Indigenous bioacoustics listens to the land for conservation and tradition

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Today we listen to some bioacoustic recordings informing Indigenous-led conservation initiatives.

The world is increasingly coming to recognize just how important Indigenous-led conservation and Indigenous land rights are if we’re to address environmental crises like climate change and biodiversity loss. And for good reason. Studies have found that indigenous lands are home to about 80% of the world’s biodiversity and have lower rates of deforestation and store more carbon than lands managed by governments. Two-thirds of Indigenous lands are still essentially natural, more than double the proportion of intact lands under other management regimes.

Securing indigenous land rights is so vital that it’s even considered key to the success of the world’s vast and growing protected area network, because the close to 38 million square kilometers or 14.6 million square miles of land across 87 countries over which Indigenous peoples have ownership and use or management rights overlap with about 40 percent of all terrestrial protected areas on Earth. But there is still a critical need for more acknowledgement of indigenous land rights. Indigenous communities customarily care for more than half of Earth’s surface, but governments only formally recognize Indigenous ownership of about 10% of the world’s land. 218 gigatons of CO2, 22% of the total carbon in tropical and subtropical forests, are found on lands managed by Indigenous communities, but at least a third of that carbon is in areas where those communities’ land rights have not been formally recognized.

We’re discussing two projects that would increase Indigenous management of their traditional territories today. We first speak with Stephanie Thorassie, executive director of the Seal River Watershed Alliance, a coalition of Indigenous groups in Canada seeking to establish a new Indigenous Protected Area covering the 12-million-acre (or 4.9-million-hectare) Seal River Watershed in northern Manitoba. Thorassie tells us about the environmental and cultural importance of the watershed, the four First Nations and one Inuit organization that have come together to propose the Indigenous Protected Area, and discusses the importance of Indigenous-led conservation.

We also speak with Jeff Wells, vice president of Boreal Conservation for the National Audubon Society, which has partnered with the Seal River Watershed Alliance to study the watershed’s importance to wildlife, especially migratory songbirds. Wells plays us some bioacoustic recordings of birds in the watershed and tells us how those recordings are helping to push for the creation of the Indigenous Protected Area.

Our third guest today is Angela Waupochick, a PhD student at the University of Wisconsin and a research forester for the Menominee Tribal Enterprises. Waupochick is using bioacoustics to study forest-wetlands on Menominee and Stockbridge-Munsee Tribal Lands in northern Wisconsin. Waupochick tells us about how her research project is aimed at devising the best long-term conservation strategies for the black ash–dominated forest wetland ecosystems, the cultural significance of the areas, and why she’s so excited that indigenous high school students are helping her carry out her research. 
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