In Tierra del Fuego, in the Magallanes and Chilean Antarctic region, the UN-REDD project, supported by UN Environment Chile is restoring native forests affected by the Canadian beaver. To date, and with a total of 22,696 plants, the 27 hectares contemplated in the project have been reforested, in addition to developing activities that consider the construction of exclusion fences for domestic cattle; individual protection for all plants and planting in groups of 40 plants, among others.
The project "Restitution of ecological processes through the restoration of the forests in areas affected and abandoned by beavers (Castor canadensis) in Tierra del Fuego", has sought to implement a pilot plan for the restoration of ecological processes and lost functions in areas of forests that have been affected by the presence of beavers on the island of Tierra del Fuego, in order to obtain results that allow the positive development of the scaling up of these measures as a contribution to the National Strategy for Climate Change and Vegetational Resources (ENCCRV) being developed by the National Forestry Corporation (CONAF).
For the first time, authorities from the three United Nations agencies involved in UN-REDD: Juan José Ferrando, REDD+ Coordinator for Latin America (UN Environment), Claudia Mojica, resident representative of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and Jaime Valdés, SIMEFF National Coordinator, from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), together with José Manuel Rebolledo, Executive Director of the National Forestry Corporation (CONAF), traveled to the region to learn about the project's progress.
"This project is part of our National Strategy for Climate Change and Vegetational Resources, which is related to generating actions to reduce forest degradation and soil degradation, precisely linked to protecting forests for carbon sequestration and mitigating the effects of climate change," said José Manuel Rebolledo, Executive Director of CONAF.
For his part, Juan José Ferrando, Latin America Coordinator for UN-REDD (UN Environment Programme), said that: "From the UN-REDD Programme we are very interested in understanding how CONAF, the Government of Chile, local actors, NGOs, and private owners are working, in a coordinated manner, to reduce and control the population of beavers, and at the same time, remedy and restore the impacts that these beaver dams have caused in the region".
A solution that became a problem
According to Ferrando, the beaver was brought from Canada in 1946 by the Argentinean Navy with the aim of enriching the local fauna, which had been degraded in previous years. Local fauna was hunted and there was a lack of control over the exploitation of these resources.
"They brought 20 beavers and released them in Lake Fagnano, with the aim of creating a fur industry that later did not receive much attention. The beaver can now be found in an environment without predators and gradually begins to settle on the island, and because it has a kind of forest that does not resist flooding, it begins to generate a drastic impact on the areas it floods, causing hypoxia in the surrounding species," he said.
Likewise, CONAF Executive Director, José Manuel Rebolledo added that "The beaver, like forest fires, damages the forests and, therefore, it is tremendously important for us to look for ways to restore these forests that we are losing and, in this way, be able to continue capturing carbon and improve the quality of life of the people.”
Pilot areas and innovative plans
The Karukinka Park in Tierra del Fuego is one of the pilot areas of the project, in which 15 hectares of forest affected by the beaver were restored. Alejandro Kusch, the Research Coordinator of the Wildlife Conservation Society Chile (WCS), who supervises the activities in the Karukinda Park, points out that in Tierra del Fuego, associated with environments damaged by the beaver, there had been no ecological restoration, only some hunting. So far, no thought had been given to the landscape, the watershed, the watercourse and how to recover the native vegetation there.
"In parallel, the WCS in Karukinka has a beaver control program, which we also implement elsewhere. The idea is to bring together the two projects or the two activities. On the one hand, the threat is removed, on the other hand, ecological restoration is done," added Kusch.
The project developed by CONAF seeks to implement a pilot plan for restoring ecological processes and lost functions in affected areas of the forest, which has included planting of groups of 40 lenga plants grown in the nursery from CONAF professionals in the region, individual protection for all the plants, and the design of protections built with wooden trunks that were already damaged.
Judith Walcott, in charge of Safeguards at UNEP – WCMC explained that "From the beginning, this project has had a very important focus on ensuring that, throughout the preparation and also implementation phase, social and environmental safeguards are applied, ensuring that the implementation of specific measures will enhance social and environmental co-benefits or benefits, for example, ecosystem services, project governance, and the gender approach, among others; while avoiding or mitigating potential risks".
With the implementation of the activities developed within the framework of this project, CONAF sought to make concrete contributions to the important mission of preventing these areas, which were once forests, from quickly and irreversibly becoming cattle grazing areas, thus reducing the expansion of cattle farming into the interior of the area's forests and increasing the fragmentation of the landscape.