The Grasslands Alliance: protecting the natural pampas grasslands of South America
The Southern Cone of South America is home to the unique natural Pampas grasslands that stretch across Uruguay and into Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay.
As agriculture, forestry, roads and urbanization brought economic development to the vast grasslands of South America, the area of this important ecosystem was reduced by half. Luckily, ranchers and conservationists are joining forces to save these vital lands.
The introduction of cattle in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries began a sustained change to the wildlife of the grasslands. Once roaming in their millions, Pampas deer populations were now missing from large areas of the region, and overgrazing meant the loss of habitat for many species of birds.
More intensive production, like agriculture and forestry, has caused even greater destruction of natural grasslands. This change in land use has increased significantly in recent years with the rise in value of agricultural products, led by soybeans and corn, and forestry, mainly with eucalyptus and pine trees.
In the past, these grasslands occupied an area of 100 million hectares, ranging from Rio Grande do Sul, Argentina to southern Paraguay and Uruguay. Today, the remaining 50 million hectares of natural grasslands are home to 540 recorded wild bird species, 12 of which are globally threatened, such as the Saffron-cowled Blackbird , Black-and-White Monjita and Pampas Meadowlark (all Vulnerable to extinction). Among them are species of migratory birds that make long migrations annually, linking the North American prairies with the pampas of South America.
Recognizing the global importance of conserving natural grasslands for biodiversity, BirdLife International and its partners in the Americas decided that they must do more to promote conservation action in the Southern Cone.
In 2006, they launched the first South American regional initiative for the conservation of natural grasslands: the Southern Cone Grasslands Alliance, led by BirdLife International and executed through local partners Aves Argentina, Guyra Paraguay, SAVE Brazil and Aves Uruguay.
The Grassland Alliance work with different governmental and non-governmental sectors to achieve sustainable levels of agriculture and forestation. Together, they continually promote social development, economic growth and nature conservation, with the provision of environmental goods and services.
In the Southern Cone, 95% of the grasslands are privately owned. Farmers face huge financial pressure to convert their native grasslands into crops to make more money over the short term, or to sell their land to industrial-scale agricultural giants.
These grasslands now represent one of the most critically endangered ecosystems in Latin America, yet provide one of the richest grazing areas in the world and are home to hundreds of bird species.
The Grassland Alliance came together to counter the pressures faced by private owners, coordinating the work of four BirdLife Partners – Aves Argentinas, Guyra Paraguay, Aves Uruguay and SAVE Brasil – ranchers, and their business partners.
The result of years of work, the bird-friendly beef certification system awards farms that conserve at least 50% of their original landscape. The meat is sold at higher prices since ranchers must also ensure farmers follow good practices such as feeding cattle with high quality food and water, and providing the cows with enough shade and shelter.
Great news for the Gran Chaco, South America’s second largest forest and home to a host of rare and threatened species. This year, a major national park in Argentina will expand its size by almost 50% – benefiting both wildlife and local livelihoods.
The vast Gran Chaco, South America’s second largest intact forest after the Amazon, is home to a wealth of endemic, resident and migratory birds. Deforestation and fragmentation are having a devastating impact, but co-ordinated conservation efforts extending way beyond its boundaries are beginning to produce results.