The principal problems affecting Lachay's conservation began years ago with deforestation, invasive species introduction, loss of water storing ability and subsequently the loss of vegetation regeneration ability. In addition, Lachay has become isolated from other hill formations along the coast and that makes it difficult for species living in isolated areas to share genetic material and it is hard for animals with large ranges to survive (23).
- Unregulated tourism
- Four-wheel drive vehicles in unauthorized areas
- Grazing and firewood extraction
- Wild fires
- Productive activities close to park borders
- Extraction of construction materials
- Invasive species
- Looting of archeological sites
- Climate change
Tourist visiting Lachay are principally Peruvian nationals from the central coast, mostly from Lima. Many children from nearby cities (Huacho, Huaral, and Lima) also visit Lachay during school trips. Over the recent years, Lachay has become popular with bird-watchers. The number of international tourists is rather limited.
Visitation to Lachay is approximately 30,000 visitors/year; there are days when visitation reaches 5,000/day! This excessive number of visitors is reaching Lachay's carrying capacity. Currently, visitors have access to 400 hectares, which is approximately 18% of the total area and 13% of the hills. Ninety percent of the tourists are nationals and 10% are foreign and the majority of tourists arrive for the hills' greening phenomenon (September and October) (24).
According to the president of the management committee, more than 20 years ago, approximately 25 visitors would visit Lachay during any given weekend, but starting in the 1980's the average weekend visitation during the flowering season started to reach approximately 2,500! Figure 1 illustrates visitation over the last 12 years (25). The average over those 12 years is 26,286 visitors/year. The peak year was definitely in 1992 when over 65,000 tourists visited Lachay. 1997 saw the least amount of tourists with only 12,087 visiting Lachay.
Figure 1. Annual visitation to Lachay National Reserve, Peru (Data Lachay National Reserve’s Master Plan, Intendancy of Natural Protected Areas, INRENA. December 2002, page 16).
A serious problem related to tourism activities and recreation in the reserve is garbage generation. Even though there are garbage receptacles in the public use area, many visitors simply toss their garbage on the ground next to the receptacles. Bottles, plastic and paper wrappings are the most common wastes. Area personnel spend a good deal of their time cleaning up the public use areas. Tourism also causes erosion, destroys walking paths, and compacts the soil. Many visitors make noise by yelling or playing loud music. Tourists also venture into unauthorized areas. Some tourists tend to damage trees, rocks, and reserve signs with graffiti.
Weekend camping (left) and graffiti on one of the park's signs
Visitors usually bring their food with them to the reserve. While there are picnic areas, many times there are too many people and not enough picnic places, especially on the weekends. As a result, many visitors eat along the trails and leave their leftovers and wastes along the way. In addition, there are picnickers who grill out and generate smoke affecting the area and the fellow tourists. At times, tourists bring alcohol with them to the reserve (even though it is prohibited) and subsequently drink too much, getting loud and rowdy. A group of Sechuran foxes have become accustomed to the public use zone looking for food. In many cases, visitors feed the foxes directly. The foxes have become very confident and enter the picnic area without hesitation; tourism has directly changed their diet and behavior. Additionally, there is a risk of disease spreading to the foxes or to other fauna within the reserve by this close contact.
Playing soccer seems to be part of school groups' visit these days. However, Lachay does not have any soccer fields-after all, recreation in the reserve is nature-based recreation not sports-based recreation. The soccer players damage vegetation and soil where they play. Most of the schools call the reserve prior to arranging their visit. This helps the administrators maintain a level of control over the number of school visitors. Once the administration has arranged school groups totaling 600 people on any given day, they do not allow additional school groups. Nonetheless, many schools do not communicate with the administration prior to visiting the park, which does not lend to appropriate tourism management.
Tourism in the area attracts vendors from nearby Chancay and Huaral. They enter the reserve without paying and undetected since the fog hides them. They contribute to the garbage problem by selling their products inside the reserve.
In summary, tourism problems result entirely because of visitors' inappropriate behaviors including entering prohibited zones, excessive noise, garbage, human waste around latrines, vandalism, and graffiti. Consequences include reduction in vegetative coverage, garbage accumulation, negative visual impacts, interference with research projects, and disturbance of plants and animals.
