The fire fighting groups are well organized. All year round, these groups struggle to combat forest fires that cover thousands of hectares, with hundreds of men, equipped for these dangerous situations that sometimes last for several days. The park has a Fire-Fighting Division of ten people, which has equipment for direct (manual) and indirect (using water) fire fighting. INPARQUES and MARN receive support from the Fire Department, the Air Force, Civil Protection, National Guard, Aragua State Police Department and 12 volunteer groups including the Tragahumo (“Smoke Swallowing”) Brigades: Palmarito, Camburito, Aguas Calientes, Valle Verde, and Henri Pittier, among others. In earlier years there were many more brigades, almost 68 groups, but presently, MARN only supplies equipment for two brigades per state.
Additionally, there are Civil Protection two helicopters dedicated to fighting fires which are outfitted to use large capacities of water and are utilized when fires are very large. Ideally a larger provision of vehicles to transport fire fighting personnel and equipment will be necessary.
Fighting forest fires is an indispensable activity within the national park, but the fire prevention task also plays a very important role. Awareness campaigns which explain the causes of fires and how visitors can help prevent them are conducted through fliers given out at the entrance of the park and local radio programs, and have good results. Cleaning campaigns to eliminate possible fire producers can contribute to reducing the impact of this threat. Also, having focused patrols in those areas where unauthorized barbecues, bonfires, or religious rituals are done, especially during peak seasons, could help the situation. It is also important to renovate the observation posts and to furnish them with the necessary radio communication and alarm equipment.
Since the most important cause of forest fires in the park is intentional fires, or arson, the greatest contribution would come from identifying those people who need to be educated and, in some cases, penalized. Reforestation campaigns can be an incentive for neighboring populations to participate in the protection and restoration of areas affected by fires.
Reforested areas in the Aguas Calientes sector, Mariara
Photo: Eduardo Gonzalez
Human encroachment on the park grounds is an increasing threat, due to the immediate housing needs of the communities inside and around the protected area causing settlers to look for new places to establish a new home. Periodic censuses and timely attention to the community needs can help to solve the problem, if used to outline controlled housing programs for towns adjacent to the park or for the relocation of families that are willing to move outside the park. Therefore, in order to offer options to a growing population, it is necessary to design a Site Plan for those communities within the park and establish alliances with the Aragua State government, local municipal governments, and the Ministry of Habitat and Housing.
Hunting is not a necessity for those who practice this activity; they do not depend on hunting for their livelihood. In theory, it should not be too difficult to convince hunters to end this practice by pointing out that they are directly affecting the survival of the species that are being hunted. Acquainting the communities with each of the animals of the zone and the roles they play in the, especially the hunted animals, can help create sympathy for them (Silva and Strahl 1996, Silva and Pellegrini 1997, Pellegrini 2001).
Administrative and legal action should be taken against those who hunt illegally, but in order to do this, it will be necessary to strengthen the park personnel and their means of transportation and communication equipment to enable them to keep a constant watch on the park. Greater cooperation from other environmental institutions, like the National Guard, would contribute to a stronger institutional presence. It would also be helpful to establish communication channels with communities that allow people to provide information to authorities anonymously.
Solid waste accumulation and pollution
Waste accumulation is generally an awareness problem that can only be fought with environmental education, whether for visitors or residents of the park. Once the source of waste accumulation is eliminated, clean-up campaigns would be more effective. Explaining the consequences of improper waste disposal can increase awareness, and penalizing the violators can dissuade potential environmental law breakers.
Inadequate trash disposal and treatment in the Las Monjas dump should be solved by implementing garbage sorting programs to take advantage of recyclable materials. Treatment of the rest of the waste should not include burning. The Costa de Oro (Ocumare de la Costa) Garbage Collection Department should be able to move trash generated in the zone to nearby dumps or sanitary dumps capable of processing and better handling such waste with modern technology. Finding an overall solution to this problem is responsibility of the Costa de Oro Municipal authorities and the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources (MARN), but it also requires the collaboration and participation of the communities.
The case of El Eregüe dump is different. It is not only a chemical waste disposal site without any regulations whatsoever, but it also operates without the necessary legal authorization for this activity. The affected communities should get together and make complaints to the proper authorities, in this case, the Carabobo State Government and the San Joaquín Municipal authorities. If their demands are not answered, they should go directly to the MARN.
Water pollution in the recreational area of Las Cocuizas is a matter of public health, and this area should remain completely closed to the public while the MARN and the Ministry of Health and Social Development (MSDS) carry out the necessary analysis to identify and detect the origin of the problem and proceed to take the measures required to clean up the area.
Lack of budget and equipment, infrastructure deterioration
The root of these problems is an inadequate budget for the park. If a larger, constant flow of resources is not provided for the administration of the protected area, all of the planning and efforts of the personnel will be lost. Now that the entrance fee for pedestrians has been eliminated, the park’s ability to generate its own income has been reduced. Without a specific budget assigned to each protected area, scarce resources will continue to limit the park’s management capabilities and will bring administration activities to a standstill. Attending to the urgent needs of infrastructure, personnel, and equipment is vital for the efficient management of the park. It is also necessary to renovate the abandoned ranger posts to prevent further deterioration. Along these same lines, budget provisions should be made in order to hire new park rangers to occupy these posts.