General information
Summary
Description
Threats
Recommended solutions
Conclusions
References

 

 

 

   

                       Visitors throw trash along the road
                            Photo: Eduardo Gonzalez


The re-evaluation of the Henri Pittier National Park after five years has given a new perspective on its principal threats. Although they are still the same problems, in many cases their intensity has increased, giving good reason to analyze each one in more detail. The most significant threats to Henri Pittier National Park are the following:

  • Fire
  • Human encroachment
  • Solid waste build-up, pollution 
  • Hunting
  • Lack of budget and equipment
  • Deterioration of infrastructure

Fires

Forest fires are still the number one problem in the park. Year after year the area affected by fires is considerable, although the efforts to control them have increased. The campaigns to raise the awareness of those who cause fires do not seem to yield the expected results. Most forest fires are intentionally set to clear areas to build houses or barns, for farming, to make hunting easier, just for the pleasure of seeing the fire burn (pyromania), to see the fire fighters in action, or as a pressure tool for political reasons. Some forest fires are accidental They may be caused by uncontrolled bonfires or barbecues in prohibited places, religious ceremonies, or burning trash to clean up lots and paths, some of which are in government and university installations. There are also numerous fires that start in areas surrounding the park near the five military installations in Maracay, where the use of explosives and fire arms starts fires in the nearby vegetation.

             Savanna areas are the most affected by fires
                        Photo: Eduardo Gonzalez

The fires mainly affect savanna vegetation, but when they become very large they can affect the dry and deciduous forests. The following table shows the frequency of fires in the last four dry seasons:

Season

Number of
fires

Affected
area

2001 – 2002

94

906.76

2002 – 2003

93

3,512.76

2003 – 2004

104

1,196.4

2004 – 2005

88

2,833

Source: Inparques (pers. comm. 2005)


By 2001 four lookout  posts for fire detection had been built. However, these posts are not in adequate condition, nor is there the necessary equipment for the personnel. So today they are used only when an emergency occurs. A ranger or a fire fighter is taken to the post and from there he communicates the progress of the fire.

Human encroachment

A more delicate subject is the topic of illegal settlements within the park, a growing trend compared to the first evaluation. Today, a problem persists that began in 2001 when more than 40 families invaded a private estate, known as La Esmeralda, in the area of Romerito-Uraca-La Loma. The Fifth Court of Control of Aragua State, with the intervention of the Fiscal IV Ambiental, ordered the eviction of these families, however, it was not entirely successful due to their opposition and resistance. In 2005, there were still around 20 families remaining in the settlement. There was no reaction from local authorities such as the governor of the State of Aragua or the Mayor of Girardot, and recently the Supreme Court of Justice ruled in favor of the settlers allowing them to remain inside the protected area (El Universal 2001).

         

         

           Views of the invasion of Las Esmeraldas, located on the road to Choroní
                                  Photos: Eduardo Gonzalez


In towns like Cepe and Chuao, expansion has led to the occupation of areas not meant to be inhabited. Other recently colonized zones, like Tuja, represent a new set of problems, because isolated places that were not previously disturbed by human beings, are now being settled.

As the old towns (with proven historical value) within the park undergo an expected growth, and although there is migration towards the cities, part of this growing population remains in the park keeping their old customs. For this reason, it is necessary to plan development and to guarantee the right to their own space through measures in accordance with the objectives of the protected area.

Solid waste build-up, pollution

The build-up of solid waste is a problem that remains the same, but no solutions have been suggested to reduce or eliminate it. Along the sides of the roads and in places where tourists arrive, you can see improperly disposed of garbage such as paper bags, tin cans, bottles, diapers, and cigarette butts. The visitors’ lack of conscience is evident when you see people throwing garbage out the car window, or just leaving the trash in the place where they stopped. This is not justified, even though there sometimes are no trash containers. All visitors should take the trash produced during their visit with them. Due to the lack of cleaning and maintenance personnel in the free access areas of the park, the park rangers do these chores themselves.

In specific places like Las Monjas and El Eregüe, where garbage is discarded outdoors, the environmental problem is not merely visual. In El Eregüe, a dump used to discard and burn chemical waste material, the air pollution produces respiratory infections in nearby inhabitants. The remainder of this waste is absorbed into the soil, down to the water table, affecting the vegetation in the area. In Las Monjas, the type of waste is different. It is produced by the local population, and this domestic garbage leads to an uncontrolled proliferation of flies, which are well-known disease carriers (Fundación Tierra Viva n/d, Viloria 1998, PNUMA 2004).

In La Trilla Recreational Area, where there are no park rangers, there is a significant accumulation of solid waste in addition to the deterioration of the facilities. In Las Cocuizas Recreational Area, water contaminated with fecal coliform bacteria has been detected, and, up to now, access to the public is only open on weekends. The sanitation authorities have not continued the monitoring activities in order to find the origin and source of such pollution or to take the subsequent clean-up and control actions.

    

The river in "Las Cocuizas" recreation area is contaminated with fecal coliform bacteria
Photo: Eduardo Gonzalez

Hunting

Hunting is also a well-known activity for those involved with the park, which apparently has not changed much in the last five years. However, it is difficult to obtain information about its actual frequency. Hunting could be considered a sport or a recreational activity, since, although game is sold or consumed by local hunters, it does not represent a means of subsistence (Silva and Strahl 1994, Silva and Strahl 1996).

The species affected are generally: the paca, the agouti, the collared peccary, the merioa brocket and the white-tailed deer, the tapir, the puma and the jaguar. Birds like the Northern helmeted curassow, the chachalaca and other cracids among others are also affected (Silva and Strahl 1994, Silva and Strahl 1996). The paca is most affected, and it is sold in some restaurants of nearby towns.

Lack of budget and equipment, deterioration of infrastructure

Another problem that has grown since the first evaluation is related to the park’s administration and budget. There is an inadequate supply of equipment and poor maintenance of the entire infrastructure. Most of the facilities inside the park are deteriorating quickly and the ranger posts that were built in 2000, with World Bank funds, are abandoned. These posts never even began to operate because the absence of a budget hindered the hiring of new rangers. The present number of rangers is insufficient to guard the park’s area of over 100,000 ha.

The facilities in several recreational areas are run down and have very few services to offer. Often, the rest rooms are closed to the public, as is the case in La Trilla and El Polvorín, or have been looted, as is the case in Las Cocuizas.

The administration has only one vehicle which was originally assigned to the fire control program. Therefore, it can be used only during the rainy season, since it is used to fight forest fires during the dry season. Additionally, there is a lack of communication equipment, an office, and general supplies that limits the activities and efficient performance of those who work in the park. In some cases, the employees themselves have had to contribute personal income to cover immediate expenses. 


    
Lack of staff is the cause of empty and deteriorating guard posts, such as the one in Choroní (above), which was recently built with funds from the World Bank. La Trilla guard post (below) is also abandoned

    

Photos: Eduardo Gonzalez

 

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