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Reports from Planet Drum Staff
Eco-Ecuador Project 2009

Index to 2009 Reports, Set 12 (Sept. 23-Oct. 6,2009)

Field Report #13

Clay Plager-Unger
Field Projects Manager
Planet Drum Foundation
Sept. 23-Oct.6, 2009

Note: Click on photos for larger picture  

Work on the first new revegetation site (for 2010) has commenced. With machetes we clear trails to be able to navigate the site and holes are dug for planting the trees once the rains begin (late December or early January?).


Britt, Andrew, Rob, Isabell, and Maddy survey the terrain for trail making.

This site is actually a piece of land that is owned by William Zambrano, a neighbor of the Planet Drum apartment/office in Bahia. He approached us asking if we would be interested in planting trees on his land. William has a background in commercial forestry and understands the fragile state of Dry Tropical Forest in the area. His land was previously used for a combination of planting corn, watermelons and grazing cattle and has been repeatedly ‘slash and burned’ over the years. Now he wants to dedicate his land to ecosystem restoration.

He specifically requested native trees and was even interested in species which are not typically sought after for logging. Most people who are looking for trees to plant are interested in planting valuable hardwood species often exclusively around the perimeter of their land. I suppose they can’t be blamed, it’s not a bad mid-range investment. That’s not exactly the kind of revegetation we’re interested in however.

Despite not being entirely on the slope of a hill, William’s site is in a strategic location, situated directly in the middle of a small watershed (300-400 hectare) called Maria Dolores. Planet Drum is very interested in working there because of extensive devegetation. The site actually borders a long section of the seasonal creek which feeds the estuary during the rainy season. There are already 6 previous Planet Drum revegetation sites within this extensive watershed.


Andrew, Maddy and Rob find a small bit of shade to take a break from hard work.

Another benefit of this site is its size. Hopefully we will be able to plant approximately 500, perhaps more, trees there. The goal this year is to plant fewer sites (6-7) with an average of more trees per site. In 2009 there were 10 sites with an average of 210 trees per site. Logistically, it is easier to plant more trees at fewer places.

Within the next couple of months more sites will be acquired and if all goes as planned, by the time the rains hit, we will have trails leading to approximately 3,000 holes waiting for their native tree to be planted.


Andrew waters trees in the greenhouse.

Aside from site preparation, we’ve also continue to make steady improvements to the greenhouse. A new hose was purchased to facilitate watering. Weeds have been kept at bay. Seed beds continue to germinate and over the next couple of weeks we will be doing a lot of transplanting. Another batch of 3-liter bottles was collected, cut and washed in anticipation.


Maddy and Rob cut open 3-liter bottles. Note cutoff bottle top in mid-air.

Signs with text and pictures explaining how to compost using our trench method were painted and will be installed to teach new-comers how it works. The compost trench has a new second stage, complete with shade device and a huge pile has been moved along in the process of decomposition.

On Friday the 2nd, I gave a tour of the Planet Drum apartment and greenhouse along with a history of the Eco-city and our projects to a group of recently graduated high-school students from the non-profit organization Thinking Beyond Borders which is on an epic eight month globe trot, visiting and participating in a wide variety of projects across four continents.

Pásalo bien,

Clay

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Field Report #14

Clay Plager-Unger
Field Projects Manager
Planet Drum Foundation
Dec.12-29, 2009

Note: Click on photos for larger picture 

Rains! Well, just about. It’s been drizzling and lightly raining on a somewhat consistent basis, mostly at the night, during the past couple weeks. Although it hasn’t rained enough to make the office/apartment roof leak (which doesn’t take all that much), there’s been enough to cause plants in the greenhouse to begin budding and show signs of new leafs and growth. Very soon we will begin moving trees to the revegetation sites.


Volunteers dig holes on a denuded hillside.

In the meantime, we’re creating the spaces for the trees to be planted as quickly as possible. This involves finding local land owners who are interested in participating in the revegetation program. Personal references and inspection of the land owner’s treatment of the potential site help to ensure that the interested party genuinely desires to have trees planted on their property for the sake of ecosystem restoration instead of for commercial purposes (some of the tree species we work with are popular for hard-wood harvesting). If the land owner is willing to facilitate us by providing space along damaged hillsides for tree planting, assisting in water access during the dry season, and also possibly helping with transportation, then this would make a good partner for the program.


The view in the other direction reveals the estuary 
and Bahia in the distance. Rain clouds are rolling in.

Once the location of the site has been established, preparation work can be commenced. With the help of our team of volunteers, trails are cleared for access to the area in which we will plant trees. Trail clearing involves removing weeds, vines and very small shrubs. The trails follow the contours of the terrain and weave through existing vegetation.


Kate digging holes.

At certain sites all of the pre-existing vegetation has been cleared and trail-making isn’t necessary, but this is rare. Most areas of land which are under heavy use have land owners who will continue to heavily (over) use them and are not interested in restoring habitat.


The Planet Drum crew hard at work.

Most of the sites where we are interested in planting trees have at least several years worth of growth on them, often times they are overrun with pioneer species (shrubs, vines and brush) that will easily out-compete the slower growing trees that we are trying to plant. This makes trail clearing all the more important. At sites with little shade, vines and crawlers grow many magnitudes faster than our revegetation species.

Keren, Kate, and Nishi paint stakes for marking the trees we will plant. This year’s color…. Blue! Behind them Jake chops stakes to the proper length and shaves a point on one end so they can be stuck in the ground.

After trails have been cleared, it’s time to dig holes. Holes are spaced 3-5 meters apart depending on the quality of the soil, steepness of the slope, and danger of erosion. The holes are also spaced around existing vegetation. Longer life species such as Algarrobo, Moyuyo and small Guayacans, which are common on many of the sites, will grow into what could make up a mature forest. As such, we make sure to work around (3-5 meters) these species. Shorter life species such as Frutillo and Aguia and small shrubs don’t effect hole spacing.


Eric and Jake thick in the brush, clearing trails with machetes.

The holes are dug deep enough into the ground for a sapling contained in a three-liter cola bottle to be planted within a small depression which will serve for water collection later on. Each site contains hundreds of holes. The goal this year is to have 6-7 different sites with an average of 400-500 trees for a total of about 2,800 trees. So far this year we have prepared three full sites, each with between 300 and 400 trees. A fourth site is almost halfway done with approximately 200 hundred holes dug so far.


Justin, Ashley, Jake and Clay take a break at the greenhouse.

Work has been accomplished in bursts, depending on the available volunteers. Recently we’ve had as many as 10 volunteers in the field at once, but mostly we have been averaging 5-6. Once the rains get going we will be planting sites that are ready, as we continue to prepare more sites for planting. Getting trees in the ground as quickly as possible is critical for their survival because of the short rainy season characteristic of the Dry Tropical Forest (2-3 months long).

Eric chops his way through the brush.

Last year was a particularly weak rainy season; it rained as many times as I can count on one hand. As a result we had a low survival rate and the trees barely grew at all. Those that survived are beginning to burst with new life. Guachepeli trees remained green almost the entire time (with the help of our routine watering). In contrast this year is forecast to have better rainfall.

There is talk (often times over exaggerated) of a more active El Niño year than usual. Hopefully this will result in a decent amount of rainfall over the course of several months (too much at any time would be bad as well because of possible mudslide problems). Fortunately current weather data shows that it will not be a disastrously heavy rainy season, such as in the year 1997-98 when it began raining in August and didn’t stop for a year.

Time will tell. We’ll be spending our days chopping trails and digging holes.

        Pásalo bien,

              Clay

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