Working to Save Ethiopia’s Church Forests
Margaret “Canopy Meg” Lowman recently returned from Ethiopia where she was working with local Coptic priests to expand the Church Forest Project, an effort to conserve the country’s remaining forests.
Ninety-five percent of the forests in northern Ethiopia have been depleted, making her mission an urgent one. Many of the forests that do remain are located around local churches and are considered sacred sites. Because the local priests there are considered respected leaders, Lowman works with them to coordinate the building of walls around the forests using stones from the local fields, a concept the members of the communities devised themselves and which Lowman described as “simple and elegant.”
“My conservation success over there depends on creating trust with church leadership,” Lowman told WINGS WorldQuest from Kansas, where, shortly after returning to the United States, she was working with undergraduate students in wheelchairs to help them learn to climb trees.
Her initial goal is to build 30 stone walls. So far, 15 have been built.
Lowman, who won the WINGS Woman of Discovery Award in 2009, has been working on the project for 10 years now. She said that Ethiopia is a country that is scientifically underserved, but has an amazing and unique biodiversity that demands global protection. Her work is also underscored by the fact that the forests are sacred sites and few outsiders can enter them.
“There are maybe a couple billion people in the world that appreciate and need sacred sites,” Lowman said. “It’s hard to get access to them. The priests always say to me, ‘Don’t give up on us – help us solve this situation.’”