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Colombia is losing a natural national park

PNN Tinigua image taken a few days ago during a flyby.

Photo: Courtesy FCDS

The images of the Colombian Amazon that circulated in recent weeks on social networks are chilling. Huge expanses of land where hundreds of trees used to stand can now be seen burning shacks and grasslands. “This is outrageous,” Rodrigo Botero manages to say. (Read: Illegal mining in the Amazon: another phenomenon that exacerbated the pandemic)

On January 28, Botero, director of the Foundation for Conservation and Sustainable Development, did one of the flyovers where he took those videos and photos. During the time he was in the plane, he passed through several sectors of the La Macarena Special Management Area (AMEN), a vast place that the Government created in 1989 with the promise of protecting it. There meet four National Natural Parks (PNN), which are a biological corridor between the Amazon and the Andes.

One of them is tiny, in Meta. When Botero flew over it, he says, he did not expect to find images like these. He knew that the fires that had been going on for several weeks were destroying the jungle, but what he saw was much more serious than he imagined. “I had hoped that there would be forest, but the last remnants of Tinigua are running out. The transformation capacity has been accelerated. What is happening is very serious, ”he says by phone.

In his words, Tinigua, a park that was also created in the late 1980s, could be the site of the entire Amazon (not only in Colombia) that is undergoing the most accelerated transformation process. “I don’t know anyone else who is in such a worrying situation,” she reiterates.

To understand it a little better, just take a look at the following graph. In the first you can see what has been happening in recent weeks in the Amazon. The red dots show the fires that occurred between January 22 and February 4. Unlike the other national parks, in the PNN Tinigua there is a high concentration. To be more precise, according to data from Global Forest Watchthere were 700 fire alerts, an “unusually high” value compared to the same period in previous years.

“700 alerts is crazy,” says Sandra Vilardy, professor at U. de los Andes and director of Parks How We Go. “The magnitude of what is happening in Tinigua is very great. Is incredible”. (You can read: Alert for shortage of drinking water in Leticia, Amazonas)

What Vilardy is referring to is that between 2002 and 2020 in this park, which for years captivated biologists, 48 ​​thousand hectares of humid primary forest were lost. That is equivalent, more or less, to putting one after the other three cities as big as Bucaramanga. In this other graph you can better appreciate that tragedy: the red color represents the primary forest that has disappeared. The other illustration sums up the problem: Tinigua has been the most deforested park since 2018.

What does this mean? Is Colombia losing one of its most important parks? “It means that in the last 20 years we have lost 90% of the primary forests of an Amazonian park. And that has many implications”, says Vilardy.

One of the most serious is that destroying tiny it is to break the connectivity between two vital points of biodiversity: the Andes and the Amazon. In addition, he explains, having been a territory where the presence of armed actors prevailed for decades, science does not know precisely the wealth that is hidden in this national park.

There is also another drawback. As pointed out by the doctor in Geography, Dolores Armenteras, who has dedicated herself to investigating the Amazon fires, Colombian ecosystems are not adapted to fire. So when they occur there are changes in their composition and structure, which eventually leads to a loss of biodiversity.

A good example is what happens with bats, very important animals for their role in seed dispersal and pest control. In her thesis to graduate with a master’s degree in science from the U. Nacional, Laura Obando, guided by Armenteras, verified with ultrasound recorders that after the fires there was less acoustic diversity of bats. However, in some spots burned more than 8 or 19 years ago, she found that there was a slight recovery. (She may be interested in: The fires in the Amazon, a situation that is burning more and more every day)

“In my case I went to Guaviare, to the municipality of Retorno, and in the limits of Retorno and Calamar, an area that currently has many hot spots. I went in 2020 and came back in 2021. When I came back, two of those forests where I worked no longer existed,” adds Obando.

