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Opinion, by Alfonso Stefanini

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Fundação Parque e Jardins (FPJ) is the government organization in Rio responsible for planting and removing trees in city parks and private areas. They are in charge of the maintenance of 2,000 parks and plazas, in addition to monuments, fountains and playgrounds.

Alfonso Stefanini, environmental consultant in Rio de Janeiro.

FPJ does not pod, remove or plant trees in streets and sidewalks of Rio city. This responsibility has been left recently to Comlurb, the largest Municipal Urban Cleaning Company in Latin America.

Over the past five years over 100,000 trees have been planted by FPJ. Last year, over twenty endemic species where chosen, many being fruiting trees, and FPJ broke its own record by planting 29,000 trees. According to Flavio Pereira Telles, one of FPJ’s directors, there is a lack of endemic tree sapling to meet the demands of the rapidly growing urban sprawl, particularly in the outer zones in Rio de Janeiro.

Under city law number 1196/2007, a property owner must replace or replant a tree if removed during any new development or construction project, either in a private or public area. Rio de Janeiro is experiencing a development boom sprawl where the city is literally growing out of the five geographical acting zones establish by Fundação Parques e Jardins (FPJ), such as the borderlines of Jacarepaguá and Barra da Tijuca.

The city government has less oversight on these areas due to lack of personnel and resources, keeping the trees at the mercy of landowners. Unfortunately, many trees are being replaced with monotonous apartment buildings and companies, and property owners are simply breaking the law by not planting new trees.

If you walk around Rio you don’t have to be a tree specialist to notice that trees get literally mangled after Comlurb “pods” them. In many instances Comlurb leaves behind parasitic plants that cause irreversible damage to trees if not removed. “Erva-de-passarinho” is a specific group of parasitic plants that grow on canopy tops in Rio’s trees and kills them by suffocating and depriving them of light.

Comlurb is mainly responsible for the hygiene of the city, recycling and waste removal. There are no arborists or biologists on site during the trimming, which is done by unskilled workers. Only when a tree has been deemed “tombada” or made into a protected landmark can FPJ interfere with its care.

Rio’s municipal government also lacks a tree health program. Once a tree is sick it quickly deteriorates due to all the stress factors of city life, and before you know it that tree has been marked for removal.

In many instances a new tree is not planted, and either the severed trunk is left there or the whole is covered with cement. If neighbors do not manifest themselves quickly enough, trees can be cut overnight and no new trees are planted in their place.

If you live in heavily urbanized area in Rio and would like to plant, protect, sponsor or make a tree a historical landmark, call the city hotline #1746 (www.1746.rio.gov.br/), and ask for “plantio”, the tree planting extension of Fundação Parques e Jardins.

Sometimes it takes a little time to get through and to get people working on your issue. However, with enough persistence you can get FPJ to come and handle your issue, either in a public or private area, including those under Comlurb technical jurisdiction.

Moreover, all neighborhoods in Rio have some type of local association where people meet and discuss local issues. FPJ encourages partnerships with these local groups because together they can raise funds and awareness to plant and protect trees.

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Alfonso Stefanini has an MA in International Environmental Policy from the Monterey Institute of International Studies in California and a BA from Hampshire College. Alfonso lives in Rio de Janeiro, and he can be reached at: Ecobrasilis@gmail.com.

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