Geraldo Parache says he had never seen a fire like that of 2015 in his 14 years as a park ranger in Los Haitises (South zone).
“It started in Bajo Yuna, from here you could see everything. It lasted a month and three days and burned a lot of trees because nature was ready for it. It was a drought from November to May. The fire started at the beginning of May and ended on June 3”.
Criminal hands that did not receive the sanction they deserved started the fire that, according to Perache, not even helicopters loaded with water could fight.
“That fire was fought by nature when it rained. The greatest thing for a park ranger is to face a fire”.
Parache tells how he lived that experience in the Green Encounter of Listín Diario from the top of the hut located in the community of El Higüerito, in the Majagual municipal district (Sabana Grande de Boyá, Monte Plata).
From there he not only watches over and supervises one of the largest protected areas in the Dominican Republic: he also vindicates the work of the anonymous heroes who, without schedules and sometimes risking their lives, defend the local natural patrimony.
Born and raised in Majagual, before becoming a park ranger he lived in the capital “doing other types of activities”, but “I understood that I didn’t like the city and returned to the countryside”.
As he had always shown interest in environmental protection, he did not hesitate to join the National System of Protected Areas (Sinap).
As a park ranger, he assures that he also adapted to the conflicts inherent to the job: the clash of interests and the poor perception of the profession.
“There are people who, when they see a park ranger, think they are going to harass them. If you have to protect a protected area, everyone inside has an interest that you are going to correct, and therefore you begin to feel a little pressure from people who want to take advantage of the protected area,” he says.
Sometimes they don’t want to respect the park ranger, adds the administrator of Los Haitises National Park, agronomist engineer Alejo de la Cruz, a job he has been doing since 2018.
“People see them as snitches, gossipers, because they say they carry the message of illicit activities to the Guard.”
Parache has been trained inside and outside the country in natural resource protection, control and surveillance of protected areas, human relations, weapons handling and forest fire control.
His daily routine, like that of all the country’s park rangers, consists of walking the trails and dealing with any environmental illicit activity he finds.
They then proceed to stop it, take note of the infraction and the offender, remove them from the area so that they do not continue damaging and proceed to the subduing indicated by law. In this work they have the support of the National Environmental Protection Service (Senpa).
It is a daily job, but the park rangers do not have hours or days to work, says De la Cruz.
The trips from one area of the park to another, when necessary, require them to travel hundreds of kilometers through the irregular relief of Los Haitises. This often means starting the trips at dawn or dawn, especially when they need to go unnoticed to surprise the offenders.
The most common offenses they face are logging, clear-cutting and fire-drying for agricultural purposes.
They are also responsible for clearing trails (previously done by the forestry brigades) and fighting forest fires.
Parache would like society to value the park ranger’s work more highly as a defender and watchdog of the protected areas and as a liaison between the authorities and the communities located in the buffer zones.
“When one enters the park, many conflicts begin to arise. Over time, you become entangled in so many conflicts that you say, well, we’re going to continue because we’re resolving them,” he says.
The Majagual community is very cooperative and helps with protection, explains Parache. In other areas, however, he has had to confront farmers and farm owners – including threats of kidnapping – who believe that the national park’s delimitation projects only seek to take their lands.
For Parache, socializing with the community, gaining people’s trust, establishing peace dialogues in conflict zones, and seeing that, despite the difficulties, the park continues to be one of the most important protected areas – and one that is defended by society – is a source of satisfaction for moving forward.
“People already recognize that it is an area that is going to be protected above anyone else, that we are not going to let ourselves be intimidated.”
The most pressing, says Geraldo, has to do with personnel. It is not enough, as environmentalists denounce.
“At least for patrolling. If we have a protection center, we need to provide personnel to patrol the area.