Here we present a tour of the reserve starting in the northeastern corner and moving south and west to the southern section.
The northernmost tip of the reserve is a 40 ha buffer zone protecting the main part of the reserve from the urban expansion spreading south from Ituberá. This narrow (200-400 m) band of chronically disturbed pioneer forest flanks BA-001 with the mixed tree crop groves of Fazenda Velha along its western border, the mangroves of the Rio Serinhaem to the east and south, and the low income Poerão neighborhood to the north. In addition to the forest, there are some 20 ha of rubber groves.
Road to Pancada Grande
These 60 ha between highway BA-001 and the Pancada Grande Waterfall support rubber groves with inter-rows of a dense pioneer vegetation growing to 2-5 m, and a large area enriched with native forest species planted in 2005, 2008, and 2012. There are several small patches of dense secondary forest, especially along the river and on the approach to the waterfall. The road to the waterfall splits off of BA-001 at the confluence of the Indios and Cachoeira Grande rivers and runs along the latter to the waterfall, with a road junction that leads to the Colônia and another that ends at the top of the waterfall. This part of the reserve is 100-400 m wide and 2 km long, with a steep slope rising north of the river. To the north lie the smallholder mixed tree crop groves of the Colônia and to the south large rubber/cacao/banana plantations.
The 625 ha Forest
This 625 ha forest is one contiguous fragment but divided into three parts reflecting the three access point as described below.
The Pancada Grande Forest
The 172 ha Pancada Grande Forest lies on the north bank of the Cachoeira Grande River, between the river and the Colônia. The topography is slightly undulating with an elevation of 120 m along the river and 186 m and 190 m on the two hill tops. This forest was heavily exploited for timber for 25 years with logging operations terminating in the late 1970s. The flatter western section of the forest was the most heavily logged and the upper river trail forest the least. Today the forest consists of 48% heavily logged and 52% medium impact logged forest. There are still small groves of old-growth trees in the center of the forest, but most large trees are Eriotheca spp. and the fast growing Tachigali densiflora, Balizia pediccelaris and Parkia pendula trees. Overall the upper canopy is 10-15+ m with occasional emergents ≥20 m and the understory tends to be thick to 3-4 m with an abundance of saplings, palms and Heliconias. Bromeliads, philodendrons, vines and lianas are most common in the riparian forest. A dense growth of herbaceous vegetation lines the 2 large and 3 small streams and several tree fall gaps along the river are choked with climbing bamboo. Adjacent agricultural lands of the Colônia include rubber, cacao, banana, and cloves, but several of these farms are abandoned and overgrown with farm bush. During a land invasion in the 1990s peasants cleared several hectares along the central western boundary and two smaller areas along the river and in the forest core. The invaders also cleared saplings from parts of the riparian forest but these have grown back vigorously.
The River Forest
The 273 ha River Forest flanks the southern bank of the Cachoeira Grande River for 4 km covering mostly flat terrain except at the eastern end above Pancada Grande Waterfall where the hill rises steeply and then drops precipitously. This forest was heavily logged until the late 1970s and today consists of dense secondary forest to 8-15 m, with scattered older trees and small patches of relatively intact forest in the areas of more difficult access. The western end of the River Forest was completely cleared and burned for an aborted rubber planting project and today consists of a uniform stand of early secondary forest approximately 40 years old with Pourouma as a canopy dominant. Small patches in the center of the forest below the Vila 5 forest are manioc fallows from the posseiro farms of the first half of the 20th century. A thick band of vegetation lines much of the river with abundant vines, bromeliads, bamboo, ferns and Cyperus grasses. The river here is 9-12 m wide with many exposed rocks when the water levels are low and several rapids and small islands.
