Skip to main content

Indigenous Use of Fire and Forest Loss in Canaima National Park, Venezuela. Assessment of and Tools for Alternative Strategies of Fire Management in Pemón Indigenous Lands

Abstract

In Canaima National Park (CNP), Venezuela, a protected area inhabited by the Pemón people, socio-cultural and demographic changes have contributed to the apparent unsustainable use of fire, leading to forest and habitat loss. This over-use of fire, together with increased forest vulnerability to fire as a result of global climate change, could put both ecosystems and human well-being at risk. The conflict over fire use derives from the fact that whereas the Pemón depend for their livelihood on the use of fire for shifting cultivation and hunting, the policy of the CNP government agencies is fire exclusion (although this is not effectively enforced). Nevertheless, recent ecological studies have revealed that the creation of a mosaic of patches with different fire histories could be used to create firebreaks that reduce the risk of the wildfires that threaten the vulnerable and diverse savanna-forest transition areas. This technique imitates the traditional cooperative savanna burning strategies of the Pemón. By linking research on knowledge systems with management policies, the impasse over fire in the CNP might be avoided.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3
Fig. 4

Notes

  1. The antiquity of human presence in the Gran Sabana is still a matter for speculation. Only two archaeological sites are known from neighboring regions, where stone and jasper knives, axes, scrapers have been found, estimated to be around 9,000 years old (Schubert and Huber 1989; Gassón 2002).

References

  • Ablan, M., Dávila, M., Hoeger, H.; Ramos, A., Rivas, E. and Zerpa, F. (2005). Modelling Fire Risk: The Upper Caroni Watershed Case. Proceedings of the VI ASTED International Conference on Modelling, Simulation and Optimization.

  • Armellada, C. (1960). Por la Venezuela Indígena de ayer y hoy. Relatos de misioneros capuchinos por la Venezuela indígena durante los siglos XVII, XVIII, XIV y XX1. Sociedad de Ciencias Naturales La Salle, Caracas.

  • Armellada, C. (1989). Tauron Panton. Cuentos y leyendas de los Pemón (Venezuela). Abya-Yala, Quito, Ecuador.

  • Barbosa, R. I., and Fearnside, M. P. (2005). Fire frequency and area burned in the Roraima savannas of Brazilian Amazonia. Forest ecology and Management 204: 371–384.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Bilbao, B., Braithwaite, B.; Dall’Aglio, C., Moreira, A., Oliviera, P.E., Ribeiro, J.F. and Stott, P. (1996). Biodiversity, fire, and herbivory in tropical savannas. In Biodiversity and savanna ecosystem processes. A global perspective. O.T. Solbrig, O., E. Medina and J.F. Silva (eds.). Ecological Studies, Vol. 121. Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg.

  • Bilbao, B. and Medina, E. (1996). Types of grassland fires and nitrogen volatilization in tropical savannas of Venezuela. In Biomass burning and global change, vol 2. Biomass burning in South America, Southeast Asia and temperate and boreal ecosystems, and the oil fires of Kuwait. J. S. Levine (ed.). Cambridge: MIT Press.

  • Bilbao, B., Méndez, C., Delgado, M. and Moreno, J.M. (2006). Fire behavior in experimental savanna burnings in Gran Sabana, Canaima National Park, Venezuela. In Proceedings of 5th International Conference on Forest Fire Research, D. X. Viegas (ed.). CD-ROM. 14 p. Amsterdam: Elsevier B.V.

  • Bilbao, B., Leal, A., Méndez, C., and Delgado-Cartay, M. D. (2009). The role of fire on vegetation dynamics of upland savannas of the Venezuelan Guayana. In Cochrane, M. A. (ed.), Tropical Fire Ecology: Climate Change, Land Use and Ecosystem Dynamics. Springer-Praxis, Heidelberg, Germany.

    Google Scholar 

  • Bilbao, B., Leal, A., Méndez, C., Osío, A., and Hasmy, Z. (2010). Significado ecológico de las sabanas y zonas de transición sabana-bosque en el mosaico de vegetación de la Gran Sabana. Recomendaciones para el manejo y la recuperación de áreas degradadas por el fuego. In Herrera, F., and Herrera, I. (eds.), Experiencias de Restauración Ecológica en Venezuela en las Últimas Décadas. Ediciones IVIC, Caracas, Venezuela.

