Chile, conservation, Tierra del Fuego 2011

bahia lomas and delaware bay need job creating conservation projects . Tierra del Fuego 2011

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Ricardo Olea, the mayor of the district of Primavera which includes Cerro Sombrero invited us to dinner at their home to continue the discussion about our team’s future work in Bahia Lomas.  It was Ricardo that encouraged us to create the bird observatory.  He is the elected representative of an area that covers over half the island of Tierra del Fuego and works tirelessly to create job opportunities in this area.

The bird observatory could help.  We have two main goals: first to create a new protection for migrant shorebird and the endemic bird species through increased awareness and research; second to increase income to the area through increased tourism and visiting foreign researchers.   This is an area where a world-class birder can tick off some of the least-known bird species in the world.  In the hands of an observatory tour this could be done in a few days — think Magellanic oystercatcher, Rufus, and Tawny-throated dotterel or Chocolate-vented tyrant, rufus throated dotteral

 a rufus throated dotteral

But  there is much more we can do.  Until this year, we had centered our work on the survey of shorebirds and creating the observatory.  Our conversation with the mayor and his wife changed all of that.

At our dinner, and the meeting we had days earlier in the Mayor’s office, we discussed the condition of Bahia Lomas and the land.  Coming from Delaware Bay, the story of Bahia Lomas is not entirely unknown to me.  As I have written many times in my blog, I see the Delaware Bay as one of the least-appreciated and poorly managed ecosystems in the eastern US.   Most of the fisheries are over-exploited, the agricultural lands are either low-profit grains or commercial-grade vegetables and fruit employing as few people as possible.  Despite its wealth of natural resources, the Delaware Bayshore’s residents are not prospering, many are poor and property taxes are slowly converting the land to rich estates and public and private conservation land.   All this is forcing once independently-minded and proud residents out of the region or into occupations that serve the rich.

The bayshore here in Bahia Lomas is poorer, much poorer both economically and in natural resources, and the disparity between rich and poor are much greater than Delaware Bay.   Nearly all the land is owned by a few wealthy landowners who live elsewhere. The jobs that exist are either petro-based or those serving the landowners.

What can be done?  The answers to both places are remarkably similar.  Create conservation opportunities that make jobs.   I’ve written about how this could be done on Delaware Bay.  Our conversation with the Mayor and Carolina about Bahia Lomas brought forth new ideas – one of which will change the entire face of the bay.

In Chile the entire intertidal area is owned by the federal government up to 80 meters from the high tide line.  Currently, the landowners use nearly all land to graze sheep right up to the high tide line leaving most of the bayshore overgrazed and ecologically depauperate.  But the Mayor believes many of the Bahia Lomas bayshore landowners would participate in a new conservation effort to protect the 80 meter buffer.  We could begin a project that would move fences inland 80 meters creating an un-grazed strip of pampas all along the bay.  In a land where nearly every square inch is grazed this would be transformational.   The bayshore of Bahia lomas is nearly entirely grazed down to and sometimes including the intertidal area. The 80 meter buffer would extend from the highest high tide which would include mostly upland

First, there would be lush buffer ringing the bay’s intertidal areas which are already complex and diverse.  This un-grazed strip would provide a very useful wetland buffer protecting the water quality of the bay.  More importantly it would be home to many of the rare endemic species of the area that must struggle to find a bit of vegetation not grazed down to the dirt.  Finally, it would provide people with access to Bahia Lomas.  During a conversation with Angelina, the manager of the grocery in Cerro Sambrero, we described our work and why we are in town.  This fiftyish woman, who has lived her whole life in Cerro Sambrero, said  “ I have never been to the bay” .   This new project would give everyone access and truly make Bahia Lomas a national and international treasure.

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