Stories in Wisconsin

Beyond Our Borders

Rolling green hills dotted with trees.

Exploring the Deep Connections between Wisconsin and Colombia

Sabanas del Manacacías The tropical savannas of Manacacías and Orinoquia provide an important link between the Andes and the Amazon. © Federico Ríos/TNC

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For more than 30 years, The Nature Conservancy has worked with public and private partners in Colombia to protect the lands and waters that host close to 10 percent of the planet’s biodiversity. Rich in plant and animal life, Colombia ranks first in the world in bird and orchid species diversity and second in plant, butterfly, freshwater fish, and amphibian diversity.

In 2023, TNC in Wisconsin brought our work close to home, launching a formal partnership with TNC’s Colombia program to accelerate conservation action in the Orinoquia region. And, a year into the partnership, much progress has been made. 

Most notably, TNC and other partners helped establish a new 168,476-acre national park, Parque Nacional Natural Serranía de Manacacías, in the Orinoquia region—an area that connects the Andes with the vast Amazon Biome to the south. Home to many of the region’s iconic species like jaguars, tapirs, armadillos, anteaters and caiman, as well as over 460 bird species, the park is a biodiversity hotspot and a huge win for global conservation. TNC, through generous donors, was a major funder of the effort, and TNC staff assisted with land acquisitions, government relations, biodiversity reviews and other core functions that were instrumental in establishing the park.

Quote: Claudia Vásquez

It has been remarkable to see how people can come together around an effort like this—one that preserves and protects such a critical link in the biodiversity chain across the region. It’s such an exciting moment in conservation!

TNC Colombia Director

The success of Manacacías has been primarily due to the close partnerships formed between federal agencies, non-profits and private ranchers over the past decade and a half—preliminary project planning began as early as 2010 with TNC formally joining the effort seven years ago—and like many conservation projects across the globe, it has required a disruption of historic systems and a lot of trust-building. But despite the many challenges, the project’s partners are seeing their hard work pay dividends now that the park is established.

“The work hasn’t always been easy, and a project like this requires sacrifice, collaboration and an understanding of the relationships between humans and the environment,” says TNC Colombia Director Claudia Vásquez. “It has been remarkable to see how people can come together around an effort like this—one that preserves and protects such a critical link in the biodiversity chain across the region. It’s such an exciting moment in conservation!"

The Wisconsin Connection

Did you know that Colombia and Wisconsin have a lot in common? For one, we share more than 50 species of migratory birds. Other connections include similarities in our livestock and farming operations and in the conservation techniques applied in Colombian savanna landscapes and in our own oak savannas and prairies.

A group of people posing together outside of a building with a dog.
A juvenile great horned owl sitting in the moriche palm.
Two white-tailed deer bound across a grassland.
A broad-winged hawk flies past a tree.
A male American redstart singing while perched on a tree branch.
A pasture runs into the foot of forested hills and mountains in the background.
A cerulean warbler perched on a leafy branch.
A male scarlet tanager perched in a tree.
A person walking along a grassy hill.
A male bobolink on a stump with a caterpillar in his beak.

TNC in Action

Apart from assisting in setting up the park, TNC is offering training and technical assistance programs to help residents in the buffer area (the area just outside the park boundaries) develop new economic opportunities for their families and communities. TNC is also encouraging the adoption of sustainable, regenerative production practices. Since most of the region's recent economic activities have relied heavily on water and resource-intensive practices such as palm oil and eucalyptus production, as well as cattle ranching, it's important for local communities to find new, diverse, and sustainable paths to economic stability. This could mean providing employment opportunities in the park as rangers and guides for some residents, while others may use their existing skills to start new businesses and create extra sources of income.

“We are excited to be part of this great experiment in the region that is offering an alternative path forward for local ranchers, their communities and their livelihoods. By incentivizing nature-first revenue streams like beekeeping, intentional tourism and managed, rotational livestock operations, we are proving that sustainability can be a profitable path forward,” suggests Vásquez.

Other TNC-supported efforts in the buffer area are focused on regenerative agriculture practices and supporting projects like reintroducing local cattle breeds to the production system (the cattle are known for their resilience in the local environment), reducing fire risk, minimizing the use of chemicals and implementing livestock water supply systems to ensure sustainable management of natural resources.

There are so many reasons to celebrate in the Manacacías region, and TNC is committed to working with local communities to support durable, long-term conservation outcomes for today and tomorrow. 

Supporting Orinoquia and Manacacías

To help inspire others to join TNC's efforts in Colombia, a group of Wisconsin trustees and friends of The Nature Conservancy pledged $50,000 to create The Orinoquia Match Fund. Gifts between $1,000 and $10,000 designated for the Wisconsin–Colombia partnership will be matched dollar-for-dollar from the fund until the match is complete.

Of the over 50 bird species shared between Colombia and Wisconsin, more than 30 depend on the forests and grassland savannas of the Orinoquia during winter migration. All gifts designated for the Wisconsin–Colombia partnership will be used in the 500,000-acre buffer area surrounding the new Manacacías National Park to fund activities like bird surveys, field days and workshops with private landowners to introduce conservation practices that support biodiversity.

Contributions will also support two demonstration farms that serve as living examples of how people and nature can thrive together. We often share ways that our members can take action for land and water in Wisconsin. The Orinoquia Match Fund presents a unique opportunity to make a difference for a global landscape that also benefits many of the birds we know and love in our own backyards. For more information, or to make a gift to the Wisconsin–Colombia partnership, please contact Director of Development, Katy Coelho at (608) 316-6410 or


Quote: Al and Cookie Friedman

As conservationists and avid birdwatchers, we believe in the value of large-scale habitat restoration. When we learned about the Wisconsin–Colombia partnership, we quickly recognized how the relationship between Wisconsin TNC and the Manacacías National Park furthers critical habitat conservation.