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Petrópolis in Rio de Janeiro state may receive new Natural Monument

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – The slow but important process of preparing the ground for legislation to create a new Natural Monument in Rio de Janeiro state has made significant progress over the last month. The project is to create a 9,000 hectare conservation area in the mountains close to Petropolis and Itaipava.

On July 7, INEA (the State Environmental Agency) released the technical plan for the Maria Comprida Mountains Natural Monument. Then on July 15, a public consultation was opened through an online form.

A meeting was held on July 28 in the Pedro do Rio region, with public attendance allowed but limited due to the pandemic. The online form for consultation was due to be closed on July 30 but will now be kept open until September 28 and can be accessed on the INEA website.

The area to be protected contains a large degree of typical Atlantic Forest biodiversity and several rare and endemic species. Many mountains are popular with hikers, including the eponymous Maria Comprida Mountain, whose peak, at almost 2,000 meters above sea level, is one of the tallest in the region.

As an Atlantic Forest region, the ecosystems here already have some protection, but the change to a Natural Monument will further help in preservation.

An important aspect of this development is that it will hopefully help limit or reduce habitats fragmentation. The region is smaller and less forested than the nearby natural parks of Tinguá, Teresópolis, and Serra dos Órgãos, all of which already have some degree of protection.

However, preserving the Maria Comprida area can help create connectivity and ecological corridors for plants and wildlife, which are important for keeping species populations robust. This is because lessening fragmentation keeps genetic diversity higher in animals, thereby avoiding dangerous inbreeding and allowing species to recolonize areas where they have been made locally extinct.

In addition to environmental reasons, tourism is important to the local economy. This monument can help preserve and draw public attention to the region, which is often overshadowed by the more famous areas of the Fluminense Mountains. Soil and hydraulic conservation in the region are also an important part of the project.

The technical plan pointed out that the area is specifically significant for regional flora, threatened with extinction. There are about 640 species, including 239 endemic to Rio de Janeiro State and 193 threatened. The area also has many bird and frog species.

To give an idea of the number of species: there are around 250 bird species in this small area, while Europe has approximately 500. Large mammals include cougars and maned wolves.

Environmental issues in the area include fires, illegal hunting, a gathering of threatened plants, and livestock grazing in sensitive habitats. The plan involves conservation as well as the revitalization of degraded areas.

Following the closing of public consultation at the end of September, submissions will be analyzed and the project taken forward to the next steps, with alterations if necessary. If the Maria Comprida Monument does open, its effectiveness, as always, will depend on proper funding and implementation of rules, something which cannot always be depended on.

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