Forests of Hope site - Gran Chaco Forests, Paraguay
Key FoH site information
Site name: Gran Chaco Forests. A total of 11 sites have been identified in the Paraguayan Chaco.
Location: Various, depending on the site; all in Boquerón and Alto Paraguay Departments, northern and western Paraguay.
Site area: The Paraguayan Chaco covers about 250,000 km². Altogether, the 11 IBAs cover an area of approximately 2,266,100 ha.
Values of the site
The Gran Chaco is the largest dry forest in South America and the continent's most extensive forested region outside Amazonia. It is a vast plain extending from the Andes in the west to the Paraguay River in the east, covering parts of northern Argentina, western Paraguay and south-eastern Bolivia with a small area in south-western Brazil: a total of around 1 million km². The Dry Chaco covers over 17 million hectares in Paraguay, or 42 % of the national land area. The whole Gran Chaco is considered a dry forest, but there is a strong west-east rainfall gradient, with areas in the east receiving significant levels of rainfall.
The region includes wide plains, swamps, dry or seasonally flooded savannas, marshes, salt flats and a great variety of forests and scrublands including xerophytic and mesoxerophytic forest. These diverse environments support a high diversity of animal and plant species, which make the Chaco a key area for conservation.
The area is home to approximately 500 bird species, 150 species of mammals, 120 species of reptiles and 100 species of amphibians. One of the key species of mammals includes the Endangered Chacoan Peccary (or Tagua) Catagonus wagneri. Bird species found in the Chaco include Crowned Eagle Harpyhaliaetus coronatus, Black-legged Seriema Chunga burmeisteri, Greater Rhea Rhea americana, Many-coloured Chaco-finch Saltatricula multicolor, and Quebracho Crested-tinamou Eudromia formosa. The dominant vegetation of the Dry Chaco is composed of thorny shrubs and cacti, and the region is home to more than 1,335 plant species.
The region is also of great importance for a number of local and indigenous communities who depend on the forest for their livelihoods, such as the indigenous Ishir communities.
Key threats at the site include:
- Clearance for extensive cattle ranching at a rate occasionally exceeding 1000 ha a day in the Gran Chaco Forests (covering areas in Argentina, Paraguay and Bolivia)
- Cash crops for sale on international markets
- Slash and burn farming practises
- Low land prices compared to neighbouring countries
- Lack of international attention, pressure and financing
Political corruption, lack of presence of central government and governmental resources, high levels of poverty and unsolved land tenure and ownership issues exacerbate each of these threats. If forest loss continues at the current rate, the Chaco could be completely deforested outside protected areas within 20 years.
Historical conservation approach
Among the Important Bird Areas identified in the Gran Chaco, there are National Parks, Natural Private Reserves and Ramsar Sites, which are part of the Biosphere Reserves system of UNESCO; in total they cover an area of more than 1.8 million ha (about 10% of the Dry Chaco). The management and protection of these areas however has been insufficient due to the lack of funding and administrative capacity. Recently, Guyra Paraguay has been engaged through an agreement (known as the Shared Management Agreement) with the Government of Paraguay (and the World Land Trust) to co-manage three National Parks. Proposals have also existed to establish Ecological Reserves on various currently unprotected IBAs.
New conservation approach
At two different sites in the Paraguayan Chaco, Guyra Paraguay is aiming to purchase forested land with title, including an easement to maintain the forest in perpetuity, held jointly (in condominium) by Guyra Paraguay and the local indigenous community (Ishir). The condominium agreement will also delegate direct responsibility for management of 25% of the area to the Ishir from the outset and constitutional rights of access and traditional use. Guyra Paraguay will be directly responsible for management of the remaining 75% during the 20 year project life. At its end this will then be transferred to the Ishir to give them full title, conditional on the area under direct management by the Ishir retaining its forest cover through the intervening period and the commitment to maintain the forest cover in the future. There is also potential to work with two other ethnic groups who have traditionally lived in the Chaco.
The project also aims to provide an annual payment to the local community for the next 20 years for actions benefitting the Ishir community, according to their priorities, as an additional incentive to maintain the forest. A long-term conservation management fund will be set up and the community will receive training in scientific conservation management as well.
At the national level, Guyra Paraguay is working with the government to increase their presence in the area and to step up enforcement of current legislation. Guyra Paraguay has been carrying out a national information campaign to raise awareness about the very high deforestation rates and the global biodiversity importance of the Chaco region. There are also plans to promote sustainable and responsible ecotourism in the region.
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