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The Chiquitania fires: the role of water resources in forest restoration plans

Researchers worked with key actors in Bolivia to build a framework to help policymakers integrate water and forest restoration planning.

Bart (A.J.) Wickel, Jeanne Fernandez, Marisa Escobar / Published on 23 November 2020
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Citation

Wickel, B., Fernandez, J. and Escobar, M. (2020). The Chiquitania fires: the role of water resources in forest restoration plans. SEI brief. Stockholm Environment Institute.

The Chiquitano Forest is the largest of the world’s few remaining dry forest ecosystems. Located largely in Bolivia, it sits between South America’s two biggest river basins: the Amazon and La Plata.

Fires occur every year in the area, due to regular pasture burning and ongoing agricultural expansion. But in 2019, intentional fires spiraled rapidly out of control, resulting in a catastrophic “megafire”, with an intensity that had not been witnessed before. This event was one of the largest forest fires in Bolivian history, with approximately 3.6 million hectares burned, or almost 10% of the Santa Cruz Department.

Such events are problematic – not only in terms of biodiversity loss, but also due to their impact on land cover, water resources and livelihoods. Increased forest fires and deforestation can lead to changes in the water balance, which can affect the availability of water resources in the Chiquitania Region.

Supported by Sida (Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency), SEI launched a pilot program that could inform ongoing restoration efforts, including one in the Santa Cruz Department. Researchers worked with essential key actors – such as the regional authorities, the Ministry of Environment and Water (MMAyA), local universities and the Organization for the Conservation of the Chiquitano Forest (FCBC) – to propose a framework for evaluating fire impacts and prioritizing restoration efforts at the watershed level.

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