As in much of the Andean region, national parks in Colombia are not solely for recreation and conservation. Poor campesino farmers and indigenous communities exist within the boundaries of protected areas, often surviving by clearing forests for small-scale cattle ranching and cultivating crops like sugar cane, corn and potatoes. Some practice small-scale gold mining –illegally, or with government permits granted before the park existed.
Velásquez Lema also worries about the impact of large-scale mining and logging by national and multinational corporations just outside of protected areas like Las Orquídeas, which degrades ecosystems and leads to the fragmentation of habitat. Over 74,000 acres of land in Antioquia, the department, or state in which Las Orquídeas is located, get deforested every year, he said. Combined with global climate change that disrupts weather patterns and increases temperature, these industries could spell disaster for already vulnerable species.
The endangered spectacled bear is one such species. It feeds primarily on plants at high altitudes but migrates through different elevations within the park in search for food. Velásquez Lema wonders what will happen if seasonal patterns shift and bears aren't able to find their usual food inside the forest. They might starve, or they might come into conflict with populated areas as they search for food. Rare jaguars, already facing fragmentation of their habitat due to deforestation and industry like mining, face similar threats to their survival.
"Things are always interconnected, and that is why climate change is something we should worry about," said Velásquez Lema. "We are all connected in the fabric of life and there are consequences for the things that happen here that will affect humanity in general."
This article originally appeared at The Daily Climate, the climate change news source published by Environmental Health Sciences, a nonprofit media company.