Site location and ownership
San Rafael is one of the best remaining patches of Atlantic Forest in the eastern part of Paraguay. A core area of San Rafael has been purchased by WLT partners Guyra Paraguay, and is now well protected.
The forest of San Rafael is, at 70,000 hectares, one of the largest patches remaining and is of outstanding biodiversity importance. It is largely comprised of moist, semi-evergreen ‘Upper Parana’ Forest, further diversified by a mosaic of natural grasslands (outliers of the Pampas) on its western edge.
The San Rafael Important Bird Area (IBA) was identified in 1997 as only the second IBA in Latin America. It is the most important site for threatened and endemic Atlantic Forest birds in Paraguay. 26 bird species are of conservation concern, along with 27 mammal and 71 plant species. Birds include Harpy Eagle (Harpia harpyja), White-eared Puffbird (Nystalus chacuru), Bare-throated Bell-bird (Procnias nudicollis), and Black-fronted Piping-guan (Pipile Jacutinga).
95% of the San Rafael IBA remains in its natural state. Of this, 91% is semi-evergreen lowland tropical forest, 3% is savanna, and 1% is scrub. The remaining 5% is used for agriculture. San Rafael still has no secure protected status and suffers from widespread illicit timber extraction and patchy clearance.
This region consists of a mosaic of standing forest, natural grassland and areas cleared for agriculture. The WLT reforestation programme is supporting expansion of forest blocks.
WLT reforestation programme
Paddocks, previously sown with exotic forage grass, are susceptible to fire if ungrazed. Fires in the past have inhibited natural regeneration of forest. The programme focuses on relieving fire pressure, and assisting the re-establishment of Atlantic Forest species with enrichment planting and assisted natural regeneration.
In 2006-2007, work focused on regenerating 3 paddocks over a 12 hectare area, through regular clearing of vegetation combined with the planting of 12,000 trees. 17 native tree species were identified from the surrounding forest for planting, and seedlings were produced in a village nursery. In 2008, work shifted to a 50 hectare area. It was discovered that by removing fire pressure, a rich variety of tree species were able to grow in this part of the forest. 40,000 trees have since been liberated in this area.
The 70,000 hectares of grassland and forest at San Rafael absorb rainwater and release it slowly into watercourses, thus playing a key role in water security in the wider region.
Guyra Paraguay continues to look for land acquisition opportunities to consolidate and expand its reserve at San Rafael. Conserving more of the forest of San Rafael is a key component of the Paraguay REDD+ project.