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Lending Nature a Helping Hand in Brazil's Atlantic Forest


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"Ultimately, we would like to take the best ideas from the work we are doing in the Cachoeira reservoir and use them to reforest all of the degraded riparian areas in the Cantareira water system."

Aurélio Padovezi
The Nature Conservancy's restoration coordinator for the Atlantic Forest and Central Savannas Program

By Cate Harrington

How do you restore 865 acres of tropical forest that have been grazed by cattle for at least 20 years? You start by giving nature a helping hand, said Aurélio Padovezi.

Padovezi, the Conservancy’s restoration coordinator for the Atlantic Forest and Central Savannas Program, is working with a local community, state government and the São Paulo State Basic Sanitation Company (SABESP) to restore a portion of Brazil’s Atlantic Forest — some of the most biologically diverse forest in the world.

In the first year of the project, restoration efforts are underway on 117 acres along the shoreline of the Cachoeira reservoir. This reservoir is one of six in the Cantareira Water System, which is the primary source of water for nearly nine million people in Brazil’s São Paulo metropolitan area.

The water system is part of the Piracicaba-Capivari-Jundiaí watershed where the Conservancy has been working, with support from the Great Rivers Partnership, to improve water quality and quantity by restoring and preserving forests along streams.

Wildlife and Local Community Key to Restoring Forest

Padovezi’s plan for restoring the forest is fairly simple. In areas where there is a strong likelihood that the forest will re-establish itself naturally or with a little help once the cattle have been removed, the Conservancy is utilizing a specific set of management actions to encourage this natural regeneration.

“One of the exciting things about this project,” said Padovezi, “is the opportunity to utilize this self-regeneration technique. We are enlisting wildlife such as birds and bats to help us by building artificial perches to promote seed dispersal from remnant areas to the restoration area.”

Other self-regeneration techniques include:

  • removing invasive species to eliminate competition with native species;
  • transporting small amounts of topsoil that contain microorganisms, seeds and pollen of pioneer plant species from remnant areas to the restoration site; and
  • collecting seeds and other debris that rain down in neighboring forest remnants and transporting this “seed rain” to the degraded areas.

In areas where self-regeneration is not possible, the Conservancy will plant thousands of tree seedlings. More than 70 different species are being grown by the Conservancy’s partner SABESP in their nurseries.

A mapping study of the region, undertaken in 2008, used information on historic and current use of the land, proximity of surrounding forest remnants and invasive species occurrences to identify which lands fell into each category.

A plant and animal survey, also completed in 2008, is helping Padovezi decide which species to plant in the restoration area. It will also provide a baseline against which the Conservancy can measure its progress as restoration proceeds.

People from the local community of Piracaia are doing most of the restoration work in the Cachoeira project area. About 30 percent of the adults in the community are involved in some way in the project.

“This is a poor region of Brazil,” said Padovezi, “and the Cachoeira restoration project is providing good jobs and important income to the community. For many of the adults, agriculture is their livelihood, and those skills are translating well to this kind of work.”

Forest Restoration Will Help Combat Climate Change

Funding for the first three years of the restoration project is provided by a $1.5 million grant from The Dow Chemical Company through its charitable foundation.

One of the Conservancy’s and Dow’s goals for the project, in addition to the biodiversity and water quality benefits it provides, is mitigating the impacts of climate change by helping restore forests that store carbon. When all of the land in the Cachoeira project area have been restored, it is expected the forests will sequester about 100,000 tons of carbon dioxide over 30 years.

The Conservancy is in the process of developing a carbon fund for the Cachoeira project that will allow investors to purchase carbon credits to offset their corporate emissions. Each carbon credit generated by the project, sold in the voluntary market and certified by the Climate, Community and Biodiversity standard (CCB), will be used to finance forest restoration.

The Conservancy is also exploring another way to capitalize the fund with its partner, SABESP — São Paulo’s water company. The idea is to have SABESP’s approximately nine million customers contribute to the fund as part of their monthly water bills. By reaching millions of citizens who are directly affected by the condition of the watershed that provides their drinking water, the partners could raise a significant amount of funding to invest in conservation.

“Ultimately, we would like to take the best ideas from the work we are doing in the Cachoeira reservoir and use them to reforest all of the degraded riparian areas in the Cantareira water system,” said Padovezi. “It’s an ambitious goal, but with support from companies like Dow Chemical and partners like SABESP, the Environmental Agency of São Paulo State, the people of São Paulo and local communities, I believe we can succeed.”

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