Everything’s on Fire: Devastation in Argentina’s Paraná River Delta

We’ve been hearing a lot about recent fires rampaging California, the “new normal” as they now call it. But the new normal is actually worldwide.

Just now, only because I read in Spanish daily, did I become aware of the widespread fires sweeping vast areas in South America that dwarf what’s been happening in California.

While most of you know about the Amazon fires in Brazil, I’ll venture only a few of you know about the vast Paraná delta wetlands of Argentina. In fact, I hadn’t previously heard of the Paraná, South America’s second longest river after the Amazon and eighth longest in the world.

As I write, multiple fires that began seven months ago continue to ravage this eco-sensitive marshland landscape, home to unique plant and animal life, with the smoke so intense it threatens the health of population centers like Rosario and Buenas Aires

Sadly, farmers and ranchers in the river’s Brazil basin have contributed to the fire menace and made things worse, lighting fires to clear land.

In Argentina, ganaderos, or ranchers, follow their example, annually igniting fires to regenerate grazing land and, so far, there isn’t any law to stop them in this country of heavy meat consumption and export.

Some have speculated arson by real estate speculators may be a contributory cause for this year’s fires. The land can be sold for real estate once the trees are gone. Two men have been charged with arson so far.

When rain does comes, it’s only in brief showers unable to penetrate the hardened, parched earth. While Environment Minister Juan Cabandié has openly accused ranchers of causing the fires, they deny it, arguing it isn’t in their interest and blaming the government for neglect instead.

As is, some 11,000 fires detected this year have razed an estimated 540 square kilometers of marshland, or three times the size of Buenas Aires.

Concurrently, the Argentine government is sponsoring a wetlands protection bill to protect the delta, but it must be approved by the Congress. As is, it lacks teeth. It doesn’t prohibit ranchers and farmers from their yearly ritual of burning grazing land.

Long term weather projections show little rain likely to occur. Meanwhile, some 750 unique animal species of the delta, already diminished by both climate change and humans, face imminent extinction.

–rj

 

China Destroys Ivory Stocks: Too Little too Late?

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I’m pleased again at another good omen for the environment in learning of China’s destruction yesterday of six tons of seized ivory ornaments and tusks.  This is exciting, since China has been overwhelmingly the prime market for ivory, where it’s turned into trinkets and statuary, and it’s the first time China has done this.  Hopefully, it won’t be the last.  This comes on the heels of Tanzania’s recent destruction of four tons of ivory, adding up to about forty slaughtered elephants.  In addition to Tanzania, Kenya and Gabon have recently destroyed large caches of ivory.

Still, China has a long ways to go.  As reported in the NYT on Monday, The Wildlife Conservation Society says that there may be as much as forty-five tons in the total ivory inventory in China, not including Hong Kong.  Let’s face it:  ivory can be lucrative, fetching $1000 a pound.  In poverty stricken Africa, poachers in the field rarely command such profit, pocketed by sophisticated  black market smugglers, but minimally still incentive enough.  Elephant poaching is further exacerbated as the continent’s many warring factions use ivory sales to purchase arms.

What shocks me is our own large stash of ivory, with six tons of ivory destroyed last November.  I guess I shouldn’t be so naive.  We have a large Chinese immigrant community, especially on the West Coast, where demand for ivory, rhino horn, tortoise and shark fin can ratchet up lucrative profits.  In fact, we’re downright hypocrites.  The good old USA ranks second to China in consumption of illegal animal products, including not only those I just mentioned, but even tiger bone!  Nothing is sacred; nothing off limits for crime syndicates operating internationally.

Unabated, the trade will peter out in about ten years.  We’ll simply have run out of elephants, rhinoceroses, sharks and tigers.

But just maybe the window’s opened a bit with China’s move, offering a new vista of hope.  As China’s legacy of ancient wisdom has it, “The longest journey begins with the first step” (Lao Tzu).

–rj

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