Paraguay's Forests in Crisis
Paraguay's former-Minister of the Environment visits the UK to raise awareness of the destruction of the Paraguayan Chaco.
Dr. Jose Luis Casaccia, Paraguay's former Minister of the Environment, now the Environmental Prosecutor for the Attorney Generals' office, is in England to raise awareness of the destruction of the forests of Northern Paraguay which is currently taking place. He is joined by Dr. Alberto Yanosky, Executive Director of World Land Trust project partner, conservation and research NGO, Guyra Paraguay. Every day, an average of 1000 hectares (2,400 acres) of forest is destroyed in the Paraguayan Chaco and most of the world has never even heard of this remote area of wilderness.
The Paraguayan Chaco is little-known mosaic of exceptionally fragile and diverse ecosystems which include grasslands, dry forests and part of the world's largest wetland, the Pantanal. Some scientists believe these habitats to be even more threatened than rainforests, yet they are rarely heard of. John Burton, the CEO of the World Land Trust, who is hosting the visit, describes the Paraguayan Chaco as, "a seasonally flooded desert, which bursts into extraordinary life. The mammal life is spectacular with 117 species found in the region which include the Giant Anteater, Giant Otter, Giant Armadillo, Jaguar, Puma, Ocelot, five species of monkey and Capybara (a large aquatic relative of the guinea pig). There are also more than 600 species of birds found here including Hyacinth Macaw. It is a wildlife paradise."
Guyra Paraguay's expertise in using GIS imagery to monitor land-use change has revealed alarming deforestation rates in Paraguay. In the first eight months of 2009, over 437,000 acres of forest were destroyed, whereas 'only' half a million acres were destroyed in the whole of 2008. At its peak in May this year the rate of deforestation reached 3,000 acres, or the equivalent of 1500 football pitches of forest being lost every day. Interestingly the one element which slowed the rate of deforestation during this time was that the supply of fuel for the bulldozers and tractors could not meet demand. Alarmingly the rate of deforestation dried up Paraguay's gas stations and fuel is now being purchased on the black market from Bolivia. However, Minister Casaccia did suspend all issuing of licenses for deforestation in the Chaco prior to leaving his position as Minister of the Environment.
Until 2005, governmental authorities were not aware of what was going on in this remote part of the country. In 2005, "Operativo Soberania" was launched by the Secretaria del Ambiente (SEAM - Ministry of the Environment) to investigate. Over 600 properties were found to be breaking the law. Farmers are destroying forests using bulldozers which are imported from Brazil, to make way for crops, pastures and smuggle valuable wood species back to Brazil. Low land prices, fertile soils and serious lack of border control mean that it is an easy option for them to do so. Paraguayan press reports suggest that many of the illegal ranchers are Brazilians.
Within the next 30 years, at current rates of destruction, the Chaco will be reduced to desert, with all the species in it being lost. Dr Casaccia and Dr. Yansoky will be asking the world community to assist them and the World Land Trust in saving this unique environment.
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