ‘Eastern Arc Mountains’ were identified as a component of the Afromontane archipelago-like regional centre of endemism by White (1983). The Eastern Arc Mountains are also a Global 200 Ecoregion of WWF (Olson and Dinerstein 1998), part of a biodiversity hotspot of Conservation International (Mittermeier et al., 1998; 2004) and an Endemic Bird Area of BirdLife International (ICBP 1992; Stattersfield et al., 1998). It is also one of the regions of the world facing the most urgent threat in terms of potential species extinctions (Brooks et al., 2002; Ricketts et al., 2005). These studies all indicate the extreme biological importance of the area in global terms. The Eastern Arc is mentioned in the WCMC review of the coverage of World Heritage Sites as an ecoregion where there is no current World Heritage property (Magin and Chape, 2004). Thirteen separate mountain blocks comprise the Eastern Arc. These are found in 14 Districts within 5 Regions of Tanzania (see map). Most of the remaining natural habitat on the mountains is found within nearly 150 Government Forest Reserves, with 107 of these managed nationally for water catchment, and where forest exploitation is not allowed. Eastern Arc forest is also protected within the Udzungwa Mountains National Park and the Amani Nature Reserve in the East Usambara Mountains. Outside these reserves most forest has been cleared, except in small village burial sites, a few village Forest Reserves, and inaccessible areas. In most Eastern Arc mountains the local populations respect the reserve boundaries (where they are clear), but forest resources are used locally for fuel and building materials and some forests are heavily degraded. Fire is also a problem as it enters and can destroy these forests during the dry season. The future of the biodiversity on these mountains is closely tied to management policies and capacity of the government Forest and Beekeeping Division and Tanzania National Parks Authority (in Tanzania) and the Forest Department in Kenya. Supporting these agencies in their mandated job is an essential conservation investment over the longer term. Nominating the Eastern Arc Mountains of Tanzania as a natural World Heritage Site would do much to promote the global recognition of the Eastern Arc and consequently assist the Tanzanian authorities in their mandated jobs.