I spent an exciting 11 days during the month of June in the province of Los Santos, in a part of Panama called the Azuero Peninsula.
Map pf Panama, with marker indicating the location of the Azuero Peninsula. Map created using Google Maps
This is a part of Panama with a very long history of human inhabitance. After Panama City, the Azuero Peninsula was the first part of Panama to be settled by the Spanish. Before the arrival of the spanish, the Azuero Peninsula was inhabited by indigenous groups – likely since the time that Panama first became inhabited by humans at all. The long history of human inhabitance and the mix of inhabitants in the area throughout history has resulted in a heavily human-impacted environment. For centuries the Azuero Peninsula has been deforested, converting the land from dry tropical forests (now the most endangered type of tropical forest) to cattle ranches. Perhaps unexpectedly, this transformation also resulted in a unique and beautiful landscape
So, what was I doing here? I was starting work in the area, in collaboration with an NGO called the Azuero Earth Project (AEP).
The Azuero Earth Project house/office, in Pedasi, Panama
This NGO’s goal is to create a biological corridor through part of the Azuero Peninsula. They hope to accomplish this goal in order to expand the habitat of endangered and endemic species that rely on the rare tropical dry forests of the area, in particular the Azuero Spider Monkey – an endangered subspecies of the spider monkey endemic to the Azuero Peninsula. Learn more about the Azuero Earth Project here: http://www.azueroearthproject.org
Map of the Azuero Peninsula and the biological corridor AEP hopes to create
So what did the collaboration involve? Well, first I brought them some tablets, so that they can put them to use and offer their use to the landowners along the proposed path of the biological corridor. Next, I moved into a rural community called Oria Arriba to search for remnant forest patches and their landowners. Oria Arriba is small and beautiful community situated along the shore of the Oria River, the river along which AEP hopes to create their biological corridor. The area has been almost completely deforested, except for a few forest patches which remain. My objective was to record the location of these forest patches, mark down some characteristics of these forest patches, and when possible find the land owners and discuss with them their forests. AEP wants this data in order to better plan how the biological corridor can be realized, by connecting these pre-existing forests with new forests in the future.
Here is how my 8 days in Oria Arriba went:
Day 1: Visit to the school in Oria Arriba with the AEP crew. AEP is planning a tree planting activity with the students in Oria Arriba, and visited the school this day to scope out the area where the tree planting will take place.
Staff from the Azuero Earth Project checking out the area for the plantation
Carlos trying out the tablet to measure the area available for planting
Day 2: On my second day I moved into my new home in Oria Arriba with my hosts Ilda and Ardurfo. Then I went up-river with my guide Guillermo to record the location of one of the few forest patches that remain in the area.
My guide, Guillermo
Me on horseback, heading to the forest
On the way to the forest
Guillermo entering the stream we walked along
The stream marks the border between two landowner’s property. On the right side of the stream the land owner has chosen to leave the land forested, while on the left side the land has been deforested to create a pasture
Here we can see where one land owner’s property ends and another’s begins. The pasture belongs to one person while the forest belongs to another
Day 3: On my third day here Ryan and Carlos from the Azuero Earth Project returned to Oria Arriba to work on a plantation that is being planned, and will add to a still existing forest patch near the community. I went with them and the community members who are creating the plantation to check it out and record the location of the forest patches that already exist near the plantation site.
The intact forest patch we visited this day can be seen in the background of this photo. The plantation site is located at the top of those hills, and will connect the forest visible here to forest that exists on the far side of the hill.
Seedlings that will soon be in the plantation and part of our hike up to the site:
Marking where the seedlings will be planted:
The line along which future-trees will be planted
After a hard day’s work
Day 4: On my fourth day in the community Guillermo took me to another forest patch, downstream this time. I used my tablet to record the location and some information about the forest provided by Guillermo.
On our way to the forest
Day 5: On the fifth day I visited an agro-eco fair in a nearby community, where AEP had a table set-up and I hoped to show people the tablets and learn more about the area. I ended up talking with members of a local NGO called APASPE. Their goal is to encourage the use of silvopastoral techniques for ranching (briefly, this mean incorporating trees into your pastures), in order to preserve soil and water and improve conditions for cattle. They were interested in possibly using the tablets, so me and my supervisor Dr. Catherine Potvin met with them on Day 6, to show them a bit of what could be done with the tablets. The plan now is to do a workshop with them and some of their members near the end of July!
Demonstrating the tablet to Mr. Nicolas Solis, the president of APASPE
Day 7: Today I went up-stream again with one of the land owners of the forest in that area, José. He explained to me that that patch of forest was divided up among three land owners, and showed me where the borders of each landowners property was. He also explained to me that this forest was kept as a reserve for animals which people of the community can hunt and as a source of wood for building and other uses.
Joseé preparing our horses
The start of the forest patch
Walking along the edge of the forest
Inside the forest, walking along Melonera Stream
The other end of the forest – and a beautiful blue sky
Our walk back to where we had parked our horses was long and hot, but the views were spectacular
Day 8: On my last day in Oria Arriba, I took a trip to the last forest patch yet to be georeferenced. After waiting a few hours for the rain to pass, Guillermo and I headed out on foot to locate this patch of forest.
This stream runs along the border of the forest. On the left, forest extends over a 33 hectare area. On the right side, a small riparian zone separates the stream from pasture.