Reforestation is feasible
Laury Cullen Jr. is a research coordinator at the Institute of Ecological Studies (IPE) in São Paulo with a master’s degree from the University of Florida. He has conducted post-doctoral research at Columbia University and is also the author of numerous scientific articles and reports.
When we first arrived in the Pontal region and saw the landscape by satellite, we realised that most of the remaining wildlife had zero chance of survival in the long term.
It was in fact as part of his training that he decided to move to Pontal do Paranapanema for the first time. This was in the 1990s when he was studying the black lion tamarin, an endangered species of monkeys. By that time, over 80% of Brazil’s once-mighty Mata Atlântica, or Atlantic Rainforest, had disappeared. The clearance of the forest for its timber and use for agriculture had caused very serious damage to the wildlife of the region.
“When we first arrived in the Pontal region and saw the landscape by satellite, we realised that most of the remaining wildlife had zero chance of survival in the long term,” Cullen recalls.
Today, three decades later, there is a specific reason for hope. Winning the Rolex Award for Enterprise in 2004 enabled him to involve the local population in the task of reforestation and establish a community-based tree nursery. By 2011, he had succeeded in completing the largest rainforest corridor in Brazil (a green line totalling 700 hectares). Cullen’s strategy combines landscape restoration with the creation of new income sources for the local farmers who take care of the new rainforest corridors; thereby delivering a major achievement in community-based conservation that promotes a new economic paradigm. As time goes by, the natural world is starting to flourish, thanks to this new way of linking the population to the surrounding resources. Working with local smallholders, Cullen is showing that agroforestry techniques can reinvigorate eroded terrain while safeguarding the forest and its fauna, including species in danger of extinction, such as the black lion tamarin, jaguars, tapirs and ocelots. His organisation has been reforesting at an average rate of 100 hectares per year, equivalent to over one million trees.
It’s based on trying to rescue or recover the history of the landscape but also remembering that we have 6,000 families settled in the area. So, we have the people, the forest, the landscape and the species.
Cullen says Pontal is “a rich source of biodiversity”, and that to continue to inspire his conservation programme, he created the Dream Map: a scientifically developed plan to restore 60,000 hectares of endangered forest together with its animals, connecting isolated fragments of the ancient forest so that wildlife can move between them.
“It’s based on trying to rescue or recover the history of the landscape but also remembering that we have 6,000 families settled in the area. So, we have the people, the forest, the landscape and the species.
And we need to combine all of these in the same conservation equation,” he explains. Since it began, Cullen’s Dream Map has guided the restoration of 2,000 hectares of forest and the planting of four million trees, which has generated $2 million (USD) for the local economy. It also epitomises many of the ideals that inspire the Rolex’s Perpetual Planet initiative. It ventures boldly into new fields of landscape restoration, preserving the past while helping to build the future.
- This article was created in partnership with:
- Forbes Argentina