A highway is crossing the north of PNN Chiribiquete

From space it was almost unnoticeable. But closer, in a flyby, it was clear what they saw. A croad to deforest the forest is crossing the north of the Serranía de Chiribiquete National Natural Park, the largest in the country, also declared a mixed (cultural and natural) heritage of humanity by UNESCO.

The discovery was made by the Frankfurt Zoological Society (FZS) while monitoring the alarming levels of deforestation that are occurringto the north of the park, in the reserve indigenous Llanos del Yarí-Yaguara II, an important buffer zone that helps protect Chiribiquete, where today there are displacements of the communities that help protect it.

There, in January of this year alone, according to satellite data from the FZS, subsequently corroborated with overflights, 692.4 hectares have been deforested within the territory ; 80 hectares more than what was cut down in all of 2021. To put it in context, only the first month of this year fell on average 22.4 hectares of forest per day, in 2021 it was 1.7 hectares per day. Something like if in January the land covered by all the trees in the Botanic Garden of Bogotá were cut down, per day.

According to Esperanza Leal Gómez, director for Colombia of the FZS, the circumstances are increasingly complex and if the forest continues to fall at the rate at which it does, “it will be increasingly difficult to restore ”.

This is what the illegal highway that crosses the PNN Serranía de Chiribiquete looks like from the sky.

“Roads make a difference in the speed with which deforestation advances. When there is no road, even if it is minimal, it is much more difficult to enter and continue deforestation. But when these types of paths already exist, this trend begins to appear that we call the fishbone style, paths begin to open around the big one ”, highlights the directive.

The FZS has been working in the country since 2016, supporting the conservation of the Amazon forest and analyzing how it changes based on satellite data. One of the places they analyze is the Llanos del Yarí-Yaguara II indigenous reservation, where the deforestation data for January of this year alone is shocking: the number of hectares deforested is equivalent to 960 soccer fields the size of the Maracanã or the entire urban area of ??the city of Cali.

The FZS pointed out that although this is the first route found in the PNN Chiribiquete, it may not be the only one.

Courtesy FZS

In Colombia, where there is a protected area management model that includes indigenous communities and the state apparatus through entities such as National Natural Parks, according to explains Leal Gómez, the State is not coming and that, to a large extent, can summarize why deforestation occurs.

The Ministry of the Environment told EL TIEMPO that in the face of reports of the arrival of deforestation at the PNN serranía de Chiribiquete they have taken different actions to prioritize, through the National Council for the Fight Against Deforestation (Conaldef), the intervention of five deforestation nuclei, among them is the Marginal de la Selva-Yaguará II.

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“The Ministry of the Environment hopes in the next few You would make announcements related to the implementation of these control activities and achieve the reduction of deforestation in these areas of the National Park and the indigenous reservation”, assured the Deputy Minister of Environmental Policies and Normalization, Francisco Cruz.

What deforestation is going to do is that in the end the challenge of restoring these ecosystems will be very difficult. I really don’t know how the country is going to deal with it.

The director for Colombia of the FZS, highlights that in these areas what is seen is something that experts have been repeating for months and years, after the signing of peace accords, unknown and powerful actors have been appropriating these wide and unprotected spaces without anyone stopping them, basically with three objectives: the first is to convert them into large farms and take over these lands illegally, the second is to graze cows and the third plant illicit crops. A situation that makes little sense to her, because the Amazonian soil, due to its characteristics, is not even ideal for grazing or planting.

“A paddock in the Amazon will never be sustainable. Because the nutrients in the Amazonian soil are minimal. What allows the cyclicity of nutrients in the Amazonian soil is the presence of forest, if that is lost (because the forest is cut down), then the organic layer of the soil is minimal and has aluminum and many toxic elements. What deforestation is going to do is that in the end the challenge of restoring these ecosystems will be very difficult. I really don’t know how the country is going to deal with it. And planting trees randomly is clearly not going to be, even if it is done with the best intentions”, the directive points out.

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For her, current government actions have not even achieved “the objective of stopping deforestation”, as the figures show. Something that is very serious because it shows that in this area of ??the country there is no one who can stop those —well, at least from NGOs like FZS, it is not known who they are— who are pulling down trees, burning the forest and bringing in cows.

“What we have seen in the overflights is that in areas where Artemisa operations have been carried out (military campaign against deforestation), In a few months, if not weeks, the house that was destroyed has new tiles. what does that say? That they have the financial muscle to go back, continue deforesting and paying the people who come in to deforest and put in cows,” emphasized Leal Gómez.

According to the Ministry of the Environment, this area of ??the country is one of the main focuses where the actions of the Artemisa Campaign will be concentrated, with which more than 21,480 hectares of forest that were being degraded have already been recovered. According to Deputy Minister Cruz, the main causes of deforestation that have been identified in these areas correspond to prairie development oriented to land grabbing, both in protected areas of the PNN Chiribiquete, and in areas of the indigenous reserve.

The Ministry of the Environment hopes in the coming days to make announcements related to the implementation of these control activities and achieve the reduction of deforestation in these areas

“All these actions are associated with a process of widening unplanned roads that cross the national park and enter the indigenous reservation area. That is why within the framework of the Artemisa Campaign, specifically in operation number 14, these areas have been prioritized to carry out an effective control of deforestation”, the official highlighted.

What is affected by deforestation

That the forest falls affects not only the Amazon, but also Colombia in general and to the world. Not only does most of the deforestation in the reservation transform and destroy the Amazonian ecosystem from dense forest to grassland, which in turn threatens the ecosystem connectivity of Chiribiquete, but also deforestation affects the water resource, generator of ecosystem services, mainly on the pipes and streams that supply the La Tunia River, which is a main tributary of the Apaporis River.

Within the Yarí-Yaguara II reservation, there are now large open spaces of deforestation, illegal roads, and construction of houses.

Courtesy FZS

”The water that evapotranspires in the Amazon falls as rain here in Bogotá. Just like two weeks ago we were here on a pollution alert because of all the smoke that was coming from the burning. It reaches us Bogotans, but what will the people next door be like?” Leal Gómez points out.

Today, the highways that cross the Amazon put at serious risk not only the indigenous communities and local inhabitants, who try to protect these territories, but also those who in one way or another depend on them, the people of Bogota who drink water that evapotranspires in the Amazon, to the hundreds and thousands of species that are left homeless when the trees fall, and to the rivers that dry up because water no longer reaches through the tributaries affected by deforestation.

“There is no positive scenario. You always see the news and people say we’re still on time… But we really don’t have accurate data, in the Amazon the climate monitoring that we should be doing as a megadiverse country is still minimal. But of course one still travels the territory and sees sites that are still preserved, sees people working, committed communities, institutions, NGOs and says of course there is hope that this trend will be reversed, but many factors of state governance, investment commitment , that we all generate a collective conscience, which is sometimes difficult to achieve”, concludes the expert.