Friday, March 11, 2011

Thinking Big

How do you do effective conservation on 40 million acres of grasslands across a landscape ten times that size? We don’t know for sure yet, but Carlos Fernandez and his team in the Conservancy’s Patagonian Grasslands office are giving it a shot. To put it in perspective, that’s like taking an area about the size of Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, and the Dakotas combined and setting out to effectively conserve all of say, North Dakota. Did I mention that 80% of the land is in private hands and less than 5% is in public protected areas?

Well first off, Carlos and company have begun by focusing on two out of four grassland ecoregions in Argentina. The Patagonian Steppe and Low Monte ecoregions form what we now call the “Patagonian Grasslands” project area. This cuts it down from 400 million acres to about 220 million acres, around the size of four Idahos. (See graphic)

The map above, designed by Nathan Welch of the Idaho Chapter, shows the size of Idaho compared to our Patagonian Grasslands project as well as the relative position of the 45th parallel in each location. In the Idaho, it’s safe to say we have our hands full with our work. Our 27 employees work hard to implement conservation strategies for sagebrush steppe, forests, and freshwater habitats across Idaho.

The Patagonian Grasslands team has just five permanent staff members. So that’s 1/5 the staff covering 4 times the area. It’s simply not feasible to manage preserves, monitor conservation easements, and do hands-on stewardship projects like we do in Idaho. They’ve got to rely on partners to do much of the on-the-ground work.

The Conservancy’s three strategies for the Patagonia Grasslands are:
1. Sustainable grazing
2. Public protected areas
3. Private lands conservation

Done right, these strategies hold the promise of conserving habitat across millions of grassland acres.

The key to success in implementing these strategies is engaging partners like sheep producers, Argentina’s National Park Service, and Fundacion Neuquen – the country’s first land trust. Established in 2008, the Patagonian Grasslands project is young and ambitious. After spending a month here, I’m convinced they’re on the right track, and I’m optimistic, given time, they’ll be able to answer my opening question.

-- Bas Hargrove, from TNC's Patagonian Grasslands office in Bariloche, Argentina.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

mindboggling size and aspiration. Grateful someone is looking towards the future and protecting this landscape.