Road reopening in Iguaçu Park is expected to increase hunting and illegal palm heart extraction

A group of researchers decided to quantify the impact of the possible reopening of Estrada do Colono, closed since 2001, on the number of environmental crimes within the Iguaçu National Park.

Road reopening in Iguaçu Park is expected to increase hunting and illegal palm heart extraction

With 185,000 hectares, the Iguaçu National Park, in Paraná, is a Full Protection Conservation Unit created with the aim of preserving one of the most significant remnants of the Atlantic Forest in South America. In areas with this conservation status, activities such as hunting, fishing or any other type of exploitation of natural resources are prohibited.

Despite this, between 2009 and 2019, the Environmental Police and the Chico Mendes Institute for Biodiversity Conservation (ICMBio) registered more than 1,300 infraction notices in the park, including hunting animals and extracting juçara palm heart, taken from a native palm tree ( Euterpe edulis ), threatened with extinction.

Experts, however, fear that the number of these crimes could grow even more if one of the two bills being discussed in the Chamber of Deputies, PL 7123/2010 and PL 984/2019 — the latter authored by federal deputy Nelsi Coguetto — is approved. Maria, better known as Vermelho, who has public support from President Jair Bolsonaro.

Both bills propose the reopening of Estrada do Colono, which crosses the Iguaçu National Park from north to south, for the creation of a new category of Conservation Unit in Brazil, that of Estrada-Parque. The stretch has been closed since 2001 by order of the Superior Court of Justice.

Built in the 1950s, this road is just over 17 km long. It links the municipalities of Serranópolis do Iguaçu, with approximately 5,500 inhabitants, to Capanema, with just over 19,000 residents.

Over the past 20 years, the stretch has been practically covered by vegetation. However, its reopening is still a controversial topic in the region. Environmental organizations are against it — they cite the impact it would have on the jaguar population (Panthera onca) in the park , the only one showing growth in the Atlantic Forest biome.

Vermelho argues that the reopening "corrects a historic injustice (...) and responds to the social outcry of the people of Paraná for decades, rescuing the history and socioeconomic, environmental and tourist relations of the region".

To get out of the political and cultural discussion, a group of researchers decided to quantify what would be the impact on the records of crimes in the park if vehicles circulate again along Estrada do Colono.

“Our main objective was to measure the effects on the main function of the Iguaçu National Park, which is the integral protection of biodiversity”, says Neucir Szinwelski, professor of Biological Sciences at the State University of Western Paraná (Unioeste) and one of the co-authors of a study published in Environmental Research Letters .