Scaling up protection and restoration of key Pantanal headwaters

2015 Winner

To protect and restore watersheds and biodiversity in Brazil’s Pantanal region, the Wildlife Conservation Society is scaling up its proven approaches to promoting sustainable land use on individual properties to whole rural municipalities.

Project Description

In the Pantanal region of Brazil, one of the world’s largest tropical wetlands, deforestation and replacement of native vegetation with planted exotic pastures and crops in headwater basins have contributed to stream siltation and changes in hydrologic balance, reducing water quality and quantity. Starting with a pilot municipality called Corguinho that contains key headwater basins of the Negro, Taboco and Aquidauana rivers, the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) will leverage locally-trusted municipal- personnel and well-established networks and organizations to: (1) conduct municipal-scale watershed assessments and land-use planning, (2) train capacity builders to promote sustainable land-use practices, (3) set up three sustainably-managed model properties, and (4) scale up positive impacts to neighboring municipalities.

Project goal and impact

The Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and local partners continue to make progress in promoting sustainable land use planning that helps protect and restore the ecological function of streams and native vegetation areas in the headwaters region of Brazil’s Pantanal. Building on successful and ongoing work focused on individual properties, the project is extending to encompass whole rural municipalities, starting with pilot work in Corguinho’s extensive watersheds.


Analyses have now been performed to guide efforts to preserve and rehabilitate native vegetation cover in headwater basins to mitigate the impacts of erosion and channel siltation and help reconnect fragmented stream sections and native vegetation reserves. Among other findings, these revealed that only 32% of native vegetation cover persists in Corguinho, in a highly fragmented condition. These important data are being used to engage state and federal environmental technicians, university researchers, municipal government officials and educators, rural property owners, and other regional stakeholders to collaborate on land-use management solutions that incorporate key conservation, socio-economic, and cultural features.

Social and economic

Among other activities, WCS worked closely with the municipal government of Corguinho, Quinta do Sol (a local nongovernmental organization), and local landowners from diverse socioeconomic sectors to set up six model properties where sustainable land use practices and restoration efforts are being implemented and evaluated, with associated dissemination. These include two large beef-cattle ranches, two mid-sized dairy farms, and two groups of family farms in agrarian settlements. Practices ranging from improved grazing systems; watering stations and fencing that reduce cattle impacts on riparian zones, streams, and steep slopes; and tree-planting with local scout troops to recuperate degraded areas are underway. Already, outcomes have been reported, such as increased dairy milk production from improved grazing and observation of water benefits due to keeping cattle out of stream channels and allowing vegetation to recuperate.

Participation of the communities

With the help of WCS, the municipality of Corguinho established a “Municipal Environmental Council” in December 2015, which will provide greater power to the municipality to develop and strengthen environmental policy and will ensure greater constancy of environmental policies across election cycles. WCS is working with the Council, stakeholders, and other collaborators to develop a complete land-use management plan for the municipality, with some agreed-upon actions already being initiated. In addition, nine municipal personnel and 40 teachers received training to promote sustainable land-use practices, watershed protection, and climate change resilience. The plan is to gradually transfer operational responsibility for the project to the Corguinho municipal government, with Corguinho serving as a model for neighboring municipalities in terms of benefits to the environment and rural livelihoods.

Long-term viability

Operational responsibility for the project will be gradually transferred from WCS and its partners to the Corguinho municipal government, which will also become financially responsible for a majority of activities. WCS will scale up regional adoption of Corguinho’s policies promoting watershed protection, land-use planning and sustainable land-use practices by organizing events with neighboring municipalities that demonstrate a variety of benefits for the environment and rural livelihoods.


The Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) manages approximately 500 conservation projects in more than 60 countries with a mission of saving wildlife and wild places. WCS Brazil focuses on two major biomes: the Pantanal and the Amazon. Both are threatened by human activities and are unique for their complex mosaic of ecosystems.

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Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS)
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Corguinho, Mato Grosso do Sul, Brazil
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Wildlife Conservation Society
WCS-Brazil, Pantanal Program
Rua Spipe Calarge, 2355
Campo Grande, MS 79052-070

Alexine Keuroghlian, Ph.D., Pantanal Program Coordinator