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INSTAAR noon seminar: Conservation and restoration of alpine ecosystems in the Nepal Himalaya

Monday, September 17, 2018, 12:00PM - 1:00PM


Alton C. Byers

Full title

Conservation and restoration of alpine ecosystems in the Nepal Himalaya: New challenges for the 21st century


Alpine ecosystems throughout the world have been heavily impacted by human activities, especially during the past 20 to 30 years with the exponential growth of mountaineering, trekking, and adventure tourism to remote mountain regions. The most common impacts have included the removal of slow-growing alpine shrubs and cushion plants by lodge owners, porters, and climbing/trekking parties for use as fuel, with associated accelerations in soil loss and decreased slope stability. Other forms of disturbance include turf cutting; increased numbers of pack animals to cater to tourists; accelerated water-borne health hazards due to improper human waste disposal; and the growing presence of landfills and human waste disposal pits in the vicinity of villages along the main trekking routes. More recently, the harvesting of the highly valuable “caterpillar fungus” yartsu gunbu (Ophiocordyceps sinensis) by thousands of collectors annually has caused high levels of disturbance to alpine ecosystems throughout the High Himalaya.

The presentation will trace Byers’ work over the years to better understand the causes of alpine degradation; engagement with local communities to protect and restore their alpine environments; and ongoing research to better understand the contemporary impacts of new markets, globalisation, and human and solid waste management in even the most remote of Nepal’s high mountain alpine ecosystems.


Alton C. Byers, Ph.D. is a mountain geographer, conservationist, and mountaineer specializing in applied research, high altitude ecosystems, climate change, and integrated conservation and development programs. He worked for The Mountain Institute (TMI) between 1990 and 2015 in its Himalayan, Andean, Appalachian, and Science and Exploration Programs, and in 2015 joined the Institute for Arctic and Alpine Research (INSTAAR) at the University of Colorado at Boulder as Senior Research Associate and Faculty. His work has been recognized by the Sir Edmund Hillary Mountain Legacy Medal from the Nepali NGO Mountain Legacy; David Brower Award for Conservation from the American Alpine Club; Distinguished Career Award from Association of American Geographers, Mountain Speciality Group; Ecosystem Stewardship Award from The Nature Conservancy; and was made an Honorary Lifetime Member of the Nepal Geographical Society in April 2018. He currently works on a range of high mountain research, conservation, exploration, and educational projects throughout the high mountain world.


Free and open to the public.