Brooklyn Bridge Forest Update, April 2012

June 23, 2012

Brooklyn Bridge Forest Update, April 2012 Dear Brooklyn Bridge Forest Supporters:You haven’t heard from us for a while but Pilot Projects has been hard at work on the Brooklyn Bridge Forest. No one said this global conservation project was going to be easy! We’ve waited until we could report real progress so here we are — happy to share our latest good news. But…before these important details, check out the photos in the margin.These are jaguars at play. Awesome right? They were photographed with a “camera trap” in the El Petén rainforest region in Guatemala near a potential site for the Brooklyn Bridge Forest. There are several reasons these cats are important. Large predators are an indicator of ecosystem health, and these thriving cats were photographed as part of a ten-year Wildlife Conservation Society study in a ‘community concession’ — an increasingly common conservation strategy where local people harvest diverse forest products, including timber, under a well-managed program. This study showed that these big cats (and many other species) are doing better in this concession than in adjacent lands where no timber harvesting is allowed, and where other economic pressures are impacting forest health. Jaguars…just one of many reasons for the Brooklyn Bridge Forest!

So how did we come into possession of jaguar portraits, and why Guatemala? First let’s go to New Haven, Connecticut. This past January we were invited to a conference of the International Society of Tropical Foresters at Yale University’s School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. You may remember that the Yale Environmental Protection Clinic has become a critical partner for Pilot Projects, supplying an amazing cadre of researchers, interns, and support over the last few years. Ben Fryer and Connie Vogelmann, both students at the Law School and the School of Forestry, recently authored a report reviewing dozens of different tropical forest conservation initiatives and models. One key takeaway was the need to form a coalition with established conservation organizations who could help ensure project success. They also highlighted the community concession model referenced above, in which locals get a long-term economic stake in a forest in exchange for taking on the responsibility of protecting it.

At the Yale conference, we presented BBF to attendees from around the world, and met keynote speaker Jan McAlpine, director of the United Nations Forum on Forests. Jan’s message to the top practitioners of tropical forest conservation: “Want to protect tropical forests? We must work with the local people… And it must be an integrated multi-dimensional approach!” When she heard the BBF story she was excited by a vision wherein the interests of people on all sides of the globe were transparently connected, from the stewardship of forests to urban monuments. Several meetings between BBF and UN FF have now transpired and BBF continues to develop this important partnership.

Meanwhile we were led to two other amazing organizations: Conservation International and the Wildlife Conservation Society (here’s where the jaguars came in!). These two organizations have been working together in Guatemala’s Maya Biosphere Reserve, to protect one of the great rainforests of the world and the largest area of intact tropical forest in the Americas outside of the Amazon. Their award-winning efforts over 15 years show that working with local people to manage their land offers the greatest benefit to forest and wildlife.

As for the Wildlife Conservation Society, they have already become an incredible resource for BBF and, we hope, our long-term partner. They are a New York City-based organization, operating the city’s entire system of zoos and wildlife educational programs! Most recently, they launched the One Percent for Culture campaign to demonstrate the value of cultural organizations to NYC. They are both urban and international, and they know how to build fruitful partnership with communities and organizations abroad. Jeremy Radachowsky, for example, is a WCS biologist working in NYC who over the previous 10 years lived in the El Petén rainforest area studying the impacts of people on forests and wildlife. It is that kind of commitment and expertise that will make the BBF possible.

As this partnership has developed, we have refined our plan. We have found a forest and a community who we believe will make an ideal Brooklyn Bridge Forest partnership. This forest also happens to be adjacent to the ancient Mayan city of Tikal. If the New York City government approves the Brooklyn Bridge Forest project and this site is selected, visitors to the Brooklyn Bridge Forest would also be able to see this ancient meeting of mankind and forest.

And as we explore this potential site, we have also created a detailed budget and fundraising projections. Preliminary results suggest that BBF could support an amazing array of programs to spread our conservation impacts far and wide as long as the Brooklyn Bridge is standing. Given the fact that much of the great El Peten rainforest is growing on top of an historic civilization from thousands of years ago, we have no reason to believe our city-building-forest partnership should not also go on for hundreds of years.

Back to the present, there is much to be done: To make a solid case to decision makers in New York City, we need to carry out a detailed feasibility study. We must also form a Board of Directors who will help establish the BBF legacy through coalition-building, planning, and eventually, fundraising. If you have an interest in serving on this board, we would love to hear from you.

As a reminder: Brooklyn Bridge Forest is based on a simple concept: A partnership across continents and time. If the City gives the okay, conservation and education funds would be raised from 11,000 individual sponsors — one for each plank on the Promenade boardwalk — who would donate funds to protect a rain forest area alongside the people who live and work there. Donors would have their signatures etched into a plank of the Brooklyn Bridge Promenade for 30 years, along with other benefits being explored, such as visits to the forest and even custom furniture made from reclaimed boardwalk planks. The larger benefits of the project would be shared by the visitors to the Brooklyn Bridge (no plastic planks or concrete here!), and by the children of both NYC and the forest who would be connected through an international vision of sustainability. Dare we say the whole world will benefit? We think so.

Pilot Projects thanks you for your early interest. Feel free to opt out of our mailing list at any time, or better yet, forward this note to a friend who may be interested. We are still exploring extending early sponsorship spaces to our growing list of supporters: so stay tuned. We are always interested in your feedback and questions, so please send us a note.

Yours truly,

Scott Francisco

Founder, Pilot Projects Design Collective LLC

Brooklyn Bridge Forest

PS: We know it’s not too late to avoid the fate of the Coney Island Boardwalk…. Let’s make sure that plastic and concrete are not the answer when it comes to the Brooklyn Bridge. And stay tuned for our “life cycle assessment” research report by Yale Forestry student Jonathan Sullivan comparing the impacts of potential alternative materials like recycled plastic and concrete. Things look good for natural wood!


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