Uruguayan village threatened by wildfires aims to recover native vegetation

By Federico Anfitti

Montevideo, Aug 11 (EFE).- Punta del Diablo, a Uruguayan coastal village where invasive trees and shrubs have fueled harmful and potentially dangerous wildfires, is looking to restore its native vegetation and natural beauty via a United Nations-backed forest recovery initiative.

Flames encroaching perilously close to people’s homes, scorched public spaces and even a reduction in water quality are some of the problems facing several Uruguayan localities that can be traced to a loss of native woodlands.

But now local residents of Punta del Diablo, a small fishing and tourist town in the southeastern department (province) of Rocha, are taking matters into their own hands through a project known as “Plantaton,” which is being promoted by the UN Development Programme, Uruguay’s Environment and Livestock, Agriculture and Fisheries Ministries and a network of environmentally focused non-governmental organizations.

“Some residents, with a view to recovering spaces and avoiding this spreading of pine and acacia fires, started seeking a solution and found that perhaps native woodlands could be the solution,” Ivan Ibarra, one of promoters of the initiative, told Efe.

Wildfires are frequent when temperatures rise in spaces dominated by pines and acacias, trees and shrubs that are invasive plant families in Uruguay. Indeed, these types of plants reproduce more readily every time the soil burns, resulting in an ever-worsening problem.

But the Plantaton initiative, financed through a crowdfunding campaign that ends on Aug. 31, now is looking to remedy the situation by raising $15,000 to plant 1,000 native trees in a one-hectare (2.5-acre) area of public parkland.

Pitanga, tala, ombu, chilca del monte, Chilan myrtle and coronilla are some of the species to be planted during Plantaton, which will take place on Sept. 27-28.

“People are seeing that we have an opportunity to recover a space that was lost and that is part of the park where our children, our young people, play, where we adults go and do different activities, and also tourists,” Ibarra said.

Residents of Punta del Diablo, whose natural beauty and pristine beaches make it a magnet for tourists in the summer months, are fully committed to the initiative and are even organizing activities in which children and teenagers clean up the terrain in preparation for the trees’ arrival.

Another community member, Briton Katherine Muller, told Efe the process will take many years but said she is optimistic it will be a success, thanks in part to support from Uruguayans living abroad and contributions from foreign visitors to Punta del Diablo.

For his part, UNDP Uruguay sustainable development analyst Flavio Scasso told Efe that the idea is for the Plantaton intervention in Uruguay, where 11 forest recovery projects are to be carried out this year, to serve as role model for the rest of the region.

He said much of the village of Punta del Diablo is involved in the Plantaton, including the municipal government, high schools and elementary schools, and that the initiative also has the strong backing of Uruguayan authorities.

Communities in other Uruguayan towns and cities furthermore are becoming increasingly interested in these types of projects, Scasso added. EFE


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