A view of a sacred forest in Ethiopia’s northern highlands (photo by Peter Klepeis)
The National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded $500,000 in funding to an interdisciplinary team of Colgate faculty, led by Associate Professor of Biology Catherine Cardelús, to continue investigating the status and conservation of sacred forests in Ethiopia’s northern highlands.
Christian Orthodox churches emerged in Ethiopia some 800 years ago. Today, thousands of these sites protect some of the region’s last remaining native forests, which stand out in a landscape otherwise dominated by agriculture and rangeland. Sacred forests have survived in spite of changes in societies and the ways in which humans use their land.
“Priests, monks, school children, and others are constantly walking and working in these forests, using them for everything from worshipping to schooling,” Cardelús said. “I hope to learn from those who already use ecosystems sustainably and leverage their methods to help others.”
To that end, Cardelús has tapped colleagues at Colgate and beyond to conduct an interdisciplinary study that will determine the current ecological health of the forests as well as changes in their structure and the perceptions of nearby populations over time.
She is joined on the project by Peter Scull, associate professor of geography; Peter Klepeis, professor of geography and geography department chair; and Carrie Woods, former visiting professor at Colgate, now visiting professor of biology at the University of Puget Sound. The team has also hired two scholars — Ethiopia historian Izabela Orlowska and Alemayehu Wassie, a forester and Christian Orthodox Tewahido Church priest — to operate full-time in country.