According to 2010 research published in the scientific journal Biological Conservation, the past century has seen an acceleration in species extinction an estimated 1000 times more rapid than expected. Despite these overwhelming statistics, two professors from the Arthur Temple College of Forestry and Agriculture are facing the challenge head on as they address the drastically dwindling populations of jaguar in Argentina and the socio-economic issues faced by landowners in the province of Misiones.
Dr. Daniel Scognamillo, Associate Professor of wildlife ecology, and Dr. Gary Kronrad, Bone Hill Distinguished Professor and forest economist, are leading the project which provides landowners with incentives to conserve and improve habitat for jaguar, a species that once ranged from southeastern Argentina to the southern US.
Scognamillo said that as the project evolved they became increasingly aware of challenges facing landowners of the region and realized their work must be much broader than initially planned.
If conservation efforts disproportionately focus on preserving habitat for the jaguar, Scognamillo explained, landowners who rely on the forests for agriculture-based jobs will suffer. The same can be said of jaguars if emphasis is placed solely on ensuring a thriving forest-based economy. The key, he asserts, is finding a location along the spectrum in which ecological and economic issues find equilibrium.
“We decided if we were going to try to tackle the problem we had to come up with a new idea, something that has not been tried before,” said Kronrad.
Thus was born the Jaguar Credits initiative. Through this program, corporations have the opportunity to pay landowners to invest in the implementation of management plans that will improve their land and foster the development of wildlife habitat. In return, the investing businesses can feature a Jaguar Credit logo on their products, informing consumers of their conservation efforts.
“What we’re trying to do is get wildlife biologists, land owners, and big corporations all at the same table and agree that everybody has to compromise some in order to make it work,” Scognamillo said.
In 2013, Scognamillo and Kronrad presented their ideas to Argentina’s Minister of Ecology and Secretary of Forest Development. This subsequently led to the professors meeting with legislators as well as the province’s largest timber company.
This June, the professors spent two weeks in Argentina with top jaguar scientists from Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay developing a matrix to assess the quality of existing habitat as a baseline for assigning future credits. Both emphasize the importance of collaboration with local scientists, saying the partnership not only provides a deeper, more nuance understanding of regional factors that must be addressed, but establishes confidence among the citizenry.
The long range goal is to implement the initiative throughout the jaguar’s native range. When discussing this, both once again underscore its role as not only a conservation program, but an economic development project that has the potential to improve the lives of many rural land owners.
When speaking about the project, Scognamillo, a native of Argentina, maintains a cautious enthusiasm.
“When I was working in this area 20 years ago, the number of jaguars estimated for this area was close to 150. Now it’s 35,” he said. “This might not be the answer, but we feel confident that it will help.”