Wild & “Wild” Encounters

Bahia de Caraquez, Ecuador 

There are now six revegetation sites strung like beads on the river-facing eroded hillsides leading into Bahia de Caraquez. One within sight above the vivero(greenhouse) at Universidad Catolica is fully planted and has thus far survived the summer drought. It can serve as a walk-through demonstration of the generalprocess and a specific model of controlling land subsidence on the face of a downhill swale. 

Nearby is a gnawed-to-the-ground dairy farm where cows and goats previously devoured some of our experimental plantings. This was a primary source for nearly two-meter high mudflows at Kilometro Ocho that sealed off the road into Bahia for more than six months after the 1998 El Nino rains. Its near-total dustydevastation holds an unusual opportunity to show three different types of land rehabilitation within a single vista: creek head waters protection, streambankstabilization, and ridgetop forest expansion. Most of the land is in pasture that must be retained, so careful choices of species and locations along with strong fencing is absolutely necessary.

Next is the deeply carved interior of El Toro (The Bull) Creek Basin. A description of erosion and mudflows emanating from here, which was the worst along the entire stretch of hillsides, is in an earlier report titled “Revelations in a CattleSlough”. At question now is the choice of native species between the demands of effective revegetation and the owners’ desires involving a section that is at least two-fifths of the total area.

Two adjoined properties follow heading toward the city near the two hundred and seventy meters high Pan de Azucar (Sugar Loaf) hill with sixty degrees pitchedsides. The sixth site is closest to Bahia and dense with houses, the quiet although slide-imperiled Jorge Lomas barrio of Leonidas Plaza.

Pan Azucar’s worst erosion was revealed to Brian and myself during a walking investigation this morning. We had heard that winter rains turned the entrance road at the base of that steep hill into a deep creek, leaving a heavy layer of mud for many meters on both sides. Following a path toward Pan de Azucar, a rivuletemerged with V-shaped gullies entering from both sides. Its banks quickly steepened and became more sharply angled as we passed piles of freshly cut poles and noted water bottles left in crotches of branches for use by loggers during return visits to collect poles after they dried and cut more. A large butterfly with completely orange knifepoint-tipped wings landed on the path and halted us in fascination. A bank more steeply angled than before ended the path and offered a wide creek bed to follow. Now inclines on the sides became more severe and no plant growth older than last year’s flood could be seen for several meters above where we walked. The trees higher than that line dated only from after El Nino five years before. But far above them was what appeared to be relatively untouched dry tropical forest with widely diverse trees on parts of Pan de Azucar that were probably too steep for loggers to climb. We appraised the recent trees for future plantings as mainly Fruitillo and a few scattered Algorrobos. Fruit bats can be counted on to sow Frutillo in their droppings, but we’ll grow more Algorrobos in the greenhouse since they can obviously tolerate steep grades here.

The gouge’s character changed within a short distance to arroyo size with numerous cuts like the one we had just been walking along slicing ten meters into the weak clay soil on both sides. An unknown emerald colored bird teased through branches ahead and disappeared. The arroyo became a broader canyon where there was enough of a clearing through the tree canopy to see raw slides on the hillsides that were unquestionably the true source of such a large quantity of fast water. Most were more than sixty degrees and unplantable. We would have to settle for putting trees at their toes along the bottom of severe drops to slow water flows down. Probably most of the raw soil showing all around us now would erode away eventually, but could be made to do so gradually over years instead of in bursting surges of mud.

The canyon narrowed and stopped where uprooted logs from above had become jammed into a dam. On the other side we saw another watercourse had formed and that our channel was merely diverted around the jam. It could be spread out and slowed in the future however, by piling in more snags from deadfall trees. Turning around in the same spot we saw exposed roots of young Ceibos effectively holding back the banks. It was confirmation of what had only been a theory to grow and plant ceibos some distance back from the cliff-steep bank edges  

The stream bed soon became as shallow as a broad road and finally ended. Broken pieces of logs and branches that were abandoned at the end of their tumultuous fall after a ride downhill in sheets of cascading water lay everywhere. Ready-made material to build mud-stopping dams. As a sign to stop at this point, the furtive bird from mid-journey reappeared. Nothing obstructed our sightline to its bare branch perch and there was a luxurious amount of time to slowly get out binoculars. Raven-sized, still except for a foot-long black tail folded up into a straight line like a fan twitching from side to side. Insect catcher, I thought. The top of its head was bright turquoise and the beak bright yellow. Sharply drawn black lines surrounded the eyes and slashed down the cheeks similar to a Peregrine Falcon. Emerald green body, dull ivory colored stomach.  We were wonder-struck that it wasn’t a parrot. Jumping to a branch below it waited foranother exhibitionist minute before leaving us in pursuit of an unquestionably singular and dramatic life. On the walk back we talked with two women and amachete-carrying boy collecting humus from under Algorrobo trees in puffy full bags to use as mulch for flowers around their house on the entrance road thatwas inundated every year.                                                       

It was already an unusual day but there would be another notable episode in the afternoon, this one having direct repercussions for communities as well ashillsides and ecosystems where we work. The Bosque en Medio de las Ruinas park in Maria Auxiliadora barrio has for most of this year had a tree-poacherresponsible for felling and leaving the stripped bark from more than twenty Frutillos. He was seen stealing tools and was easily identified because of blue facial tattoos as someone living with a family at the end of the ridge above the park. Several sets of pried out steps and some painted signs that were previouslymissing were also assumed to be his work. Most recently, Ulrike was working on the ridge when this suspected one-man crime wave ran toward her shouting “I need a woman!” and pulled at her clothes. She pushed away, ran to where Brian was working, and asked to be accompanied back to our apartment.

Brian’s subsequent formal complaint to the police hadn’t been acted on for a month. Barrio people have had problems with the same person and asked us tointervene on their behalf as well, so today was slated for finally solving the problem of what to do next. With direct confrontation ruled out because of ourforeign status, Brian decided to go to the City Attorney to make a copy of the complaint for another try elsewhere and I remembered that the Captain of thePort has an office in the Ecuador National Armada (Navy) building. Similar to Air Force control of airports and air traffic in Ecuador, the Armada maintains jurisdiction over sea and river ships, shipping and ports such as Bahia. This can be extended to certain public works. In fact, the sign at the entrance to the Bosque warning that tree cutting, theft and damage is punishable through fines or jail is signed “Captain of the Port”.  

When we described the dilemma and presented a copy of our complaint, Captain Jimmy Pozo Fierro decided on immediate action. A uniformed sailor went to the house and gave tomorrow morning as a deadline for Crime Wave’s appearance. Regardless of any personal or social considerations, our volunteers can’t bethreatened. This appears to be the only effective option that Planet Drum Foundation and the community have to protect the park for both trees and ourselves.

Reader Interactions

Leave a Reply