International Course on Management of Protected Areas: Something everyone working in conservation should experience
By Óscar Carvajal Mora, Galapagos National Park ranger and head of the Park’s Ecosystem Department on Isabela Island.
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Many years ago I wrote: “Some are born a park ranger, while others become park rangers over time, following the paths of pioneers to protect the wonders that we touch with our hands and, almost, with our soul.”
When I began as a volunteer at the Charles Darwin Foundation on Isabela Island 16 years ago, I had the opportunity to work in the field with Galapagos National Park rangers monitoring giant tortoises in several areas in southern Isabela. This work impassioned me, and from that moment I knew that I wanted to be a park ranger. About a year later, my dream came true when I started working for the Galapagos National Park as Isabela’s park ranger responsible for the Protection Department (now the Ecosystem Department), supervising 12 park rangers.
Given my interest in what I consider not just a career, but a lifestyle, I spent much time in the field to learn the importance of our work in Galapagos. Eventually I came to fully understand the effort and sacrifice of park rangers who work in remote areas in the field, areas to which only they (we) can reach, and the risks that they experience.
One of my primary, ongoing objectives within the Park is to improve the quality of the work of those I supervise. One of the best ways to do this is to prepare them to be better professionals as well as better people, to help them to value themselves and their work more and more. To improve both their personal and institutional capabilities, I continually strive to ensure that the majority of park rangers on Isabela have training opportunities in various courses at local, national, and international levels.
I have also sought to further educate myself and then replicate the lessons learned for both the people I work with and the area I work in. In July 2017, thanks to funding from three NGOs, including Galapagos Conservancy, I had the opportunity to participate in the 27th international Course on Management of Protected Areas, a month-long course carried out annually at Colorado State University in the city of Fort Collins.
Field trips to numerous protected areas encompassing a range of different management categories formed the core of the course. We visited Phantom Canyon Preserve, Soapstone Prairie Natural Area, Lee Martinez Park, Rocky Mountain National Park, Rawah Wilderness in Roosevelt National Forest, Browns Park National Wildlife Refuge, Yampa River State Park, Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area, and Dinosaur National Monument. These visits provided onsite experience and an in-depth understanding of management strategies, which we each evaluated for potential implementation in our home countries (24 participants from 10 countries in Latin America).
The field trips were supplemented by several hours of theoretical classes, which contributed to improving our knowledge about the reality of protected areas in Latin America. The talks covered conservation issues as well as our instructors sharing their own experiences, which were invaluable.
Perhaps the greatest experience throughout the course was living together and exchanging our experiences among all participants – students and instructors alike. Hearing the challenges, management strategies, and on-the-ground projects in the various countries represented by the course participants contributed to a shared understanding that while our countries have many similar challenges in the environmental field, there are also significant differences that require varied responses.
At the end of the month of training, we all recommitted to continue our work and to constantly make an effort to improve. Every day we can learn something new. Every day we can be not only the best professional possible but better people. The path that we follow is not easy, but we cannot forget that the more obstacles there are along the way, the more rewarding the victory.
Óscar Carvajal Mora was born in Quito in 1978. He obtained his degree in tourism, then moved to Galapagos in the summer of 2001. Since 2003, he has worked as a park ranger for the Galapagos National Park. He is 39 years old and is currently in charge of the Ecosystem Department of the park’s Technical Unit of Isabela. Oscar is a long-term collaborator with the Giant Tortoise Restoration Initiative (GTRI). In 2012, he participated in the international workshop “Giant Tortoise Restoration through Integrated Research and Management”, which served as the basis for the creation of the GTRI. Oscar has participated in many field expeditions, among them the release of tortoises on Pinta in 2010 and the 2016 census of tortoises on San Cristóbal.
GC recently supported his participation in Colorado State University’s course for Latin American park rangers. This course, offered annually, was co-founded in 1990 by Dr. Craig MacFarland, the first President of the Board of Directors of GC, in collaboration with Dr. George Wallace. Over the years, several park rangers from Galapagos have participated.