Sunday, March 15, 2009

Good-bye Rainforest

The edge of the rain forest. Will Venezuela survive the current regime and the rampant destruction of its natural wonders? Most shocking during the trip was the huge transmission line that ran from the Orinoco River, through old-growth forest, all the way to Brazil. In its path is a 1/4 mile wide clear-cut through supposedly protected areas like the Imitaca Forest Preserve, and Canaima National Park.
Look at the leafless tree in the background. This is where the juvenile Harpy Eagle waited for food deliveries. While this might seem like an ideal spot to watch for his parents to bring food, it is grim evidence of the slash and burn agriculture that is rampant throughout Venezuela. It takes two years to raise a juvenile Harpy Eagle to independence, during which time the parents are tied to the nest. Their nesting habitat is dense lowland tropical rainforest with an adequate supply of sloths and monkeys which are hunted beneath the canopy. The nest is within the patch of woods on the right. As you can see, it has been cleared almost right up to the nest. Where will this pair of adults have to go now to find another suitable location for their next nest?
The burned tree stumps were much in evidence at the viewing point for the Harpy Eagles. If you look carefully, you will see a small vegetable garden on the right side. Rainforests are dependent on the constant decomposition of organic matter to provide nutrients to the vegetation. When the cycle is broken through clearing, soils only support crops for 3-4 years before being depleted of nutrients. This leads to more clearing. During our trip, we often saw smoke from fires burning the forest.
Good-bye rain forest.

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