More risks and more pleas

With the destruction of PNN TiniguaAnother of the points that most concerns Professor Vilardy, PhD in ecology and environment, has to do with the role of these forests in the water cycle. To let them get lost, she says, is to stop having a very important source in the regulation of this cycle, since it emits water through evapotranspiration, feeding the rains of inter-Andean valleys.

To put it another way, part of the water circulation depends on the Amazon rainforest. What happens there affects the moors of Chingaza Y Sumapazwhich are the sources that allow those who live in the center of the country to bathe every day.

Antonio Nobre, one of the Brazilian scientists who best knows the Amazon, had warned long ago: cutting down trees can alter the weather and rainfall patterns. As each tree, he told this newspaper a few years ago, can pump about 1,000 liters of water into the atmosphere in the form of steam, that means that, together, all the trees in this region allow circulation between the jungle and the atmosphere. a river larger than the Amazon. “Flying rivers” was what he had called them.

One more concern has to do with another basic task of forests: capturing carbon. With the intensive burning and deforestation of Tinigua, according to data from the Global Forest Watch, they are now emitting more emissions than they are capable of capturing. Between 2001 and 2020 they emitted 1.65 million tons of CO2 (equivalent). (Also read: Government presented the “most wanted” poster for deforestation in the Amazon)

The big question at this point is: why, if fires are repeated every year, has it not been possible to prevent them? “That’s the amazing part, because this situation is predictable and preventable,” replies Rodrigo Botero. “We must greatly improve the ability to react and interact with the communities.”

“We know that every year there are classic burning activities. We have a history, but we have to be alert so that the situation does not overflow. The Government has to act and put into operation the legal instruments that it has created. Today we can monitor this situation for free on the internet, which ministries, governors and mayors can access. I don’t understand how we don’t act after weeks of fires,” says Vilardy.

In her work, Professor Armenteras has shown that these fires are not an anecdotal matter, but rather a pattern that repeats itself. Sometimes it is associated with the maintenance of pastures. In others, lighting a fire in the jungle is a tool to deforest. It is the easiest way to “clean” a piece of land and “move” the agricultural frontier. Livestock, illicit crops and the opening of new roads are other factors that affect deforestation, which multiplied after the Peace Agreement. “There is a lack of governance in the territory,” he now summarizes. “It is very difficult to understand why prevention measures cannot be implemented, and the responses are always reactive.”

When trying to convey these concerns to the Government, it was difficult to find a concrete answer. National Natural Parks, for its part, told us that the spokesperson is the National Directorate of Firefighters and National Unit for Disaster Risk Management (ungrd). When consulting this last entity, they assured that they are doing monitoring and follow-up, but they clarified that they do not give any statement regarding the effects on the PNN. The Vice Minister of the Environment, Nicolás Galarza, they affirmed, is the authorized spokesperson. But at the close of this edition, the Ministry of the Environment only said that, for the moment, there is no consolidated number of affected hectares in Tinigua and that at least yesterday there were no active fires.

All this complex situation led a group of more than 180 Colombian academics to write a letter to President Iván Duque and the environment ministerCarlos Correa. In it they reiterate their concern: “The actions must be preventive, not reactive. This is a tragedy foretold and year after year in the dry season we see, with impotence and pain, the Amazon burning,” they wrote. (You can see: Photos: La Macarena on fire. Alert for numerous fires that are destroying the forest)

“It is urgent to design and implement a roadmap that articulately mobilizes the National Armyfirefighters from all over the country, the Civil Defense and the Colombian Air Force (…) It is inadmissible that in protected territories such as the Tinigua National Natural Parkthe Serrania de la Macarena and the Serrania de la Lindosathe Firefighters depend on volunteers to put out the fire and do not have water or airborne systems to put out the fires, ”reads another section.

Later they remind them of the inevitable: “This situation is taking the north of the Amazon to an irreparable breaking point (…) What is at stake is the loss of biodiversity on which life on the planet depends and the exacerbation of the climate crisis”.

Source: Elespectador

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