Elite hunters are being carefully trained in Argentina to eliminate one of the worst scourges to hit the pristine forests of South American republic. In the far south of Argentina lies the region of Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego where glaciers, mountains, and forests resemble analogous regions in Alaska.
Argentina is seeking to make amends for one of the worst environmental disasters ever. In the 1940s, beavers were brought to the southernmost region of South America during the 1940s. The effort was intended to create a fur-trapping industry in a region noted for its remoteness and harsh climate.
The beaver is a native of North America and Europe and is famed for its industriousness and for felling trees and damming streams. In South America, there are no natural predators to eliminate beavers.
Native wildlife includes penguins, guanacos, fur seals, pampas cats, foxes, and various sorts of rodents.
“The rivers here used to be rimmed with forests,” said biologist Adrian Schiavini -- who is managing the hunt. “Now these former forests are grassy plains dotted with felled trees and dead tree trunks.”
A group of 10 hunters will be specially trained to operate in extreme weather conditions. But eradicating the furry rodents on the island of Tierra del Fuego will take nearly twenty years. “We expect to have good results within 15 years,” Schiavini said. “But it will take another 70 to 80 years for the forest to recover.”
Officials estimate that beavers have already felled an area of forests that is twice the size of Buenos Aires.
In an Argentine video documentary entitled, “The War of the End of the World” environmentalist Claudio Bertonatti likened the environmental degradation to the effects of the Second World War in Poland. “It reminds me of Poland after World War II, where all the great forests had been bombed and burnt down. But what happened here was simply the effect of beavers,” he said.
Previously, attempts to eradicate beavers by local hunters have proved ineffective. Tens of thousands of beavers are thriving in the remote areas of Tierra del Fuego, an island just off the tip of Patagonia. There remains a risk that beavers might find their way to the mainland, which lies just a few miles away from Tierra del Fuego.
An attempt to eliminate an entire species has never before been attempted in Argentina. However, Ecuador was able to kill off all of the goats on the Galapagos Islands. Hungry goats were eliminating vegetation on the islands, and competing with the native giant tortoises. Hunters eliminated the goats by shooting them from helicopters. Much the same is being attempted in Texas, which is facing a population explosion of wild boar.
In North America trees such as poplars and willows when attacked by beavers, rapidly grow back. However, the native trees of South America have no such adaptation. Tree species such as the lenga, ñire, and coigüe, grow more slowly than North American species. A lenga needs between 80 to 100 years to reach the height of 45 feet, for example. A beaver is able to bring one down in just two days.
Tierra del Fuego is approximately 2,000 miles from Buenos Aires. Jurisdiction of the main island of Tierra del Fuego and surrounding smaller islands is shared by Chile and Argentina.