    Google Scholar 

  • Brockett, B. H., Biggs, H. C., and Van-Wilgen, B. W. (2001). A patch mosaic burning system for conservation areas in southern African savannas. International Journal of Wildland Fire 10: 169–183.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Christoffel, H.M. (1939). Informe definitivo sobre los suelos y posibilidades agrícolas en la Gran Sabana. In Exploracion de la Gran Sabana. S.E. Aguerrevere, V. Lopez, C. Delgado and C. Freeman (eds.). Revista de Fomento 3: 596–631.

  • Colson, B. (2009). Naming. Identity and Structure. The Pemón. Antropológica, 53: 35–114.

    Google Scholar 

  • Coutinho, L M. (1990). Fire in the ecology of the Brazilian cerrado. In Fire in the Tropical Biota Ecosystem Processes and Global Challenges, J.G. Goldammer (ed.). Berlin: Springer Verlag.

  • Delgado, L. A., Castellanos, H., and Rodríguez, M. (2009). Vegetación del Parque Nacional Canaima. In Celsa, J., Lew, D., and Lasso, C. (eds.), Biodiversidad del Parque Nacional Canaima: bases técnicas para la conservación de la Guayana venezolana. Fundación La Salle de Ciencias Naturales and The Nature Conservancy, Caracas.

    Google Scholar 

  • Dezzeo, N. (1994). Introducción. In Ecología de la altiplanicie de la Gran Sabana (Guayana Venezolana): I. Investigaciones sobre la dinámica bosque-sabana en el sector SE: subcuencas de los ríos Yuruanı Arabopo y Alto Kukenán. Scientia Guianae 4.

  • Dezzeo, N., Chacon, N., Sanoja, E., and Picón, G. (2004a). Changes in soil properties and vegetation characteristics along a forest-savanna gradient in southern Venezuela. Forest Ecology and Management 200: 183–193.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Dezzeo, N., Fölster, H., and Hernandez, L. (2004b). Fire in the Gran Sabana. Interciencia 29: 409–410.

    Google Scholar 

  • EDELCA. (2004). La Cuenca del río Caroní. Una visión en cifras. CVG-EDELCA. Puerto Ordaz, Venezuela.

  • Eiten, G. (1972). The cerrado vegetation of Brazil. Botanical Review 38: 201–341.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Entralgo, O. (1983). Estudio del comportamiento del fuego en áreas de sabana, Edo. Bolívar. Thesis, Facultad de Ciencias Forestales, Universidad de Los Andes. C.V.G. Electrificación del Caroní, EDELCA.

  • FIEB (FEDERACION INDIGENA DEL ESTADO BOLIVAR). 2007. Perspectivas institucionales, ecológicas y socioculturales de los incendios en el Parque Nacional Canaima: El fuego en la actividad económica Pemón. In VII Congreso Venezolano de Ecología, November 10. Programa y libro de resumenes. Ciudad Guayana: Sociedad Venezolana de Ecología.

  • Fölster, H., Dezzeo, N., and Priess, J. A. (2001). Soil-vegetation relationship in base-deficient premontane moist forest-savanna mosaics of the Venezuelan Guayana. Geoderma 104(12): 95–113.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Galán, C. (1984). La protección de la cuenca del Río Caroní. Electrificación del Caroní C.A. Caracas: Electrificación del Caroní C.A., División de Cuencas e Hidrología.

  • Galán, C. (1986). Predicción de incendios: El índice de peligro FWI en la Cuenca del Caroní. (División de Cuencas e Hidrología. Corporación Venezolana de Guayana. Electrificación del Caroní C.A./EDELCA: Puerto Ordaz, Venezuela).

  • Gassón, R. (2002). Orinoquia: The Archaeology of the Orinoco River Basin. Journal of World Prehistory, 16: 237–311.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Gómez, E., Picón, G. and Bilbao, B. (2000). Los incendios forestales en Iberoamérica. Caso Venezuela. In La defensa contra incendios forestales. Fundamentos y experiencias. R. Vélez-Muñoz (ed.). Madrid: McGraw-Hill.

  • Heckenberger, M., Kuikuro, A., Kuikuro, U., Russell, J., Schmidt, M., Fausto, C., and Franchetto, B. (2003). Amazonia 1492: Pristine forest or cultural parkland. Science 301: 1710–1714.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Hernández, L. (1999). Ecología de la Altiplanicie de la Gran Sabana (Guayana Venezolana). I. Estructura, diversidad, crecimiento y adaptación en bosques de las subcuencas de los ríos Yuruani y Alto Kukenan. Scientia Guaianae 9.

  • Hoffmann, W. A. (1998). Post-burn reproduction of woody plants in a neotropical savanna: the relative importance of sexual and vegetative reproduction. Journal of Applied Ecology 35: 422–433.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Huber, O. (1986). La vegetación de la cuenca del río Caroní. Interciencia 11: 301–310.

