‘Only the rains will stop it’: Bolivia forest fires hit protected areas

  • In the first 10 months of 2021, forest fires in Bolivia razed nearly 2.5 million hectares (6.2 million acres) in the department of Santa Cruz alone, exceeding the figure for the whole of 2020.
  • In Santa Cruz, Bolivia’s biggest department, 58% of the burned land was in protected areas, stoked in part by temperatures reaching as high as 43°C (109.4°F).
  • Across Bolivia as a whole, forest fires had affected 3.4 million hectares (8.4 million acres).
  • Officials say an increase in the number of firefighters and an early-warning system should help contain the burning, but add that “only the rains are able to stop it.”

Forest fires in Bolivia’s Santa Cruz department razed an area twice the size of Jamaica in the first 10 months of 2021, officials said, with more than half of the affected land falling inside protected areas.

“The affected areas in Santa Cruz total 2,463,731 hectares [6,088,011 acres] so far,” Adita Montaño, the departmental director of natural resources, said at an Oct. 23 presentation. “Of this total, 58% is within protected natural areas.”

She added that 63% of the department is still at risk of forest fires.

Forest fire in the San Matías Integrated Management Natural Area. Image by Claudia Belaunde/FCBC.

“It has been a critical year,” said Oswaldo Maillard from the Foundation for the Conservation of the Chiquitano Forest (FCBC), an organization that monitors forest fires and deforestation in Santa Cruz. “Last year, 2.2 million hectares [5.4 million acres] burned by December; that figure has already been surpassed this year [as of October].”

The annual forest fires in Bolivia have intensified in recent years. In 2019, nearly 6 million hectares (14.8 million acres) of land was burned across Bolivia, and in 2020 it was 4 million hectares (9.9 million acres).

As of mid-October 2021, fires had affected more than 3.4 million hectares (8.4 million acres) nationwide, according to a report from the Friends of Nature Foundation (FAN), with the departments of Santa Cruz and Beni accounting for 94% of the burned areas.

An alert for the Ríos Blanco y Negro Wildlife Reserve

A Global Forest Watch (GFW) alert on Oct. 9 reported a recent fire in the Ríos Blanco y Negro Wildlife Reserve. It indicated a worrying fact: the fire had been burning for almost a month by then.

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