Manual for sustainability assessment of the wildlife trade. Experience in the Argentinean Semi-arid Chaco, by Francisco Ramón Barbarán 2011. Editorial Académica Española. 400 pp. + 81 figures and 39 tables. ISBN 978-3-8473-5156-6 (published only in Spanish as Manual de Evaluación de Sostenibilidad del Comercio de Fauna. Experiencia en el Chaco Semiárido Argentino.)

It is widely accepted that the sustainability of use of wildlife resources, as well as of other renewable natural resources, depends on the interplay between ecological, economic, social, and political factors. Poverty and weak governance systems often play a crucial role in less developed countries and affect outcomes of both commercial and subsistence uses of wildlife. Weak governance systems often include lack of institutions, including inadequate or non-existent agencies and legislation that can help local communities manage wildlife resources sustainably. 

The unusual example presented in this book is a case in the middle, where legislation to manage wildlife and forest resources has existed for over a hundred years and relevant agencies have been in place for almost 60 years, but sustainability outcomes have been as poor as in regions where none of these exist. Barbaran's interesting study analyses the sustainability of the commercial and subsistence use of tegu lizards, rheas, and peccaries in the Chaco of Salta province in northern Argentina, an area half the size of Costa Rica. The author uses indicators of biological, economic, social, and institutional sustainability to assess the impact of the use of these and other wildlife species by indigenous and criollo inhabitants of the dry Chaco forests. The most important contribution of Barbaran's analysis, in my view, is the model he proposes (named “Tablero de Comando” or dashboard control, drawing a concept from business management) to perform an integrated analysis of sustainability. This model is an original tool that helps generate hypotheses about the interactions between biological, economic, social, and institutional processes and can guide the selection of specific variables to monitor and test predictions about sustainability.

Other economic activities of local people in the study area in the Argentine Chaco are subsistence livestock grazing on public lands and use of forest products such as logs for fence posts. The meat of lizards, rheas and peccaries is used for consumption, while skins of lizards and peccaries and rhea feathers are sold to local and international markets. Barbaran's conclusions are that harvests of tegu lizards appear to be sustainable, while harvests of rheas and peccaries are not. According to his assessment, the reasons for the lack of sustanability of harvests of rheas and peccaries are most disturbing: the habitat degradation in the western Chaco due to unsustainable livestock grazing and forest use, leading to reduced grass cover and degradation of forests, which do not appear to negatively affect generalist tegu lizards.

Argentina has a federal system for the management of natural resources in which each of 23 provinces has its own laws and own environment agencies. As is the case in many other provinces, Salta has had a large number of laws and regulations that regulate the use of wildlife, and has had agencies in charge of wildlife management with relatively clear misions and goals, as well as personnel and some infrastructure (such as vehicles) assigned to manage wildlife for almost five decades. However, almost none of the resources of the agencies are assigned to help local communities implement sustainable management on the ground, and the agencies are weakened by constant change of leadership (the average length of time in the job of the head of wildlife, a political appointment, has been 1.5 years for the last 50!). In addition, incentives experienced by local people, including lack of land titles, poor livestock management practices, and increased habitat degradation contribute to increasing poverty and emigration from rural areas. The author concludes with a call for strengthening of local institutions (i.e. by appointing career professionals to lead natural resource agencies) and developing new incentives such as certified forest products. This is definitely a book worth reading to understand the complexities of wildlife management in the Neotropics.

Andres Novaro, Director, Patagonian and Andean Steppe Program, Consejo Nacional de Investigaciones Científicas y Técnicas, Argentina (CONICET), Wildlife Conservation Society-Argentina

Cover photo: Manual for sustainability assessment of the wildlife trade. Experience in the Argentinean Semi-arid Chaco by Francisco Ramón Barbarán. Credit: Francisco Ramón Barbarán.