Four-wheel drive vehicles in unauthorized areas
There are tourism groups that organize expeditions and trips to wild lands in 4X4 pick-up trucks. Many of these groups, and even independent pick-up truck owners, take weekend trips through the desert, crossing the southern and western parts of the protected area. The 4X4 vehicles enter mostly between the markers 4 and 5, in the southeast, and leave between markers 15 and 16 in the southwest of the reserve. The pick-ups also enter the desert along kilometer 96, from the police control post at Hatillo, then go north and cross the road to Sayán where they enter the reserve until they exit in the north close to the chicken farms on the border or at the archeologically important Teatino. These 4X4 vehicles reduce vegetative cover, disturb wildlife, destroy nesting sites, kill innumerous invertebrates, and alter the landscape by leaving tracks.
Grazing and firewood extraction
Goat grazing and firewood extraction are the traditional activities in the reserve, which have caused lasting impacts. Before the reserve was declared, locals used the zone as pasture for goats and cattle; there were grazing animals everywhere. After the protected area was declared, strict measures were taken, such as physically removing the cattle, taking them away by the truckloads, and fining pastoralists who did not remove their cattle. The prosecutor's office was even involved when necessary. Grazing was completely controlled. The Local Support Committee for Lachay National Reserve played an important roll in this process.
Currently, grazing takes place between the months of September and November each year, mostly in areas with herbaceous vegetation. Grazing compacts the soil, reduces soil fertility, and reduces vegetative cover. It occurs principally in the zone known as "Torre Blanca," found near markers 13 and 14 and along the northern sector where the grazing passes through the reserve.
During the dry season when the mountain ranges' pastures reduce in size, the highland pastoralists (from Iguarí, Lampián and other towns) must bring their cattle down the mountains to graze on greener pastures. Before, they would bring them to the Lomas de Lachay, but today with the restrictions, access to the protected area is limited. Therefore, they use the communal territories of the rural community Sayán under mutually agreed upon terms. The Sayán community leases the pasture and charges approximately $1.4 US Dollar per head of cattle. They sign contracts and establish the pasture zones and allowable number of cattle. They monitor the pastures to count the head of cattle and charge accordingly. Normally, goats and cattle are not grazed together. In the northwestern portion of the reserve, corrals built many years ago are still used during grazing periods.
Because goat grazing is a traditional activity, the protected area was zoned accordingly and there is a special use zone for this activity. Today, grazing is a very focused problem; the herders do not enter other zones of the reserve and they remain in the area zoned for this use. Nonetheless, in order to access the special use zone, many pastoralists must cross other parts of the reserve (like the wilderness zone), which causes negative impacts.
The president of the local highland Huaral community informed us that on several occasions they have submitted requests to the reserve's administration to receive the right to use pasture areas in the reserve. They want to graze 300 cattle in the area known as "Hatillo Viejo." Because cattle and goats cannot graze together (the goats loosen rocks from the hillsides that are difficult for cattle to walk on), these cattle owners want distinct pasture land on safer, flatter lands. According to the administration, there is not enough technical information to allow such activity in the reserve. These cattlemen and others from the highlands are a potential threat if they decide to enter the reserve anyway, taking advantage of areas that are not controlled or monitored often.
Firewood extraction is relatively rare these days and is under control. Firewood extraction does not pose a serious threat like it used to because the park guards have been able to control it, and because the locals are aware of the problems it creates. Goat herders are the ones who continue to extract firewood during the months they use the special use zone. Locals do enter the reserve to collect firewood, but it is done on a small-scale. On the eastern part of the reserve, people living along the highway to Sayán enter the reserve for firewood. The problem worsens during asparagus harvest time because temporary workers are in the area and they are looking for firewood.
Wild fires are no longer a common problem in Lachay. Nonetheless, when they do occur they are devastating. They destroy vegetative cover, alter the habitat, destroy individuals of threatened species and displace fauna. Any part of the reserve is susceptible to fires, especially during the dry season when there is no moisture to stop a fire and the dry vegetation is totally vulnerable. In many cases, the goat herders set fires to get firewood or because they believe that fire will create better pastures. Recent notable fires were along the Mensias hill in 2002 when 10 hectares burned (now, the area has completely recuperated) and in 1992 close to the Hato Viejo and Lechuzas stream.
Productive activities close to park borders
Agricultural activities surround the protected area. Small and medium-scale producers mostly grow wheat and fruit while the agro-industry is dedicated to asparagus cultivation. Nearby agricultural activities facilitate the spread of invasive species in the reserve because the wind easily blows their seeds into the protected area.
In addition, agrochemical use in the asparagus fields could harm the perimeter of the reserve and affect fauna living in those areas (like insects, rodents, etc). In addition, ground water could become contaminated. This is a problem since water for the reserve is taken from the well at Guayabito control post, which is located next to fields where chemicals and fertilizers are frequently used. The water table is found only 15 meters from the surface and the soil is sandy.
