People making a difference: Alberto Yanosky
This bridge-building conservationist tries to save forests by lending a hand to Paraguay's government.
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This morning he has just returned from Uruguay and is headed straight to a talk on climate change at a Japanese-Paraguayan center in Asunción, Paraguay's capital city. He has several meetings to cram in over the next few days before leaving again – this time for the Atlantic forest in eastern Paraguay.
In short, this is a man who rarely stops in his crusade to protect Paraguay from an onslaught of soybean farmers, biofuel entrepreneurs, and private landowners who are slicing, dicing, and selling its lands away – including national parkland that one politician was apparently handing out to friends.
"He is always asking, 'What else can we do? What can we do?' " says José Luis Cartes, a Guyra Paraguay staff member. That probing has led Mr. Yanosky into collaborations with NASA space scientists in the United States, local indigenous communities who still hunt with bow and arrow, and farming interests who have sown grain across the eastern frontier. At Paraguay's Environmental Ministry he is seen so often he's mistaken for a member of the staff.
Now Yanosky is embarking on perhaps one of the greatest challenges of his career: His nongovernmental organization (NGO) is taking on comanagement of three national parks in Paraguay. With support from the British World Land Trust, it is helping the cash-strapped Paraguayan environmental agency preserve parks in the wild and remote Chaco region in the north, which is rapidly being deforested. If Guyra Paraguay is successful, the effort could become a model for other nations struggling to preserve forests.
"It is a huge challenge," concedes Yanosky, who is busy raising money for the 10-year project. "But with better national parks, we can fight against deforestation."
Paraguay's Chaco region was once nearly forgotten. But with land prices rising in neighboring Brazil, farmers there are finding that $150 a hectare (2.5 acres), a price that has tripled from a few years ago, means they can buy land 10 times cheaper in Paraguay. The result: Since January, about 1,000 hectares (2,500 acres) of Chaco land is deforested daily.
The shared-management idea was spawned during a casual drive to one of Guyra Paraguay's reserves in the Atlantic forest region. The environmental minister at the time, Yanosky says, asked for help to protect the vast national park called Defensores del Chaco.
It had long been a problem: A few years back, a local politician was said to be handing out slices of the land as gifts. The government employed just one ranger to monitor 3,000 square miles. What's more, the ranger's pickup truck was broken, and there was no money for repairs. The minister "wanted us to take it over, but I said no," Yanosky says.