Vale’s Brazilian Tree Factory – By Francisco Luiz Noel

Vale plants about six million native trees every year in Brazil throughout its mining operationsVale is a Brazilian mining company that is committed to the protection and scientific knowledge of Brazil’s globally significant biodiversity. Vale protects more than 1.3 million of hectares of primary forests in the Amazonian and Atlantic regions of Brazil and plants about six million native trees per year in its various mining projects throughout the country.  

The following article was first published in Engagement, Vale’s magazine for socially responsible and sustainable mining.

From the Vale Nature Reserve in Linhares (Espirito Santo) come 4.5 million seedlings per year for forest regeneration projects

From seedlings barely a hand’s width in height have come mighty trees that have helped to rescue the green of the Atlantic Forest in various parts of Brazil. This has also been happening in various parts of Espírito Santo’s capital Vitória: on the city’s hillsides and at the Vale Botanical Garden located in the Industrial Port Complex of Tubarão, as well as in the historic Convent of Our Lady of Penha, in neighboring Vila Velha. Natives of Espírito Santo, known as capixabas, have given their endorsement to this growth with the more than 450,000 visits paid to the park since 2004, while seedlings are also being planted in the states of Maranhão, Pará and Minas Gerais. With appropriate environmental technology and tropical silviculture, Vale is contributing to restoration of the ecosystem in the cities where it operates, for the sake of the quality of life and the conservation and safeguarding of biodiversity.

The source of this environmental undertaking is the Vale Nature Reserve, located in Linhares, in northern Espírito Santo. A national model for the planting of seedlings of species from the Atlantic Forest, it has a production capacity of 55 million seedlings per year, involving 800 species from some of the ecosystems of this biome. A great many of the seeds used for this production are gathered in the reserve’s 22,000 hectares – 40% of what remains of the old-growth Atlantic Forest in the state. The development of conservation and silviculture techniques encompasses an experimental area of nearly 700 hectares in the reserve, and extends to other regions such as Amazonia. Other frontiers of research involve exploring the ecological processes and behavior of animal species such as the jaguar (Panthera onca) and the Crested Capuchin monkey (Cebus robustus), and assisting with the preservation of the area’s biodiversity as a whole.

Vale is also restoring its mining areas, using technology developed in the reserve, which is subject to constant refinement, allowing for the safeguarding and conservation of local biodiversity in a variety of circumstances. It is an indication that mining activities, when conducted properly, can also promote environmentally responsible development.

An open laboratory for scholars from a number of Brazilian states as well as other countries, the reserve is of major importance for the preservation of Brazilian species of flora and fauna. Established at the beginning of the 1950s with the purchase by Vale of an extensive patch of land, the reserve has registered the presence of 70% of the known plants of the Atlantic Forest, with more than 2,600 species: 920 arboreal species, 440 shrubs, 990 herbaceous species, 26 palms and 280 woody vines. As a result of botanical surveys conducted, 91 species that were until then unknown to science have been described, such as jequitibá-cravinho (Cariniana parvifolia) and peroba candeia (Grazielodendron rio-docensis) – along with an additional 46 species currently in the process of description.

Lúcia Garcez Lohmann, professor of botany from the University of São Paulo’s Institute of Biosciences, comprises part of the host of researchers drawn to Linhares by the biodiversity of the Vale Nature Reserve. A specialist in the evolutionary process of Bignoniaceae – a botanical family with 860 species, such as ipê trees – Lúcia has been coming here to visit since 2001. “There are some 60 species of Bignoniaceae in this reserve. I’ve found two new ones, and three others had already been described by another researcher,” she recounts. She is finishing the description of her discoveries, which have not yet received their scientific names.

Vale’s reserve guarantees animals in danger of extinction not only the preservation of their habitat, but also protection from the depredations of hunters. As the result of a project in wildlife monitoring, nine jaguars have been recorded so far, along with five other feline species, among them the Puma (Puma concolor), the Ocelot (Leopardus pardalis) and the Oncilla (Leopardus tigrinus). The one hundred species of mammals recorded in the reserve are in addition to the 369 birds – featuring the Harpy Eagle (Harpia harpyja), 65 reptiles, 71 amphibians, 26 fishes, 178 arachnids and 830 butterflies and moths. There are also endangered mammals such as the Crested Capuchin (Cebus robustus), the Giant Armadillo (Priodontes maximus) and the Bristle- spined Porcupine (Chaetomys subspinosus). Among the birds are the Red-billed Currasow (Crax blumenbachii), the Ringed Woodpecker (Celeus torquatus), the White-necked Hawk (Leucopternis lacernulatus) and the Red-browed Amazon parrot (Amazona rhodocorytha).