    Google Scholar 

  • Huber, O. (1990). Savannas and related vegetation types of the Guayana Shield region in Venezuela. In Sarmiento, G. (ed.), Las Sabanas Americanas. Fondo editorial Acta Científica Venezolana, Caracas.

    Google Scholar 

  • Huber, O. (2006). Herbaceous ecosystems on the Guayana Shield, a regional overview. Journal of Biogeography 33: 464–475.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Huber, O., and Febres, G. (2000). Guía ecológica de la Gran Sabana. The Nature Conservancy, Caracas.

    Google Scholar 

  • INE (Instituto Nacional de Estadística). (2003). XIII Censo de Población y Vivienda. Población y Pueblos Indígenas. Instituto Nacional de Estadística, Caracas.

  • Kingsbury, N. (2001). Impacts of land use and cultural change in a fragile environment: Indigenous acculturation and deforestation in Kavanayen, Gran Sabana, Venezuela. Interciencia 26: 327–336.

    Google Scholar 

  • Klink, C. A., Moreira, A. G., and Solbrig, O. T. (1993). Ecological impact of agricultural development in the Brazilian cerrados. The world’s savannas. Economic driving forces, ecological constraints and policy options for sustainable land use. In Young, M. D., and Solbrig, O. T. (eds.), Man and the Biosphere. UNESCO, Paris.

    Google Scholar 

  • Leal, A. (2010). Historia Holocena de la Vegetación y el Fuego en bordes sabana/bosque y turberas de la Gran Sabana, Guayana Venezolana. Tesis Doctoral, Universidad Simón Bolívar, Venezuela.

  • Medina, J., Croes, G. and Piña, I. (2004). Evaluación de Políticas Publicas del Pueblo Pemón: Componentes Socieconómico y Ambiental. D.A.I. Ministerio de Educación y Deportes - The Nature Conservancy, Caracas.

  • Méndez, C. (1999). Cambios de vegetación en gradientes sabana-bosque de la Gran Sabana, evidenciados por el δ13C de la materia orgánica del suelo. Tesis de Grado. Universidad Simón Bolívar, Venezuela.

  • Myers, R.L. (2006). Living with Fire—Sustaining Ecosystems & Livelihoods Through Integrated Fire Management. The Nature Conservancy.

  • Parr, C. L., and Anderson, A. (2006). Patch Mosaic Burning for Biodiversity Conservation: a Critique of the Pyrodiversity Paradigm. Conservation Biology 20: 1610–1619.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Parr, C. L., and Brockett, B. H. (1999). Patch-mosaic burning: a new paradigm for savanna fire management in protected areas? Koedoe 42: 117–130.

    Google Scholar 

  • Pyne, S. (1997). Vestal Fire. An Environmental History, Told Through Fire, of Europe and Europe’s Encounter with the World. University of Washington Press, Seattle, USA & London, United Kingdom.

  • Roberts, S. J. (2001). Tropical fire ecology. Progress in Physical Geography 24: 281–288.

    Google Scholar 

  • Rodríguez, I. (2004a). Conocimiento indígena vs. científico: el conflicto por el uso del fuego en el Parque Nacional Canaima, Venezuela. Interciencia 29: 121–129.

    Google Scholar 

  • Rodríguez, I. (2004b). Fires in Gran Sabana. Interciencia 29(9): 481–481.

    Google Scholar 

  • Rodríguez, I. (2007). Pemón Perspectives of Fire Management in Canaima National Park, Southeastern Venezuela. Human Ecology 35: 331–343.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Rodríguez, I., Leal, A., Sánchez-Rose, I., Vessuri, H., and Bilbao, B. (2009). Facing Up to the Challenge of Interdisciplinary Research in the Gran Sabana (Venezuela). Human Ecology 37: 787–789 doi:10.1007/s10745-009-9286-6.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Rull, V. (1991). Contribución a la paleoecología de Pantepui y la Gran Sabana (Guayana Venezolana): clima, biogeografía y ecología. Scientia Guianae, 2.

  • Rull, V. (2007). Holocene global warming and the origin of the Neotropical Gran Sabana in the Venezuelan Guayana. Journal of Biogeography 34: 279–288.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Rull, V. (2009). On the use of paleoecological evidence to assess the role of humans in the origin of the Gran Sabana (Venezuela). Human Ecology, doi:10.1007/s10745-009-9285-7.

  • Sarmiento, G. (1983). The savannas of tropical America. In Böurliere, F. (ed.), Ecosystems of the World. Tropical Savannas. Elsevier, Amsterdam.