Asparagus fields next to the reserve Drip irrigation on asparagus field
The asparagus industry operates along the Guayabito stream along the eastern border of the reserve. They acquired approximately 20 hectares of Sayán communal land for their production. The land is right next to the reserve, on the other side of the road. The company, called Agro Guayabito, considered the reserve's borders when establishing their fields and as a result, there is no border conflict. The company also leases communal land from the Huaral community under contract agreements.
The asparagus production is for export. They use chemicals, fertilizers, drip irrigation, and intensive manual labor. During our visit, we noted a large number of flies attracted to the manure fertilizers used. Large quantities of flies could affect animal behavior, since both insects and birds would enter the fields to feed on the flies and subsequently die from chemical ingestion. This same problem, large number of flies, is found near the goat farm (also close to the control post and the agroindustrial fields). Using fertilizers could also affect the ground water in the form of organic contamination or could affect human health because of microbes. Another potential contaminate are the fuel storage tanks maintained by Agro Guayabito. If these fuel tanks were damaged and began leaking, they would contaminate the ground water and the soil.
Another productive activity found along the reserve's borders is chicken farming. Chicken farms are a significant land use in the outskirts of the reserve. The closest chicken farm, and therefore the one that has the most influence on the reserve, is Avinka found off of the western border of the reserve in the Sayán communal lands. It is found next to "Pampa Dońa María" between the markers 14 and 16. It is 500 meters wide with an unpaved access road along the reserve. Chicken farms in general, and this one in particular, generate large amounts of waste that could contaminate the reserve. Inadequate waste disposal-which currently consists of tossing it into the desert-and frequent use of disinfectants and other chemicals, could harm flora and fauna in the reserve. The chicken farms have produced behavior change in certain species, like the Sechuran fox, that searches for food in the chicken waste. This could also result in health problems for the animals.
Chicken farm located along the reserve’s border and waste from the chicken farm
Extraction of construction materials
As of March 2003, road-builders and independent contractors were extracting construction materials such as sand, stones, and gravel from the reserve. Large trucks entered the southern part of the reserve, close to the Pan-American Highway, using the road to Sayán to extract materials. In an attempt to stop the extraction, the reserve administrators dug a ditch more than 1 km long along the road to stop trucks from entering the reserve. This has stopped some trucks from entering, but the extractors have refilled parts of the ditch so they can continue enter the reserve unimpeded. There are many negative impacts from this extraction, including landscape alteration, dust creation, and soil alteration.
The Sayán community leases land next to the Pan-American Highway and the reserve to the Ministry of Transportation and Communication, which has installed its operations-machinery, fuel storage, infrastructure for personnel, etc. Although these operations are outside of the reserve, they are right next to it and therefore they alter the landscape, create dust, and alter and contaminate the soil. As payment for using their communal lands, the Sayán community asked the Ministry of Transportation and Communication to build them a new road-the reserve's administration was against this proposal.
Ministry of Transportation buildings next to reserve (left)
and area where illegal sand extraction occurs
Garbage is not just a problem in the public use zone, it is also a problem along the reserve's perimeter. Vehicles traveling along the Pan-American Highway and along the road to Sayán toss garbage along the road into the desert. This garbage is blown into the reserve. This creates a need to constantly clean up garbage; in fact, there is so much garbage that reserve staff cannot keep up with it. The interprovincial buses that provide food service to their passengers are the main source of garbage. After eating, passengers throw their plastic plates, cups, bags and papers out the window. This garbage contaminates the reserve, affects animal behavior, is unsightly, and alters the landscape. Another source of garbage are the homes found along the road to Sayán. These people cross the street and enter the reserve to dispose of their waste.
Lachay's staff collects and monitors the garbage found within the reserve. They have three scales to weigh the garbage after they have collected it and they maintain garbage statistics by sector. They dispose of the garbage in the landfill of Huaral. It should be noted that this landfill, while not directly affecting the reserve, is itself an environmental problem affecting the region. Smoke and foul smells are often brought into the town of Huaral by the wind.
Click here to see the statistics of collected garbage in Lachay National Reserve (statistics kept by the reserve's administration, INRENA). Garbage collected significantly increases during themonths of September and October when the reserve receives the most visitors.
