5th Symposium on Fire and Forest Meteorology and the 2nd International Wildland Fire Ecology and Fire Management Congress

Tuesday, 18 November 2003: 4:30 PM
Engaging communities in fire fighting initiatives in the Southern Pantanal
Erika Guimarães, Conservation International do Brasil, Campo Grande, MS, Brazil
The Pantanal is the world’s largest wetland in the world (Mittermeier et al. 1997). This is a very diverse ecosystem that has an abundance of Neotropical species of plants and animals, and which makes the Pantanal one of the last wilderness areas available for endangered species.

The introduction of cattle in the region two centuries ago has also introduced fire as a management tool to renew native grasslands. The traditional knowledge concerning when fields should be burned is empirical information passed along from one generation of “Pantaneiros” (local people) to another.

Although fire became an efficient tool to improve the palatability of the pasture for cattle, it may represent a serious threat to biodiversity if used without criteria. Even economically, uncontrolled fires have caused severe damages such as the cattle deaths and fish kills (caused by contaminated water by ashes). The destruction of fences and pastures is also example of negative economical impacts that urgently require a new approach.

The impact of burning in such a complex environment is a challenge. The size of the wetland, difficulties in communication, and even local traditions, are factors that contribute to the necessity of a participatory approach to establish an effective Fire Control and Management Program in the Pantanal.

To accomplish that, Conservation International (CI) has started to implement a Fire Control Initiative through a vital partnership with IBAMA, the Fire Department, and other local institutions. This initiative is part of the implementation of CI’s Cerrado-Pantanal Biodiversity Corridor Program, supported by USAID. Our objective has been to build local capacity and engage communities to deal with fire issues.

Since 2000, we have invested efforts on creating Volunteer Fire Brigades in rural properties and in Public and Private Protected Areas along the Corridor, resulting in the training of over 1000 people. Another perspective has been an awareness campaign to communicate to the general public and decision makers about the importance of performing controlled burns as a way to mitigate the risks of forest fires.

This year we have also focused on a pilot Environmental Education Project targeting teachers from rural schools. The goal of this project is to offer them tools to discuss with their students fire usage and its implications to biodiversity from a local perspective. CI believes that this is a very important step towards reducing fire impacts in the Pantanal, since these children will manage the land in the future.

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