Reflection: project update and the difficulty of inclusive conservation

Since my last post, my original project, investigating the presence, or lack there-of, of coots in the Rio Cruces Wetland, has changed. My search for finding data on the wetland, species, and its habitat needs and behavior to perform a proper investigation was painstakingly slow and generated very few results. I began to get a little frustrated after spending so much time trying to find data, only to end up falling short in the process. After talking with my supervisor about my concerns, he presented me with another opportunity to shift the direction of my project. My project is now focused on improving an urban wetland monitoring program that will be the basis of a partnership between CEHUM and the municipal Department of the Environment. Improvements will be supported by GIS and mapping, as well as developing a data collection system that utilizes a geo-referencing app to collect, store, and share data. The goal is to develop a program that generates higher quality data, which in turn will enhance our understanding of the wetlands and lead to more effective management. The update is moving along nicely. My GIS queries and analyses seem to be moving along a lot faster and generating better results than my previous project. I even get to go out in the field this week (if the weather holds up)!!!

Something that I have noticed in the process of shifting my project (more so now that I am working with a governmental agency) is the difficulty in making decisions within an organization that is democratically managed. Everyone has their own opinions on how things should be run, or “what works best” for each project/program on the agenda. As we have learned over the course of the program, inclusive management is often the best way to manage a resource to benefit a larger group of stakeholders, but with this comes debate. Reaching consensus about decisions can be a timely process and often leads to further debate. Each person will continue to debate until they receive what they perceive is the optimal solution, and often times stakeholders will never see eye to eye. This power-struggle has become even more evident in my project. Members, predominantly from the academic chamber, do not agree with way that the municipality is managing the Valdivia’s urban wetlands. They are resistant to share any information regarding the wetlands because they want to keep the power in their own court, even though it is the municipalities responsibility to manage the wetlands. It has become CEHUM and I’s responsibility to bridge this gap between the two parties to ensure that the urban wetlands are managed sustainably. Getting these parties to communicate and share resources will result in a better understanding of the wetlands needed for effective management to take root. I believe we are moving in that direction!



Update: I survived!!

Torrencial 2017 was a success, but it was no easy feat! The rain, ankle deep mud, dense vegetation, and steep slopes made this one of the most challenging things I have ever done, but I would do it all again in a heartbeat.  Typical with anything I do, there was no shortage of embarrassing moments–like choking on a pear as I arrived late for the shuttles OR running into a tree because I was paying more attention to the scenery than the trail in front of me OR attempting to take a “cool” picture for one of the photographers on the trail and wiping out instead. Even with all of the mishaps, I finished 95th out of nearly 400 participants. Not bad! I guess its time to find an 11k bumper sticker for my car, right?!

Adventures: Torrencial 2017

I will be partaking in my very first organized race this weekend–the Torrencial.  I have never participated in any race longer than a 5k, so an 11k trek over the crest of Valdivia’s coastal range should be a breeze right??? With a week left until the big race, I guess its time to start my training–better late than never! My goal is simply to complete the race, so if you don’t hear from me following Saturday, things did not go as planned :).

Reflection: The GIS Struggle.

From the onslaught of my communication with CEHUM, it was clear that GIS (Geographic Information Systems) was going to be a large component of my project. I always had a sense of trepidation with this idea because (as all GIS users know) the software is very complex and the terminology can sometimes sound like a foreign language. This, combined with the fact that I have very limited experience (2 classes), made selecting this as the main component of my project very difficult–however I took the plunge.

For those that don’t know, GIS is a computer software that is used to store, express, and validate data related to a specific location on earth’s surface. It has many practical uses and applications, but in the realm of conservation it serves as means to express data from a perspective that you wont get from traditional applications-tables, charts, etc. It has the capabilities to plot, interpret, and model data from an aerial perspective through mapping. It is a program and skill that is becoming a requirement for many of the positions in the conservation sector. So, my thought was–why not improve on skill that will be very applicable to my future as a conservation practitioner.

The premise of my project is to map the spatial distribution of aquatic vegetation (macrohpytes) of the Rio Cruces Wetland to see if there is any correlation between macrophyte presence/absence (occurrence) and the distribution of Coot species throughout the wetland, which has declined drastically in recent years. Initially, I thought that this wasn’t to be too difficult being that I have experience in both spatial analysis and habitat suitability assessments for species from the GIS course I took this spring. What I did not expect was the difficulty in gathering the data needed to do such analyses. In my previous experience, I have become accustomed to having the data easily accessible by my teachers and/or my employers, plus the plethora of data made readily available in the public domain. Instead, I have found myself in meetings with professors at the local university and with Chilean government officials (CONAF) trying to find locate field data and observations needed for my analyses. Additionally, starting from ground zero in terms of layer, feature sets, databases, etc. development, has proven to be a challenge. However, this is what I was expecting; finding solutions in conservation is never going to be easy. I know that taking my project on this route will prove to be valuable learning experience. I just have to be patient and trust the process.



39.8174° S, 73.2425° W

Before arriving to Chile, I always enjoyed hearing people’s reactions to where my summer (well, winter here) practicum would take place–Valdivia. I was frequently bombarded with responses like “huh?” “where?” “VALDIVI-WHAT!?” People always wondered why–what was it about this foreign, unbeknownst place that drew me to do my practicum in this remote section of the world.  I was never surprised to hear these reactions because I had never heard much about the city either, but when your adviser presents you with the opportunity to do wetland conservation in Chile, you jump on board–right?!

Well, I am here and its been great! For the people that do not know much about this city, I hope that this post (and this blog) will give you a glimpse of what makes Valdivia a great place to be!

Valdivia is the capital city of the Los Rios Region in Southern Chile with an estimated population of 150,000. It is situated at the confluence of the Cruces and Calle-Calle Rivers, which form the larger Valdivia River that runs to the Pacific Ocean. Its proximity to the cold, coastal waters of the Pacific Ocean, its dense vegetation cover, and its substantial annual precipitation make this region the only temperate rainforest ecotype in South America. The city is nestled in between low coastal mountains along the Pacific and large snow-covered peaks of the Andes to the east. Because of this unique isolation, its regional biodiversity is comprised of many endemic species that cannot be found anywhere else in the world. Culturally, the area has been influenced largely by European settlement (but which country hasn’t, am I right?). Most noticeably, is the prominence of German culture here in Valdivia. Hints of German culture can be found throughout every corner of the city: the Bavarian architecture, the local brew bares the name Kuntsmann, and the wetland I will be working to conserve was once named after the regions most prominent early-settlers, Carl Anwandtar. Its diverse landscape and unique culture make Valdivia an exciting community to be part of.