Washington - WWF condemns the violent invasion of the Iguaçu National Park in Brazil and the unlawful attempt to reopen a road crossing the area. Sometime in the past week, a group of 300 people invaded the park with bulldozers, breaking down fences and destroying the local post of IBAMA, the Brazilian Environmental Agency, as they tried to reopen the 11.2 mile "Estrada do Colono" (Colonists' Road), closed in 2001 because of its threat to the biological integrity of the park.
"This misguided action threatens the park, its ecological health and millions of people who benefit from the services it provides," said Guillermo Castilleja, WWF Vice President for Latin America and the Caribbean.
Reopening the road would divide the park in two, interrupting a tri-national forest corridor that connects with the largest remaining block of Atlantic Forest, one of the most biologically important and threatened ecosystems in the world. Nearly 28 million people living in the surrounding region benefit from the forest's ecological services, such as watershed protection and hydro-electric power. The scenic beauty of the Iguaçu Park also provides the foundation for the regional economy.
The impact of the recent action goes far beyond the Iguaçu National Park. In all, the forest connection of the tri-national corridor is essential to maintaining and restoring the biodiversity and ecological health of two natural World Heritage Sites, two UNESCO Biosphere Reserves, two national parks, and several provincial parks and private reserves. "These important places cannot survive as isolated forest fragments," added Castilleja. "A road must not be allowed to sever the lifeline to the region's health and prosperity."
The "Colonists' Road" has been closed several times because it is considered a threat to the local biodiversity of the Iguaçu National Park, site of the world famous Iguaçu Falls shared with Argentina and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The 658 square mile park is one of the largest protected areas of Atlantic Forest remaining in Brazil and virtually the only remnant of the forest that once covered the western part of the Brazilian states of Paraná, São Paulo, Santa Catarina, and Rio Grande do Sul. It is one of the few areas still ecologically viable for the conservation of many endangered species of flora and fauna such as jaguars.
WWF demands immediate action by government authorities to close once and for all the road that divides the Iguaçu National Park, and threatens the integrity of a key area for the conservation of the Atlantic Forest of Brazil.
WWF has been actively involved in the Atlantic Forest since 1971, supporting the conservation of the golden lion tamarin. Along with partners in Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay, WWF recently completed an analysis of needs essential to ensuring the long-term conservation of the biodiversity of the Upper Paraná Atlantic Forest. In Brazil, WWF is planning a new initiative together with IBAMA and UNESCO, to work with landowners and local communities to build capacity and promote ecotourism that would protect the forest and generate alternative income for the communities surrounding the Iguaçu National Park.
"If the park is harmed, the best hopes of the region suffer too," Castilleja adds.