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A Year with Aurelio Ramos


A Few Minutes With Aurelio Ramos

The Director of Conservation Programs in Latin America spent a year working in Washington

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Sometimes it takes a view from afar to see what’s right in front of you more clearly.

That’s the vision Aurelio Ramos has brought the Washington program of The Nature Conservancy for the last year. Ramos, the Conservancy’s director of conservation programs for Latin America, has been helping develop conservation strategies for Puget Sound, for Washington’s eastern sagelands, and for temperate rainforests from Washington to Alaska.

He is also facilitating an exchange of knowledge and best practices between conservationists in Washington and in the 16 countries he works with in Latin America.

“Many of the issues are the same,” he says. “In Latin America, we’ve been focusing a great deal on water security, food security and developing smart, natural infrastructure. The same issues are at work here.”

For example, he said, there are many similarities between the Conservancy’s work in the Magdalena River basin and the Conservancy’s work in Puget Sound. The Magdalena is Colombia’s principal river, flowing 950 miles from high in the mountains out to the Caribbean. Most of the country’s population lives within the land drained by the river—just like most of Washington’s population lives around Puget Sound.

Both bodies of water are important sources of food to the people who live around them, and both bodies of water are important to their regions’ economies. Both the Magdalena River and Puget Sound are in peril, and it will take region-sized solutions to save them.

Ramos stresses that enabling the surrounding communities to recognize the economic values of a clean and healthy Puget Sound, and a clean and healthy Magdalena River, will be important to creating those regional solutions.

In Latin America, Ramos has led development of the Conservancy’s water fund program. Water funds are designed to address two key issues. First, they ensure sufficient water for millions of people, for agriculture and for water-dependent industries. They also provide self-sustaining financing for watershed management and stewardship that can safeguard globally important plants and animals and ensures that nature’s benefits will continue to flow to future generations.

Since a healthy watershed reduces the costs for water treatment, these water funds have attracted voluntary investment from large water users such as water utilities and industry. Financial analysis by Conservancy staff in Latin America concluded that maintaining natural areas upstream reduces water cost and improves both water quality and availability. The city of Bogota, for instance, will soon reap the benefits of investing in watershed conservation; experts forecast that after a four-year conservation investment the city will save part of its $4.5 million annual sedimentation removal cost.

To make such a system work here in the United States, we must work to clearly identify all the people who benefit from healthy watersheds – in surprising as well as obvious ways – and then develop mechanisms to enable those people to invest in conservation to ensure that places like Puget Sound are a clean and healthy for all.

When he leaves Washington state, Ramos will take home many observations, experiences, cautionary tales and best practices. In the United States, Ramos says, we’re about 80 years ahead of Latin America, in both good and bad ways. “In Latin America, we have the opportunity now to plan very well to do conservation that works for people and nature.” 

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