Threats to Iberá
Many are the actions endangering the biodiversity of the Iberá. Listed below is a description of the measures taken by CLT to work on minimizing the threats:
Poaching: For many years the hunting of species for their meat and especially their skin was the greatest threat to biodiversity conservation in Iberá. In the wetlands, the “mariscadores” (local hunters) intensely persecuted otters, capybaras and caimans, amongst many others, to the point of extinction in Iberá. With the creation of the Provincial Reserve, poaching controls were enforced and many hunters became park rangers. As a consequence some species began to recover their population numbers and today they are frequently sighted. Currently, in spite of the fact that the past hunting activity has stopped, some isolated poaching still occurs, mainly by "sport hunters" who pay large sums of money for trophies, especially marsh deer.
CLT is actively working to restore to Iberá those species that became extinct and have no chance of achieving healthy population numbers on their own, such as the pampas deer, the giamt anteater, the collared peccary, the tapir, the green-winged macaw, the barefaced curassow and the jaguar.
Overstocking of cattle: While this is one of the productive activities that can coexist with the natural values of the region, for it generally takes place on natural grasslands with no replacement of these environments, sometimes animal loads that are greater than the fields can support are registered, causing not only ecosystem degradation but also bringing extra competition for space and food for the native herbivores such as the pampas deer and the brocket deer. Additionally, natural grasslands are beginning to be replaced with pasture crops in some sectors, with which the native flora and fauna disappear almost completely.
CLT advocates for the implementation of sustainable livestock management practices in Iberá in the same way they have been implemented in other parts of the country and for certification systems of this type of production which will allow access into demanding and environmentally responsible markets.
Controlled intentional fires on the CLT fields
Recurring fires: Fires are a natural process in Iberá and they are linked to the dynamics of this ecosystem. However, to obtain tender grasses every year, the fields are usually burned too often and this causes natural environments to lose their ability to recover or they are burned during the wildlife breeding season generating losses in broods and offspring.
Intentional controlled fires are periodically lit on the CLT fields, taking into consideration natural recovery times of the burned grasslands and the breeding seasons of flora and fauna on them.
Landscape changes due to forestry plantations: These plantations, which take place on land previously used for cattle farming, cover tens of thousands of hectares in the Iberá Reserve and are continuously advancing. In planted areas, vegetation cover and fauna are completely wiped out and nearby bodies of water dry up due to the abundant water demand caused by the water consumption of the pine and eucalyptus trees. The Elliotis pine is also grown for the extraction of resin in a process where very toxic chemicals and large amounts of bags and wires, which are eventually left lying on the ground, are used. There are some regulations that have been issued in order to minimize these impacts, such as the prohibition to replace certain native woodlands by plantations and the requirement to leave an unplanted strip around the water bodies. However, these measures are insufficient and rarely met.
At CLT we are working to prevent plantations on the Iberá reserve to progress any further and to make sure that increased restrictions are implemented from an environmental point of view on those areas which have already been planted. Additionally we are working to improve the existing regulations enforcement methods which should be carried out by the relevant provincial authority.
Industrial pine plantation in Iberá
Invasion of pine trees: A major problem associated with plantations is when trees grow out of human control and become prolific. This happens very often with the Elliotis pine due to its great ability to become feral and invade natural environments. Pines can be seen growing several kilometers away from the plantations in many sectors of Iberá. If not properly controlled, these pines start to reproduce and establish new plantations, making grasslands disappear together with its flora and fauna.
At CLT we believe the existing Elliotis pine plantations should be replaced by other pine species which are not prolific or less prolific, as well as introducing management techniques to prevent the invasion (e.g. developing curtains of non-invasive species on the periphery of the Ellotis pine plantations). We also believe that the costs resulting from the control of pines that "escape" from the plantations and become invaders must be paid by forestry companies.
Other exotic species: Pines are not the only invasive exotic species that represent a serious threat to Iberá. Other species of plants which have spread to natural environments are the Chinaberry and the Chinese privet which were introduced either to provide shade or for decoration around stalls and houses. Unlike pine, these species do not invade pastures invading the native forest islets instead and replacing in few years the native trees, reducing the richness of the Parana jungles and “espinal” forests and leaving them without their characteristic flora and fauna.
At CLT we are developing strong eradication efforts of these two species in all our private reserves.
Pigs and axis: The most problematic invasive exotic animals are the feral pigs and axis deer. The feral pig is globally the most worrying invasive mammal: it can already be found in almost all Iberá and it continues to move quickly to new areas where it does not yet inhabit. Feral pigs destroy soil and vegetation due to their rooting habits and it has been proven that it preys on many native animals, including baby capybaras, pampas deer and swamp deer. Not only does it cause serious impacts on the environment but also on production systems and human health. The axis deer is present throughout the Southeast sector of the Iberá where it has an impact on vegetation and competes with and displaces the native herbivores.
A control program to reduce the number of these two species as well as their impact is carried out. To achieve this, trained staff hunts them and new control methods are being introduced. Some of these methods have already proven to be successful in other parts of Argentina, such as hunting on baited sites from blinds, and more novel ones such as capture by means of corral traps. Regarding feral pigs especially, we are looking to lead a control process at a regional level, uniting efforts with the state, other environmental NGOs and farmers.
Exotic species of Iberá. Click to enlarge.
Problems with water:
As in any large wetland, water dominates the landscape and sustains biodiversity in Iberá. Human activities that take place in the area affect its waters through contamination with chemicals (pesticides and fertilizers) and through the modification of its natural drainage which is a result of the construction of embankments and canals.
For example, the forestry industry not only replaces Iberá threatened grasslands and its associated wildlife but, in order to develop the pine plantations it builds artificial canals that dry up the grasslands. The high water consumption rates of these forestry species finish the drying job, turning the wetland into "productive" land.
Extracting the resin of the Elliotti pines is a very common activity in Iberá which is done to increase the profitability of the plantations in between loggings. The resin is extracted from scarring the bark and collecting it in bags that hang from the tree trunk; these bags are then sold. To stimulate the production of the resin, highly polluting chemicals such as sulphuric acid, which affect the soil and waters of Iberá, are used. The activity also produces great amounts of waste (bags, wires) that are left lying on the fields. It also involves a high movement of people, often accompanied by dogs. Furthermore, the forestry industry uses large quantities of pesticides to fight ants; these remain in the environment for a long time and eventually end up polluting the water.
Plantations of rice which require large amounts of water for irrigation still persist in the Iberá basin. In the past, pumping water from lakes and marshes was done illegally. Currently, the main impacts of this agricultural activity on the waters of Iberá are related to the use of fertilizers and pesticides, which are often sprayed from an aircraft ending up in the watercourses and waterbodies of the wetland.
Illegal embankment built in Iberá
The main impact that cattle farming has on the waters of Iberá is related to the construction of extensive embankments from the periphery to the center of the wetlands, which are placed perpendicularly to the flow of the water. While these embankments provide elevated areas to shelter the cattle they also disrupt the flow of water, creating drier areas downstream for animals to graze. This replaces the typical vegetation of humid areas by another one more characteristic of drier places. Furthermore, water accumulates on the other side of the embankment causing increased water levels which flood dry surfaces occupied by forests and jungles (which therefore disappear) as well as fields used by the locals, negatively affecting their way of life.
CLT has already taken legal action to end the illegal water pumping and embankment construction in Iberá. We are also working on “good practice” proposals for the forest industries working in this basin in order to limit the extraction of resin, the use of pesticides and the construction of canals which dry the flooded grasslands.