At Last, The Hard Part

Bahia de Caraquez, Ecuador

Yesterday (Sun.) was a breakthrough for our revegetation project. Pedro Otero, who although an agro-forestry professor previously seemed reluctant to permit non-commercial planting on his land, finally agreed to let us explore El Toro Basin for any sites where we wish to plant native trees. The problem with Otero had been that the land wasn’t formally divided between five brothers who were heirs. Some of them have recently begun logging to Pedro’s genuine horror and he is now insisting on divisions to be able to control at least his share.

El Toro Creek is one of the principal erosion sources in the six kilometer stretch we are addressing. The basin has no less than five streams emptying into a steep-sided, short, narrow area. With recent decades of logging the slopes and clearing pasture has come ruinous erosion along all of the entry streams and truly devastating damage to the main El Toro Creek. The banks have been gouged into perpendicular walls ten meters (30 feet) or more high. The fifteen meter (45 feet) wide stream bed where there is only a trickle if any water at this time of year is reminiscent of the desert terrain in North Africa, a main corridor of high bare clay cliffs with hallways of canyons entering at knife-edge straight angles. 

All of these ninety degree surfaces will erode away, slowly with luck but in a flash if a heavy El Nino rainy period occurs. The problem for revegetation is what extent can be saved. If allowed to recede to the eventual angle of repose where gravity would finally cease allowing rain to carry soil away, the amount of eventual erosion would be millions of tons. If the banks can be held at a closer point to the edge the amount of soil lost might be reduced to about one-third of that enormous amount. Considering the disastrous consequences of massive erosion from this area for natural habitat, the town below, the highway, or most importantly, siltation of the rapidly filling Rio Chone river, eliminating two-thirds of the potential infill isn’t just a nice idea, it’s essential for keeping the river alive and flowing in the future.

Pedro generously drove Heather and me through most of the extent of the stream bed, showed some recent and previous logging damage, and encouraged us to pick our own spot. Because of El Toro’s significance we will definitely establish a revegetation presence but have to be careful about choosing places where we can successfully demonstrate the effectiveness of various approaches and techniques. I begged off from making a decision on specific spots until we can survey the worst places later this week. Fast-growing and strong algorrobo trees will work well here. Among the other saplings we’ll have available next winter rainy season, Otero stated a preference for samango and cedro, and we will oblige with those as well.

El Toro Basin is the most remote but also the most significant site we will encounter. 

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