- Authorities are fighting an outbreak of forest fires in the Chiquitania region of eastern Bolivia.
- Satellite data shows that the fires have intensified over the past two weeks and are invading protected areas.
- The fires destroy habitat spared by the extreme fire season in Bolivia in 2019.
- Forest fires in Bolivia are often associated with fires for agriculture, and satellite data and images show recent fires on agricultural land that directly preceded the nearby fires that spread into the protected forest.
Two years ago, a fire ravaged the Tucavaca Valley Municipal Wildlife Reserve in the heart of Bolivia’s Chiquitania region, wiping out thousands of square kilometers of habitat. Today that threat has returned, with fires once again raging in the reserve and surrounding areas.
The Tucavaca Valley is located in the municipality of Roboré near the Bolivian border with Brazil. Designated in 2000 and covering some 262,300 hectares, the Tucavaca Valley Municipal Reserve encompasses a significant portion of the Chiquitano Dry Forest ecoregion, which is home to the sources of the rivers that feed the larger region, including the area. humid Pantanal in Bolivia.
Alarms were sounded on August 1 when fires broke out along a highway just south of the reserve and, driven by high winds, quickly got out of hand. Three days later, the fire entered the Tucavaca Valley reserve. The authorities of the municipality of Roboré, helped by those of the regional and federal governments, took action and were able to contain this particular fire. But satellite data from the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NAS) shows more fires have started and spread to the Tucavaca Valley Preserve and other protected areas in the region, such as than the San Matiás Integrated Management Natural Area (ANMI), engulfing forest and other habitat as they grow.
Most fires in Bolivia are caused by agricultural burning to clear the land and make it more suitable for cultivation. In July 2019, then-President Evo Morales approved an amendment to Supreme Decree 26075 on Permanent Forest Production Land that would increase the amount of land demarcated for agro-industry in the departments of Beni and Santa Cruz. The decree authorizes the clearing of land for agricultural activities in private and community areas that operate under an integrated system that combines sustainable management of forests and resources. It also allows controlled burning in accordance with current regulations.
Despite the current fire crisis and the high risk of subsequent eruptions, data and satellite images show fires burning in areas used for industrial agriculture immediately surrounding the Tucavaca Municipal Wildlife Reserve and the San Matiás ANMI. .
“The fire entered the protected area of the Tucavaca Valley and spread to the foothills of the mountain range…. In the protected area, the fire is located inside a canyon, which makes access difficult and prevents us from reaching it, ”said Richard Rivas, director of the municipal reserve of the Tucavaca valley. , in Mongabay in early August when they were fighting the first fire in the reserve.
Chiquitano is the world’s largest area of healthy dry forest ecosystem and one of the most biologically diverse. Jaguar (Panthera onca) roam its sparse jungle and grasslands, just like cougars (Puma concolor), giant armadillos (Periodontes maximus), tapirs (Tapirus terrestris), ocelots (Leopardus pardalis) and maned wolves (Chrysocyon brachyurus). The ecoregion is still relatively little studied, but scientists suspect that it contains species that do not live anywhere else in the world.
Deputy Minister of Civil Defense Juan Carlos Calvimontes added that a team of experts had been deployed to help contain the spread of the fires.
“Yes, we are aware of the fire, and it is being dealt with, as are all the fires that have started in Santa Cruz,” Calvimontes said.
The fires are destroying habitat in areas that escaped Bolivia’s unprecedented 2019 fire season, when 3.6 million hectares burned – an area the size of Taiwan.
The risk management director of the municipality of Roboré, Luis Fernando Mendoza, said an intervention command had been established in the community of El Naranjal, 70 kilometers (43 miles) from Roboré. Mendoza said they are able to support responders with special clothing, but lack other resources that would allow firefighters to fight fires more effectively and safely.
“It’s hard work and we need support to provide all the necessary personal protective equipment. The office of the governor of Santa Cruz provided us with clothes and tools because we had nothing, and the budget of the office of the mayor of Roboré is now low, ”Mendoza said.
The Tucavaca Municipal Wildlife Reserve is one of the few community-facilitated protected areas in Bolivia, according to Rivas.
“It was [established] at the request of local residents who wanted the highlands and the Tucavaca valley to be protected, ”Rivas said.
For local residents, the Tucavaca Municipal Wildlife Reserve is not only a source of water, but also a source of livelihood. To complement small-scale agriculture, families living in the communities of Santiago de Chiquitos, Roboré, Chochís and Aguas Calientes receive income from tourists drawn to the natural attractions of the region. The COVID-19 pandemic had already made a big dent in the region’s ecotourism industry, and residents fear the fires could make matters worse.
This story was reported by Mongabay’s Latam team and first posted on our Latam site August 7, 2021.
Banner image: Forest fire in the municipality of Roboré. Image of Maria Valarde.
Editor’s Note: This story was fueled by Places to Watch, a Global Forest Watch (GFW) initiative designed to quickly identify forest loss around the world and catalyze further investigation of these areas. Places to Watch relies on a combination of near real-time satellite data, automated algorithms and field intelligence to identify new areas on a monthly basis. In partnership with Mongabay, GFW supports data-driven journalism by providing data and maps generated by Places to Watch. Mongabay maintains full editorial independence over stories reported using this data.
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