Protecting this ecological sanctuary are professional staff such as forest custodian José Costa da Silva, who is 56. Mineiro, as he is called, learned to revere the green spaces when he began to work at Vale in 1978, planting seedlings. “I came to love the forest. There are trees that were so tiny when I stuck them in the ground and now they’re over 60 feet tall,” he marvels. “I raised my three kids with the support of this reserve. I’d die for this land.” Every day, to “keep hunters and forest fires at bay,” José and the other guards roam the dirt roads that wind through and around the reserve. In 2007, nearly 400 fires were snuffed out on neighboring farms. Animal traps were also dismantled and poachers handed over to the police.

It is not only recently that the power of example has taken hold in the region, where Vale supports the Federal Government in protecting the neighboring Sooretama Biological Reserve. In 2000, it was with seedlings and technology from the Vale Nature Reserve that coffee grower José Lino Bizi started to work on the restoration of 22 hectares of riparian forest that were serving as grazing land on his ranch in the township of Jaguaré. “It was a degraded area, on sloping land, with soil not suited for agriculture, and he felt it was his responsibility to reforest it,” explains his son, José Silvano Bizi, 36, whose father arranged for the planting of 45,000 trees. Eight years later, the meadow is now dense forest, with stands of jequitibá, cedar, laurel and pau-d’alho (Gallesia integrifolia), among other species. “He just fell in love with the land,” proclaims José Silvano.

The animals are grateful, too

Little by little, the animals began to discover a refuge in the planted forest. Residents include a variety of monkeys, pacas, capybaras, armadillos and lots of birds. In the family routine, growing coffee bushes and dwarf palms has given way to greeting caravans of students and university researchers. “We provided proof that it’s possible to restore areas acting in the short term. If you plant and nurture, nature does the rest,” attests José Silvano. Thanks to the work they’ve done, one quarter of the Bizi Fazenda is now covered with forest, exceeding the 20% minimum required as a legal reserve.

Vale’s biodiversity assets are at the service of environmental engagement in all regions where the company is active. “The reserve is our great generator of germplasm (the genetic resources of a species) and of ideas on the use of recovery techniques and tropical silviculture for environmental conservation,” stresses forestry engineer Renato de Jesus, operations director of the Instituto Ambiental Vale (IAV – Vale Environmental Institute) and general manager of Biodiversity for the Department of Land and Environmental Management. With 31 years in charge of the reserve, he notes that, in addition to preservation activities, there have been various other fruitful projects since 1979, such as the planting of 8 million seedlings in the green belt of the Tubarão Complex.

The Vale Nature Reserve has technology for the reproduction of 800 Atlantic Forest species. With 52 staff members, it also has a seed laboratory, a tree nursery, a herbarium, an arboretum, an orchard of tropical fruit trees and a collection of palms, besides ecological hiking trails for visitors and an infrastructure for lodging that is open to the public. The area available to visitors is restricted to less than 1% of the entire reserve. In addition to revenues from environmental projects and the sale of seedlings, taking in nature lovers of all ages helps to make the area a self-sustaining protected zone. In 2007, more than 30,000 people came to visit.

Sanctuary open to visitors

A calling card for the reserve in Espírito Santo’s capital city of Vitória, the Vale Botanical Garden, with 33 hectares of green spaces, receives more than 2,000 people per weekend, combining recreation, culture and environmental education. In addition to learning on guided hikes about the Atlantic Forest’s trees and processes of restoration, visitors have access to an orchidarium with 500 species. These attractions help to make this facility a recreation hotspot in the Greater Vitória area. Located in the Tubarão Complex, the park proves that environmental responsibility and business can – and should – go hand in hand.

The company is moving in the same direction in the state of Maranhão. Soon, people in the capital city of São Luís will have their own Vale Botanical Garden, with more than 100 hectares, patterned after its highly successful predecessor in Vitória. Located in the Ponta da Madeira Complex, in the Itaqui-Bacanga region, the park will provide a variety of activities, among them the production of seedlings of species from the ecosystems of Maranhão. In contrast to the park in Espirito Santo, instead of palms from the Atlantic Forest, visitors from the region will be able to enjoy the company of buriti, babaçu and juçara varieties of palms, among other species common to the state of Maranhão.

Plant Bank

Other initiatives follow in the footsteps of these highly successful endeavors, such as that car- ried out in the Minas Gerais town of Itabira, where seedlings have been planted since 1999 in a space of a thousand hectares. Forestry engineer Salim Jordy Filho, who is the IAV specialist for the restoration of mining areas, notes that increasingly, the company’s restoration activities in other states are bound one way or another to pass through the Vale Nature Reserve. An example of this can be found in the seeds of Amazonian species used in germination tests and cultivation in the facility’s laboratory, with a view to producing seeds for environmental projects in Carajas and other regions of Pará. “This is work that can be done anywhere. That’s why we centralize the research in Linhares. The reserve is a nursery of facilities for the development of environmental technologies,” Salim affirms.