Mar 062007
Authors: Anica Wong

The dense rainforests of the Amazon are a far cry from the soon-to-be defrosted concrete jungles of Fort Collins. But for park rangers with goals of saving the environment, CSU is the place to be.

To ensure that protected regions in the Amazon are truly protected, CSU is training park rangers to be on the front lines.

“These protected areas have to have infrastructure. We are developing the capacity of the park rangers,” said Ryan Finchum, assistant director of CSU’s Center for Protected Area Management and Training program.

Researchers began training after receiving a three-year grant from the World Wildlife Fund.

Park rangers in Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia are receiving diverse training, some for the first time.

According to Finchum, there is a tendency in Latin American to train park directors but there is no training for the park rangers who are on the grounds every day dealing with different situations.

“They (park rangers) deal with very difficult tasks, like illegal drug trafficking and illegal logging,” Finchum said. “They are putting their lives at risk.”

These areas in the Amazon that hold natural resources and diverse animal and plant life need to be safeguarded because the resources that can be used all over the world, including here in the United States.

“At The Convention of Biological Diversity this past year, world leaders agreed to stop biodiversity loss around the world,” Finchum said, explaining why training is pertinent now.

Through this grant program, park rangers go through a rigorous 14-day training in their host country. At these courses, 19 rangers are from the host country while two rangers each represent the other three countries.

Courses in Colombia and Bolivia have been completed already, while courses in Peru will occur in May of this year and in Ecuador later on in November.

Jim Wurz was one of the trainers from CSU who attended the Bolivia course.

“Park ranger trainings are the most rewarding. These rangers do a lot with very little,” said Wurz, a member of Management of Protected Areas.

He explained that the biggest challenge is getting all of the logistics set up beforehand so the group can spend so much time in the field.

“Another challenge is the poverty. Conservation is hard to sell to people in poverty,” said Wurz. “But destruction of natural resources leads to poverty.”

During these courses, park rangers learn skills such as land navigation, usage of global positioning system (GPS) devices, field monitoring, conflict management, search and rescue techniques as well as ecotourism and environmental education.

“We begin in the capital cities so (the rangers) can see the headquarters of the national park service. Often the rangers aren’t connected to the whole system,” Finchum explained.

After they rangers are able to talk with heads of the departments, the group is taken to the certain national park where they will be stationed. In Wurz’s case, this was a park called Madidi.

“It is in the lowlands and rainforest, surrounded by the Andes Mountains,” he said.

The group then travels site to site by boat and participate in fieldwork within the parks.

“I am always amazed at their field skills,” Wurz said of the rangers’ navigational skills.

There are many different groups that help with the training of the park rangers,

the minority of which are from the United States. These groups include people affiliated with CSU, Clyde Stonaker, a Fort Collins resident and retired National Park Service ranger and members of the U.S. Forest Service and Park Services.

“We can bring some expertise but we want to have a local perspective as well,” Finchum said.

The top five rangers in these 14-day courses are then asked to come up to CSU for a five-week summer course. This is a three-year program; already, two of the three years have been completed.

All of the courses and trainings are being funded through the World Wildlife Fund, the Moore Foundation, the U.S. Forest Service Office of International Programs and the Consortium of International Protected Area Management

“It is so rewarding to see this type of stuff happening at CSU,” Finchum said. “The conservation leadership center at CSU is in a unique position.”

Staff writer Anica Wong can be reached

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