Conservation and Climate Change at a local level
This is Jimmy, or, to give him his full name, Merle J. Parise Jr. He works for the Parque Nacional Volcán Nevado de Colima, as a Peace Corps Volunteer. The National Park of the Volcano of the Nevado was created in 1936, and in 1997, its overall management was transferred to a joint body comprising the Mexican state of Jalisco and a civil society organization called the “Patronato del Nevado de Colima y Cuencas Adyacentes A.C.” It has an area of 6,654 hectares, and is located in the highest mountainous area between the boundaries of the two states of Jalisco and Colima, centered around the now dormant volcano of the Nevado de Colima.
The Peace Corps has 8000 volunteers throughout the world and 65 working in Mexico. (I had always thought it was a much larger organization). The purpose of its volunteers are to:
- Trade information and technology.
- Share the cultural values of the USA.
- Go back to the USA and share experiences of another culture.
Jimmy is deeply steeped in Natural Resource Management and talks interestedly and engagingly about his work in this area. He began his career studying Forestry Management, then worked for a variety of organizations before becoming a private consultant in 1984, advising landowners in Maine, where he lives, and helping them write management plans for their land, focusing principally on soil, water, recreation and timber.
In 2004, aware that the field in which he was working was changing significantly due to greater awareness of climate change and sustainability, Jimmy decided to return to college and completed another Bachelor’s degree in Environmental Science and Policy at the University of Maine, which he said was a great course, followed by a Masters degree in Climate and Society at the University of Colombia.
When I asked him why he had decided to volunteer with Peace Corps, he said, with a refreshing honesty, that it was for selfish reasons, because he wanted to gain more international experience to later develop his business in the US.
What interested me in talking to Jimmy, was his depth of knowledge in areas that are relatively new to me, and the application of this knowledge and skill to the management of a National Park in Mexico. In another post, I want to write about the organisational aspects of the management of the park, but in this post I will focus more on the Natural Resource management issues.
Jimmy told me that he is involved in three main areas of activity in the Park, in which he is trading information and skills.
1. The first area is dealing with soil erosion caused by fires, de-vegetation, and heavy rains in the rainy season here, (which lasts from June to September), leading to soil being swept away. So Jimmy is supervising the building of small dams to regulate the flow of water, and re-vegetating areas, to help with rain water retention.
2. The second area is the overall management of the park and regulating the use of the park. This park, like many other natural areas in Mexico, suffers from problems due to illegal uses. The major problem here is people using the park to graze cattle. This also leads them to deliberately start fires to clear the ground for the cattle. Jimmy’s response has been to take the three dogs that were being used principally as guard dogs in the park, bring them to Ciudad Guzmán to get them looked over and given proper veterinary care, and then train them to chase cows out of the park. This has been very successful. He says now that on mentioning the word “vaca” (cow) to the dogs they prick up their ears and start to look inquisitively around them.
3. The third area that Jimmy is engaged in is a major research project, looking at climate change in this region of Mexico, and, consequently, trying to assess the risks to the park given likely patterns of climate change. Again, it was illuminating talking to Jimmy as he explained some of the complexities of all the factors that go into creating the climate in this particular part of the world, including the effects of ocean warming and cooling in the Pacific. I did not know, for example, that the cold period when the ocean cools is known as la niña, and the warm period as el niño. (I forgot to ask Jimmy why the hot period was given a masculine and the cold period a feminine identity).
What stuck me talking to Jimmy about climate change and his work, is the sophistication of the methods and models being used to study climate change and the sheer amount of data that they generate. Jimmy now has data going back to 1950 on rainfall and temperature. He uses the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) climate model, combined with one of the scenarios (known as B2) about levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere put forward by the International Panel on Climate Change, in which it is assumed that the level of CO2 in the atmosphere will stay the same. He then combines this data with another software programme called ESRI Arc GRS, which is able to measure tree growth rates in different parts of the park, to predict what will happen to the trees in the park as a result of climate change.
This is not just a purely academic study, because armed with this information, the people charged with the management of the park can then decide where they need to invest time and resources. Should they be putting more money into fire control, or erosion control and storm water management, or re-vegetation?
So far, the data are indicating that in the next 30 years there will be a drop in rainfall of 5% plus a small temperature increase. These trends combined will lead to a 5% decrease in soil moisture, which then leads to a lower growth rate of the trees. The other significant pattern to emerge from the data on temperature is that since 1950, there has been no significant overall increase in daytime temperature, but there is a definite trend that the nights are no longer so cold. So, in this particular part of the world, the intricacies and complexities of climate change, and the interaction of natural and man-made processes such as the increase of CO2 in the atmosphere, get expressed in warmer nights.
Jimmy also explained to me that another major problem in the park is pine bark beetle infestation of trees which has led to hundreds of hectares of trees needing to be cut down and destroyed. We had an interesting discussion about whether beetle infestation was part of the natural cycle of growth and decay of trees within an ecosystem, and, therefore, whether nature should be left to take its course without active human intervention to deal with the beetle problem.
Jimmy’s response was to say that he saw the aims of conservation work in the park being to help the ecosystem recover its natural state, remedying the effect of damaging human activity in the form of fires and illegal timber harvesting. A further important issue, which Jimmy says is still not fully understood, concerns the effect climate change will have on insect infestation, and therefore on the robustness of this type of ecosystem.
My final question was to ask Jimmy his overall opinion on what kind of shape he thought the park was in. He paused, thought for a while, and then said, with a certain degree of tentativeness, that he thought……. “the park is alright”.
(Jimmy can be contacted directly at: firstname.lastname@example.org)