Friday, May 6, 2011

International Rangeland Congress and Tours, Argentina

Guest Post by Joe Wagner, PNW Section of SRM

South Patagonia PreCongress Tour

El Calafate Moreno Glacier

The Pre-Congress Technical Tour started in El Calafate (State of Santa Cruz), where we spent two days.  El Calafate is located on the largest lake in Argentina.  This is a glacial lake and the Moreno Glacier is at the head of the lake.  The Moreno Glacier face is 300 feet high and it was calving at the late summer date we visited.  This glacier is part of the third largest ice field in the world – only behind Antartica & Greenland.

The 1st thing I noticed riding in from the airport was a roadside fence line contrast.  There was a lot of what I thought was a grey shrub and very little in the surrounding pastures.  This area was heavily sheeped in the past.  Checked with the tour guide and found out what I thought was a shrub was a large bushy Senecio.  The two main grasses were Fescue and Stipa.

Third Day we traveled by bus to Rio Gallegos to catch a flight to Tierra del Fuego area.  We visited an area at the east end of Lake Argentino, where grazing/wood cutting exposed the silty/sandy glacial soils to wind erosion.  They planted Elymus and shrubs to hold the soils in place.  It is still grazed to some extent.  We also observed heavy grazing and light grazing on a riparian/wetland areas (mallines = meadows where water is near the surface).  We visited a sheep Experimental area, where they were testing different grazing systems.  I learned about ground shrubs that the sheep use.  I casually looked at the plant they were talking about and initially thought it was a healthy cryptogam, however it did have a woody stem to it.  Inside the exclosure it was about 5/6 inches high after 5 years of rest.

Ushuaia Tierra del Fuego

We landed in Ushuaia that calls itself “City at the end of the world”, approximately 69 degrees south.  Of the Equator.  City is located on the Beagle Channel, where Charles Darwin spent time.  Historically, the Native Americans did not wear clothes; only seal skin capes (brrr!!).  The women were responsible for collecting mollusks.  They smeared seal fat on their bodies to insulate against the frigid waters.  The biggest resource problem I saw in Tierra del Fuego Park involved beaver.  They were introduced in 1943 to enhance the fur trade.  The fur trade fizzled and now they are running wild with no natural predators.  They are doing a job on standing trees as well as flooding out trees in the bottom lands.  Great Sea food in Ushuaia.

Rosario International Rangeland Congress

Rosario is a city of under one million people, in the State of Santa Fe.  It is a very clean city.  There are several stray dogs per block that laze about and help keep the food items out of the gutters.  The dogs don’t belong to anybody, but are fed, watered and tolerated by folks.  The only time I saw folks harass the dogs was when shop keepers shooed them out of the entrance to stores, when they flopped down.  It was amazing to see so many nice condition Ford Falcons from the 1960s driving around.  The Parana River flows through Rosario and fish dinners were great.

The IRC had about 500 people in attendance from 40 to 50 countries.  There were close to 700 papers/posters, 3 pre-congress tours and 3 mid-congress tours.  Proceedings will soon be available on the IRC website at and available at at no cost.  The next Congress will be in India in 2015.  I went on the Parana River Island mid-congress tour.  The river was in a low flood stage and most of the cattle had already been ferried across the river to areas west of Rosario.  However, it was interesting to see cows and calves swimming and some cows swimming and grazing at the same time.  I asked about caimans bothering the cattle (local ones are smaller than those in Amazon Basin) – wild pigs are more of a threat to calves.  The ranchers burn their lands by themselves every Fall, so they can find the cattle as the vegetation gets pretty thick and high otherwise.  The Poster I found the most interesting was from Israel, using goats to create fire breaks around forested areas.  I asked about the bad fire in their forest last summer and he said the crown fire dropped to the ground when it hit the goat grazed area. 

Iguazu Waterfalls Bariloche.

I made two trips after the congress.  Iguazu Waterfalls (state of Misiones) are way up north on the Brazil Argentina border.  One of the falls is horse shoe shaped at the head of a large canyon called the “Devils Throat.”  There are several falls on the Brazilian side and a long series of falls on the Argentina side.  This waterfall was as spectacular as Niagra Falls and Victoria Falls and the geology of the long canyon and rim made this a huge area.

The next trip was to Bariloche (State of Rio Negro) about midway in the country, but on the west side near the Andes mountain range.  The area was settled by Swiss and German pioneers. The architecture with the Andes backdrop made one feel that they might have been in the Alps.  Cathederal Hill is probably the only major ski area in South America.  The rainfall in Bariloche was 1,000 millimeters near the mountains and going 35 km east and it drops to 500 mm and continues drop to about 250 mm as you go east until the Atlantic Ocean influence raises the rainfall.  I was able to visit the San Ramon Estancia (Ranch) in the 500 mm zone and there were many conifers growing, all introduced from Europe, Australia and North America.  The Ranch produced cattle that grazed the meadows and sheep that grazed the upland steppe.  The ranch was 250,000 hectares in size.  The entire ranch and buildings were burned in a wildfire in 1996 and the manager said vegetation was still recovering in certain areas.  I thought I was standing in grass in a rest pasture, but was I wrong.  It was a Stipa that came half way up my calf and neither cattle nor sheep will graze it.  The trees that they were selectively logging had ½ to ¾ inch growth rings present from about 40 year old trees.  The introduced Red Deer grow some tremendous racks 2 ½ to3 feet wide with 16 points on some.
Beautiful, unpalatable stipa
 Argentina has the highest per capita meat consumption in the world – 75 kg/person.  We ate well and a high protein diet it was great!!

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