Rainforest guardians helping preserve Colombia’s biodiversity

By Laia Mataix Gomez

Tumaco, Colombia, Nov 10 (EFE).- Rosa tours a rainforest area of southwestern Colombia with a student of hers, Anderson, whom she has instructed in the importance of conservation and the procedures for registering the biodiversity around them.

Both are part of a “rainforest guardians” network that is monitoring and documenting the woodlands where they were born and protecting those ecosystems from deforestation.

Anderson is from Pueblo Nuevo, a village that is part of the Bajo Mira y Frontera Community Council in the department of Nariño, where violence and drug trafficking are daily scourges affecting the lives of many residents.

After 20 years of felling trees and selling timber from deforested areas, he has now become a “rainforest guardian” and an expert in animal tracks and tree diameters.

These promoters, as they are also known, “are community members whose economic activity used to directly or indirectly depend on cutting down (trees),” Rosa said amid lush vegetation in Nariño’s Tumaco region.

Alternatives to felling trees as a primary economic activity are gradually gaining steam in Bajo Mira y Frontera, which comprises 53 villages and covers an expanse of 47,000 hectares (180 square miles) of collectively owned territory.

It is now common for people to cultivate cocoa or carry out projects with animals, while the chainsaws and scythes that had been tools of the trade in that area in the past are fading into distant memory.

As a result, the pressure on the forest has been reduced, Rosa said.

That shift in activity and mentality has been overseen by a large contingent of environmental engineers who are assuming the task of monitoring the rainforest, taking stock of the animal and plant species that call it home and protecting its biodiversity.

Funding for these guardians comes from the United States Agency for International Development’s Paramos and Bosques program, which aims to promote conservation and enable communities – through the sale of carbon credits – to be rewarded for their protection efforts.

A total of 10 “rainforest guardians” are now working in Bajo Mira y Frontera, all of them from the villages that make up that community council.

The sale of carbon credits is a key part of the USAID program in that rural area outside the port city of Tumaco because it serves both to reduce deforestation and finance community projects.

Some of the tools of the guardians’ work include a GPS device for saving the coordinates of deforestation alert locations and a mobile app for storing and sharing information.

Eight camera traps also have been installed to capture images of some of the most elusive animals, such as jaguars.

“I don’t want to go back to cutting wood,” said Anderson, whose new work offers hope for safeguarding the natural treasures that exist in that remote corner of Colombia. EFE


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