Fighting Fires

Changing landscapes resulting from frontier development have seen immense forested areas cleared, which has brought about a drastic increase in the number of wildfires across Brazil’s Cerrado and Amazon biomes.

Once-humid tropical forests that would not burn thirty years ago now are going up in smoke. Fires rage for months on a yearly basis, killing millions of acres of native forests, and there is no one to put them out. That is, until Brigada Aliança, which — now with more than a decade of wildland firefighting action in the field — has perfected the model for the Amazon Frontier, with legendary results.

Land Stewardship

Brigada Aliança educates and supports the homesteaders through a formal training process extended from Texas Christian University’s Institute of Ranch Management.

Part of the matrix of the Amazon Frontier includes Agrarian Reform Settlements, very similar to the United States Homestead Act. Thousands of such settlements exist across the Brazilian Amazon Basin and are indicative of poverty, extreme living conditions, horrific logistics and no access to markets or credit. As such, these settlements have become a huge driver of deforestation and wildfire propagation, and prior efforts to curb this negative impact have proven fruitless.

Through a partnership with the Institute of Ranch Management launched in 2013, Brigada Aliança fosters prudent land stewardship practices among Amazon homesteaders by teaching the same essential natural resource-management skills found in the curriculum at the Ranch Management Program at TCU.

As stated by the Institute, they deploy “a strategy that combines business education with instruction in new technology and agricultural practices in the field, providing much-needed training in developing economies while fostering strong business and personal relationships.”

The results from an initial five-year pilot project in eastern Mato Grosso have been exceptional. Each participant received personalized, hands-on support from IRM personnel who dedicated their time on a yearly basis to make site visits, gather data and transform that information into comprehensive natural resource management plans that effectively increased productivity, self-esteem and financial return.

With the required funding in place, we will expand this program to other Agrarian Reform Settlements.

Working with Indigenous Tribes

Without a doubt, fire is the most severe threat to indigenous lands and people in the southern Amazon today. The Aliança team worked with tribes in the Xingu National Park to address this threat. The result of this collaboration has resulted in training, equipping and deploying the most professional indigenous wildland firefighting unit in-country.

Part of this process is leadership training that demands a full-time presence of Aliança cadre on-site during the five-month dry season. Eventually, the cadre no longer will be needed as internal indigenous leadership is developed.

Dramatic reductions in fire events have proven this methodology and strides are being made toward guaranteeing the future of the food, medicinal and building materials these people depend upon.

With the proper funding, it is Brigada Aliança’s intent to expand this work across the Basin, eventually winding down as the fires are eliminated.

Heart, grit, commitment, and professionalism are a few words to describe the Brigada Aliança. Their work continues to be a model for fire prevention, monitoring, and response in the region. The Brigada demonstrates how training, local leadership, and well-managed and applied resources can have a positive impact on the environment and society where other efforts either don't reach at all or literally go up in smoke.”

- Jayleen Vera, Social Sciences Advisor, Forest Service International Programs, USFS-United States Forest Service

Park Management

Conservation units are areas of land controlled by state and federal entities. They typically have no infrastructure and, at best, a skeleton crew charged with the management of hundreds of thousands of acres — an impossible task. The outcome is chaotic, with land invasion, illegal logging and rampant wildfires resulting.

Initially hired by the Federal Prosecutor’s Office to manage wildland firefighting on the Serra Azul State Park, the Brigada Aliança’s professionalism and results — no fire for the first time in a decade — impressed the officials to pass park-management duties on to them.

With proper funding, the Brigada Aliança may expand this excellence in park management to the dozens of parks currently burning to the ground.

Wildlife Conservation

Frontier expansion is characterized by a depletion of fish and game as human populations grow and food needs increase. Brigada Aliança is made up of frontiersmen who themselves are part of that very community. As such, they understood the dire consequences of unmanaged exploitation of this natural resource and, of their own initiative, decided to act. By using their knowledge of local habitat and focusing on key species to protect, they launched a grassroots effort to allow nature to rebound. For more than 11 years they engaged in a hands-on project of protecting thousands of turtle nests from predation by growing the hatchlings of two species of river turtles to a mature age before release. The outcome has been an exponentially greater survival rate of hundreds of thousands of baby turtles released back into local river systems, which have seen a rebound both in those turtle populations as well as in the fishery as a whole.

Fire Planning

A key part of the success is found by working closely with private landowners.

The Brigada Aliança provides the technical and management assistance to these properties by creating property-level fire plans that lay out efficient fire prevention and control measures, inventorying necessary equipment across regions and training employees as volunteer firefighters.

This management has proven crucial to the creation of the largest and most effective volunteer wildland firefighting effort across the southern Amazon Basin.