There are several introduced species causing changes in the reserve. In the past, before the reserve was created, introductions were made by cattlemen. Later, after the reserve was declared, the Ministry of Agriculture introduced exotic species, such as eucalyptus and pines, in an effort to reforest the zone. There are approximately 5 hectares reforested using these species. Today, INRENA is using native species for reforestation. The exotic grasses and pastures introduced by the herders and cattlemen remain in parts of the reserve, mostly near the public use zone. Agave (Furcraea andina) was also introduced by the reserve's administration several years ago, but is causing problems today. It occupies the most humid portions of the reserve, out-competing native species. It grows under trees where there is more moisture and thereby competes with the trees. Agave harbors other exotic species, like garden snails (Helix aspersa) and rats. Agave reduces biodiversity since no other vegetation grows where it occurs. Reserve staff has conducted basic studies and has monitored this species spread. Their studies show that removing agave would not eliminate or reduce native flora or fauna, but it would eliminate or reduce the other exotic species (rats, snails).
Agave (Furcraea andina), an invasive species
Introduced species create competition, displace native species, and alter habitats. It should be noted that of the vascular plant identified in Lachay, 45% have been registered as weeds. Several of weed grasses have reached the hills and, because of the favorable climate, have spread. This high rate of weeds (invasive plants) is due to Lachay's proximity to agricultural valleys, such as Huaral and Huaura, and the intensive grazing in the past (26). The reserve is also refuge for agricultural pests, like coleopteras and other insects. When nearby agriculture properties fumigate, the pests return to the reserve.
Goats are an introduced species that affects the reserve's vegetation. In addition to goats, there are dogs. Herders probably introduced the dogs or they are strays from nearby communities or agricultural areas. The deer kept at the reserve for public viewing are often bothered by the dogs, which approach the fenced-in area and chase the deer. The dogs scare and chase the foxes as well. It is thought that these dogs also enter the chicken farms in search for food. Dogs carry dangerous diseases and could pass them to wild fox populations or other wildlife.
Looting of archeological sites
Among the archeological remains in Lachay National Reserve are petrogliphs (ideographic pre-Columbian paintings), found mostly in the northern part of the reserve. There are more than 40 petrogliphs in Lachay, but they have not been studied or inventoried. In Lachay, there are systems of terraces, or stone walkways, that may have been constructed by ancient cultures for agriculture. These appear to have been built 2000 years ago. The hills, in general, were influenced by important regional cultures such as Chavín, Tiahuanaco, Mochica, Chimú, Chancay and finally the Incan Empire. Approximately 2500 years ago, the Chavín culture succumbed to the Tiahuanaco, who dominated the area during the little-studied Teatino period. Their tombs, which are found in large number along the foot of the Lachay hills in the northeastern part of the reserve, are being looted, removing any possibility of studying and conserving them (27).
According to protected area staff, recent removals of archeological pieces were linked to workers from Avinka chicken farm, which is located nearby. They followed tracks and remains to the farm and some locals have witnessed workers from Avinka with pieces and have informed reserve staff. The administration has denounced the suspected perpetrators to the corresponding authorities. The National Institute of Culture, which is responsible for supervising and safeguarding archeological patrimony, has not appeared on the scene and has not given any attention to this matter. Reserve staff has actually recuperated some of the pieces and keeps them in general storage since there is no other place and because they cannot do anything without intervention and approval from the National Institute of Culture.
Ceramics are strewn around after being removed from the site
Looting of archeological remains not only degrades and destroys national patrimony but also reduces the tourist value of the reserve. Looting occurs mostly in the archeological zones found at Teatino and Torreblanca.
The hills of Lachay are a very sensitive ecosystem that is vulnerable to even the slightest climatic change. Changes in humidity levels and temperature affect many species in different ways. A winter with only light fog, or an extremely hot or long summer, could generate drastic changes in species composition by hindering flowering in some species, or allowing others to proliferate. The El Nińo phenomenon is a perfect example of what could happen. 1983 was an El Nińo year, and wild tobacco Nicotiana paniculata, dominated Lachay. The plants grew to 2 meters; their normal height is 40 centimeters. During other years, the reserve was covered by Sicyos baderoa or Ciclantera pedata. During 1997-98, El Nińo made it possible for Lachay's hills to be green all year. These climatic events generate alterations to the reserve's seasonal rhythm.
23 Ibid. Pag. 18.
24 Ibid. Pags. 15 - 16.
25 Lachay National Reserve Master Plan, graphic 1, Number of visitors to Lachay National Reserve. Plan Maestro de la Reserva Nacional de Lachay. Intendencia de Áreas Naturales Protegidas. Instituto Nacional de Recursos Naturales INRENA. Diciembre 2002. Pag. 16.
26 Lachay National Reserve Master Plan. Op. Cit. Pag. 19.
27 Ibid. Pag. 14.