    Google Scholar 

  • Sarmiento, G. (1984). The Neotropical Savannas. Harvard University Press, Cambridge.

    Google Scholar 

  • Schubert, C., Huber, O. (1989) La Gran Sabana, Panoramica de una región. Cuadernos Lagoven, Caracas.Shlisky, A. Alencar, A., Manta, M. and Curran, L. (2009). Overview: Global fire regime conditions, threats, and opportunities for fire management in the tropics. In: Tropical Fire Ecology: Climate Change, Land Use and Ecosystem Dynamics. M.A. Cochrane (ed). Springer-Praxis, Heidelberg, Germany.

  • Shlisky, A., Alencar, A., Manta, M. and Curran, L. M. (2009). Overview: Global fire regime conditions, threats, and opportunities for fire management in the tropics. In M.A. Cochrane (ed.), Tropical Fire Ecology: Climate Change, Land Use and Ecosystem Dynamics. Springer-Praxis, Heidelberg.

    Google Scholar 

  • Sletto, B. (2006). Burn marks: The becoming and unbecoming of an indigenous landscape. Unpublished. PhD Dissertation. Cornell University. Ithaca.

  • Sletto, B. (2008). The knowledge that counts: institutional identities, policy science, and conflict over fire management in the Gran Sabana, Venezuela. World Development, 36: 1938–1955.

  • Stock, J. B. (1994). Caracterización de combustibles de matorral en la Cuenca Alta del Rio Caroní, Edo. Bolívar, Venezuela. Thesis, Facultad de Ciencias Forestales, Universidad de Los Andes, Mérida, Venezuela.

  • Thomas, D. J. (1982). Order Without Government. The Society of the Pemon Indians of Venezuela. University of Illinois Press, Chicago.

    Google Scholar 

  • Todd, C. (1985). Primer avance del proyecto de caracterización de los combustibles de sabana del Alto Caroní. C.V.G. Electrificación del Caroní, EDELCA, Ciudad Guayana.

  • Van-Wilgen, B. W., Biggs, H. C., and Potgieter, A. L. (1998). Fire management and research in the Kruger National Park, with suggestions on the detection of thresholds of potential concern. Koedoe 41: 69–87.

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgements

The authors would like to acknowledge the financial support given by the National Fund for Science and Technology of Venezuela (FONACIT), Grant No G-98001124 “Interacciones Atmósfera Biosfera en la Gran Sabana, Edo. Bolívar, Venezuela” (IAB), and Grant No G-2005000514: “Factores de riesgo en la reducción de habitats en el Parque Nacional Canaima (Venezuela): vulnerabilidad y herramientas para el desarrollo sostenible” (Proyecto Riesgo), to the Decanato de Investigación y Desarrollo of Universidad Simón Bolívar, and Fundacite-Bolívar. We also wish to thank the firefighters of the Gran Sabana: Brigada de Ataque Inicial Carlos Todd, especially Tec, R. Salas, and the Departamento de Manejo Ambiental, EDELCA, for their diligence and cooperation in the undertaking of the experimental fires. We appreciate the important logistical support, collaboration, and facilities lent to us at the Parupa Scientific Station by the Autoridad Gran Sabana (CVG), and the Parupa Staff. We also acknowledge Hebe Vessuri, Iokiñe Rodríguez and Isabelle Sánchez for critical comments on this manuscript. In addition, the first author would like to thank Raul Ramírez for elaborating the map. We would like to express our gratitude to B. Bilbao´s students: Hasmy, A. Osío, M. Jaffé, T. Souto, R. Castillo, C. Pestana, M. A. Díaz, D. Esclansans, M.D Delgado Cartay and especially to E. Zambrano for their assistance in the field and laboratory. Lastly, thanks to Frances Osborn, Francis E. “Jack” Putz and Joseph W. Veldman for the revision of the English. The data processing and writing of this article was made possible by scholarship Nro. E03E12226VE of the Alban Program of High Level Scholarships for Latin America by the European Union.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Bibiana A. Bilbao.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Bilbao, B.A., Leal, A.V. & Méndez, C.L. Indigenous Use of Fire and Forest Loss in Canaima National Park, Venezuela. Assessment of and Tools for Alternative Strategies of Fire Management in Pemón Indigenous Lands. Hum Ecol 38, 663–673 (2010). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10745-010-9344-0

Download citation

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10745-010-9344-0

Keywords

  • Fire ecology
  • Canaima National Park
  • Venezuela
  • Indigenous Pemón
  • Savanna-forest transition