BirdLife: The Magazine September 2017 - Page 44

TREES OF LIFE TURNING THE PARK INTO A MULTIPLE- USE AREA WOULD DOWNGRADE ITS PROTECTION TO VIRTUALLY NONE Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network Site of International Importance was declared a National Park in 1986. However, despite all the credits, why is the government now having sec- ond thoughts about whether it deserves to retain its National Park status? Private landowners, who own 40 percent of the park, are suddenly pushing to turn it into a multiple-use area, which would essentially mean downgrading its protection status to vir- tually none. A suspicious move, given previous attempts at development projects in the area. “Lagoa do Peixe is one of the top two most important sites for shorebirds in Brazil, and among the most important on the Atlantic coast of southern South America. It has all the pre-requisites for a National Park, according to Brazilian legislation. It is outrageous to think of lessening its protection category”, says Pedro Develey, CEO, SAVE Brasil. In the early 2000s, a plan for the construction of a mining site south of the park was announced. Prosecutors blocked the development but the project was recently revived, and even man- aged to acquire the first of three environmen- tal licences. Simultaneously, a 19,000 ha wind power farm is also being planned, and is cur- rently undergoing the Environmental Impact Assessment process. DEFORESTATION BY DECREE A scandal of shocking proportions is brewing in broad daylight as a number of protected areas in Brazil risk being degazetted in the name of economic growth Irene Lorenzo O cean, rivers and lakes have shaped the landscape in Lagoa do Peixe National Park, Southern Brazil. Over 36,000 hectares showcase a patchwork of unique landscapes: from freshwater and salt lagoons to grasslands, floodplains, marshes and sand dunes. The breeze of the Atlantic Ocean welcomes tens of thou- sands of migratory birds every year during their travels between North America and Patagonia. 44 Throughout spring, the brackish lagoons become a natural shrimp nursery, fished in sum- mer by a restricted number of nearby villagers, following quotas agreed with the National Park authorities. The ocean currents in winter inun- date the land with saltwater, creating unique ecosystems also cherished by shorebirds such as Red Knot Calidris canutus and Buff-breasted Sandpiper Calidris subruficollis (both Near BIRDLIFE • SEPTEMBER 2017 Lagoa do Peixe National Park. Photo Jackson Muller 2 Threatened). The latter travel all the way from the tip of Siberia and Alaska to the fields sur- rounding Lagoa do Peixe, their favourite winter- ing area, alongside a couple of others in Uruguay and Argentina. Researchers found they spend 150-200 days in the park every year and over 60 per cent return and stay there in following years. Their return depends on the height of the grass- lands, maintained by cattle grazing. For this reason, SAVE Brasil (BirdLife in Brazil) and col- laborators have been working to protect the grasslands, surveying Buff-breasted Sandpiper populations and carrying out on-the-ground conservation actions. Given its importance for migratory birds in the Atlantic, it comes as no surprise that this Important Bird & Biodiversity Area (IBA), Ramsar Site, UNESCO Biosphere Reserve and Western SEPTEMBER 2017 • BIRDLIFE While for now legislation seems to be keeping those projects blocked, environmentalists fear it won’t be for long. To counteract these develop- ments, SAVE Brasil and the Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network are working on an emergency action plan to gather international support to back the Federal Environmental Insti- tutions that have vowed to defend the area’s National Park status. It’s a race against the clock, as industrial and economic pressure is driving political decisions in Brazil. NATIONAL OUTCRY In the midst of unprecedented political and eco- nomic turmoil, the Brazilian government is tak- ing daunting steps towards weakening environ- mental legislation — and Lagoa do Peixe is only one of the many parks affected. As Brazil is among the most biodiverse countries in the world, there’s been a wide national outcry by national civil society organisations and indig- enous peoples, against what has been inter- preted as one of the largest setbacks in environ- ment policies in the country, if not globally. IT IS ONE OF THE LARGEST SETBACKS IN ENVIRONMENTAL POLICIES IN THE COUNTRY, IF NOT GLOBALLY Just last month, the Brazilian government scrapped the huge National Reserve of Copper and Associates in the Amazon, a protected area larger than the size of Denmark. The motive: to allow the mining of manganese, iron, gold and 45