-Amy Pocewicz, Wyoming Landscape Ecologist
The Amazon is a long way from Wyoming: What's the connection?
It is not only far, but also very different – the Amazon receives more rain in one month than Wyoming does in a year. Yet in both places Conservancy staff work with private landowners on conservation projects that protect lands and water. In Brazil, that work is focused on helping landowners to comply with a Brazilian law meant to protect forests and water supplies.
Both places are also seeing new development. It may be energy development in Wyoming and soybean farms and hydroelectric dams in Brazil, but in both places the Conservancy is working with agriculture, industry and government to find ways to continue to meet conservation goals as new development proceeds.
Tell us about your recent visit to Brazil. What surprised you the most?
I spent 5 weeks in the Brazilian Amazon, where I spent time in the Conservancy’s Amazon program office in Belém, traveled to see the Amazon River, several of its large tributaries, and two protected forest areas complete with giant kapok trees, monkeys, caimans and countless colorful birds.
The size of the Amazon’s rivers is impossible to describe. There are dolphins and ocean ships more than 500 miles upstream from the ocean. In Belém, near the coast, the rivers rise and fall by 15 feet each day with the tides –the direction of the river reverses!
But what surprised me the most was how much of the eastern Amazon is no longer forested. I spent 10 hours in a car with colleagues, bumping across potholed highways on our way from Belém to the small town of São Félix do Xingu, and the only forest I saw was in small patches. That was depressing.
When you look at a map of forest cover for the eastern Amazon, you quickly see that most of the large areas of remaining forest are limited to national parks or indigenous lands. It made me think of what has happened to the grasslands of the Great Plains. Once large expanses of forests or grasslands are gone it is very challenging to bring them back on the same scale.
What is the Amazon's greatest conservation challenge—and what is The Nature Conservancy doing about it?
Deforestation still tops the list. Forests continue to be cleared for cattle ranching, soybeans and other crops. The Conservancy works a lot with indigenous communities to empower them to manage and protect their forest lands.
The Amazon program is also establishing forest carbon pilot projects that could prevent deforestation of millions of acres and developing incentives for compliance with Brazil’s Forest Code law that says 80% of a property should remain forested.
The Conservancy is helping farmers and ranchers to comply with the Forest Code, and I was pleased by how many ranchers had shown up at a meeting in São Félix do Xingu to study maps of their properties with Conservancy staff and plan for where they should protect or restore their forests.
The rivers themselves are also changing. Three large hydroelectric dams are in the planning stages on a major tributary to the Amazon, the Tapajós River, to help meet power demands in São Paulo, Latin America’s largest metro area with 20 million people.
The Conservancy’s Amazon program is working alongside several other groups through the Great Rivers Partnership to ensure that these dams are constructed in a way that is equitable to the environment and local residents.
What’s next for your fellowship?
Over the next year, I will work part-time with the Conservancy’s Amazon program to help them understand how land use changes, through new dams or increased agriculture, could affect watershed health in a portion of the Tapajós River Basin.
Our goals are to identify priorities for watershed protection or restoration and to assess how enforcement of Brazil’s Forest Code could improve watershed conditions in the basin. I am very excited about this opportunity to learn more about aquatic systems and hopefully apply these new skills back in Wyoming.