With the recent declarations of the Bajo Paraguá Municipal Protected Areas in San Ignacio de Velasco and Concepción municipalities, a critical conservation corridor has been strengthened in eastern Bolivia. The Bajo Paraguá Municipal Protected Area in San Ignacio, created on February 12th, spans a massive 2,429,061 acres (983,006 ha) of Chiquitano and Amazonian forest. Located to the northwest of this area, the Bajo Paraguá-Concepción Municipal Conservation Area, declared on March 16th, protects an additional 381,452 acres (154,368 ha) of Amazonian, Chiquitano and floodplain forests, along with a variety of aquatic ecosystems.
The creation of the Bajo Paraguá areas secures a connectivity corridor that spans over 10 million acres, including the Noel Kempff Mercado National Park, a UNESCO world heritage site, to the east, and Copaibo Municipal Reserve and the Rio Blanco y Negro Wildlife Refuge to the west. These protected areas form an important barrier in the fight against deforestation in the Chiquitano ecosystem, which saw a loss of 10% of its tree cover in less than two decades and has been severely impacted by fires in recent years (Mongabay).
The predominant ecosystems of Bajo Paraguá are Chiquitano dry forests, which have a rich flora and fauna that mix elements of the Amazon and Chaco ecosystems. At least 256 species of trees have been identified in the region, including the big leaf Mahogany (Swietenia macrophylla), the Acai palm (Euterpe oleracea), the Motacú palm (Attalea phalerata), and the guapá (Guadua spp), among others. Furthermore, close to 1,300 species of vertebrates have been registered, including the South American tapir (Tapirus terrestris), white-lipped peccary (Tayassu pecari), and the marsh deer (Blastocerus dichotomus). Some of these are rare or highly endangered elsewhere. The area is also vital for jaguar (Panthera onca) reproduction, a strong reason to maintain the ecological integrity of this forest.
Whereas the new Concepción protected area is a wilderness without human settlements, the Bajo Paraguá area in San Ignacio also has a significant cultural value. It is home to five indigenous communities comprising 1,170 inhabitants from the Chiquitano and Guarasug’we groups, forest-based peoples whose territory overlaps with about a quarter of the area. The protection of this ecosystem helps to ensure their continued livelihoods based on sustainable use of forest resources.
“There are many benefits that we, as inhabitants, can receive from this municipal protected area, and it is clear that there will be many more benefits than restrictions for the development of the people of the area. Obviously among them is the conservation of the very interesting forest in the area. The conservation of its natural resources also means having the opportunity in the future for us to continue developing both economically and socially while continuing to have environmental benefits.“
-Rolvis Perez Rivera, member of the Porvenir indigenous community in Bajo Paraguá – San Ignacio
The declaration of the two new Bajo Paraguá Municipal Protected Areas was made possible through a collaboration between the Municipal Governments of San Ignacio de Velasco and Concepción, AAF grantee Fundación Natura Bolivia, the ECCOS Project led by the Foundation for the Conservation of the Chiquitano Forest (FCBC) and the Departmental Government of Santa Cruz. A special thank you in particular to the local leaders whose initiative led to the creation of these important protected areas. AAF’s financial support for this project was provided by the Wyss Foundation and by proceeds from the painting Japanese Garden 3 by Jonas Wood, as part of the Art into Acres project via Global Wildlife Conservation.