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Public policies

A monitored stroll in the park

A new system evaluates and guards against environmental impact in parks

MIGUEL BOYAYANCantareira Park: unplanned trails are a sign of damageMIGUEL BOYAYAN

A team of São Paulo researchers has created a new method to evaluate, guard against and supervise the impacts caused by visits to conserved units, such as state parks, starting from a type of very simple monitoring and one of gradual implementation. The system is more appropriate to people and to the structure of the land than the methods most widely used in the country and the world, such as the Limits of Acceptable Change (LAC), the Load Capacity [Environmental] (CC in the Portuguese acronym) and Visitor Impact Management (VIM).

The model includes seven basic items, which must be observed along the trails over which people walk to get from one place to another. Among the items is the width of the trail itself. In the case in which the measurements of this pathway widen over time, this can be a signal that there are too many visitors passing there, for example. The appearance of secondary trails (unplanned) is also a sign of impact. As well as these, the occurrence of damage to the vegetation, rocks or constructions are integrated; the simple appearance of rubbish; the existence of special plants; the level of visitor satisfaction; and accidents involving people and animals.

The collection of data varies according to the information being sought after, with the area and the season being measured, but basically the agent observes his surroundings and registers the information on a sheet. In some cases, such as the existence of garbage, as well as collecting what is found, he must count everything and analyze the material, so that after he can check out why the visitors are not using the rubbish bins, for example. All of the information must go into a computer program developed during the project, whose finality is to function as a data bank.

According to the research’s coordinator, José Carlos Barbieri, a professor at the Getúlio Vargas Foundation of São Paulo, when compared with the other systems this monitoring is more complete. “It evaluates and manages the impact, as well as suggesting the sensibility of the visitor, different from the Load Capacity and Acceptable Limit of Change schemes?, he explained. The new system, for each item to be observed, allows for bringing together action suggestions that the park’s administrators must implement in order to minimize the problems. For example, in the case that some accident occurs involving a person and an animal, the method determines that the risks that culminated in the event be studied and some change in the unit’s infrastructure must be made with the objective of preventing new accidents.

As well as this, the new system is more objective because it eliminates criteria considered secondary at the time of observing the impacts of visits. The soil’s pH and that of water, for example, is the type of information asked for by the LAC and Visitor Impact Management systems, which merit a more complex analysis, since “the pH is not linked exclusively to visits?, says Barbieri. “The soil could have its pH altered because of a polluting factory close to the park?.

Rapid solutions
Another difficulty that the new system intends to solve is with respect to its implementation. It proposes that the employees themselves, at the conservation units, use it so that the problems can be solved more quickly. It also happens, in other cases, that the monitoring is very complex and demands the hiring of specialized external personnel. With an already pre-established method this changes. As well as making the evaluation more expensive, action can be delayed until the park has the results, and even longer for reaction against them.

As well as the basic indicators, there can be specific evaluation items for each park,  according to its use, which can improve the monitoring of each unit. At the Intervales State Park, in the southwest of  state of São Paulo State, the problems of rainwater drainage were one of these items. Here it rains during one third of the year and the visitors, on detouring around the pools, can widen the trail. On the other hand, the degree of soil compacting, which signals a greater or lesser impact in more wild areas such as the Intervales Park, is a criterion that does not serve for the Cantareira State Park, some 10 kilometers from Sao Paulo city. There, on a specific trail, the public does not worry about the type of shoes used on the trails and there are those who come even in open-toed sandals. Some of the park’s trails are even paved. “It’s impossible to have more impacted soil than that?, says Paul Dale, the project’s technical coordinator and a member of the Forestry Foundation Ecotourism Program, an organ linked to the Environment Secretariat of the State of São  Paulo.

The information collected from the visitors is one of the main items for monitoring, which seeks to know if their expectations were realized. In the end, among the units’ conservation functions is their public usage.

Entrance charges are important for the financial maintenance of the units. Thus it is normal to want to provide incentive towards increasing visits. But, as impacts upon the location are an inherent characteristic of visits, one must understand that monitoring is fundamental. “We’re dealing with guaranteeing that the units continue with a conserved environment, with impacts at adequate levels?, says Dale. In the five units that made up the research – as well as Cantareira and Intervales, there were the state parks of Campos do Jordão and Ilha de Anchieta as well as the Juréia-Itatins Ecology Station – around 120 people were trained. In some of them, the method continues being used, even after the ending of the project. The objective is to transform it into the monitoring system for all of the parks in the state of São  Paulo.

The project
Proposals for public policies starting from evaluation and management models of socio-environmental impact from public visits to conservation units in the State of Sao Paulo
Public Policies Program
José Carlos Barbieri – Getúlio Vargas Foundation
R$ 95,423.19 (FAPESP)