The Vila 5 Forest
The 180 ha Vila 5 Forest, 2.5 km long and 800 m wide, covers five hills south of the river with peaks between 160-288 m. The forest was used as a timber reserve and also mined for gravel to place on the plantation roads. Today the principal forest types are heavily logged (31.3%), medium impact logging (41%), and lightly logged (14.3%) forests. The central eastern side of the forest burned in the 1960s and today supports a secondary forest dominated by Pourouma, Senna, and Schefflera trees and abundant vines and thin lianas accounting for 10.7% of the forest. A small area of 2.7% was a manioc farm in the past. Vila 5 retains the most intact of the reserve forests and the upper slopes of the northern hills retain relatively large groves of lightly logged forest with several impressive specimens of Sloanea, Caryocar, Virola, Eriotheca, Licania, and Copaifera trees. The forest profile in the younger patches is a continuous growth of thin saplings and medium sized trees to 10-13 m, while in the mature patches the upper canopy is consistently 17-20+m. The southern hill mostly supports a heavily logged forest with trees to 8-13+ m, abundant vines, and deep leaf litter, but on the higher slopes there is a patch of forest with several old growth trees. Euterpe edulis palms are abundant throughout as are lianas and other epiphytes, and terrestrial bromeliads cover the large exposed rocks on the hilltops. The Rio das Matas flows through the central part of the forest with a pretty waterfall and cascades along its course. The forest has several springs and small streams along which grow mosses, ferns, and tree ferns. Rubber/cacao/banana groves flank the forest on three sides with the River Forest to the north.
The area between the three main forest areas occupies some 600 ha of the reserve and supports a mixture of rubber monocultures and varzea wetlands, the latter often lined by a narrow band of pioneer forests. The rubber inter-rows have not been cut since the reserve was established and have become dense thickets of pioneer bush growing to 2-4+ m. This is the primary site for the forest enrichment project with 100,000 trees of >210 species planted. The rubber groves in the northwestern corner of the reserve, known as the Berel, penetrate the forested slopes between Pacangê and the neighboring Itapema I Forest. The topography is relatively flat along the Cachoeira Grande River but rises steeply as one moves southward, culminating in the high hills of the Luis Inácio Forest. To the south and east lie large plantations of cacao/rubber/banana groves.
Luis Inácio Forest
The 140 ha Luis Inácio Forest covers four steep hills with the Rio das Matas flowing between them. The 338 m northwestern hill is the highest peak in the reserve. Farmers planted manioc in the central and eastern parts of this forest throughout much of the 20th century and fallows occupy 28.8% of the forest. These secondary forests are dominated by Pourouma, Senna, Albizia, Byrsonima, and Schefflera trees with an upper canopy of 6-12+m and Euterpe palms conspicuously abundant in the under and mid-stories. The remainder of the forest was logged with 25.8% heavily logged, 37.9% medium impact logged, and 7.6% lightly logged. Most of the forest has an understory of dense sapling thickets with medium sized trees reaching 6-15 m, but on the upper slopes of the northern hills and along the Riacho Caipora there are small groves of mature forest with old growth trees. The Luis Inácio Forest lies 800 m to the west of Vila 5 and 400 m to the east of the Pacangê Forest, and is surrounded by rubber groves with abandoned inter-rows enriched with native tree plantings on the northern and western sides and cacao/rubber/banana plantations on the eastern and southern sides.
The 550 ha Pacangê Forest cloaks 7 steep hills along two parallel ridges with peaks between 240-327 m. Pacangê was farmed since the 19th century, mostly for manioc but later for cacao as well. Four abandoned cacao groves, jackfruit trees, exotic bamboo, and the remains of manioc processing mills in the forest are evidence of this agricultural history. Today the forest is composed of 3% abandoned pastures, 49.9% fallows, 18.7% heavily logged, 23.3% medium impact logged, and 5.1% lightly logged forest. The forest was completely cleared on the lower hill slopes, all along the river, and all the way up and over the southwestern hill. These areas support secondary forest with a dense continuous vegetation to 3-5 m and in the more mature fallows the upper canopy reaches 7-15 m. Vines are abundant, bromeliads reach moderate densities, and leaf litter is deep. The vegetation of the north end of the forest is a largely impenetrable sapling thicket, with continuous vegetation to 2-4 m. There is another large patch of young secondary forest in the center of the forest above the river that extends far up the central hill on the western ridge. The third patch of young secondary forest lies midway up the southeastern slope with dense growth of shrubs and trees to 4 m. Logged forests cloak the mid and upper slopes of all but the southeastern hill where the most intact forest is located. Mature lightly logged forest follows the eastern ridge in a narrow but continuous band with an upper canopy reaching 15-25 m and spaced old growth trees reaching 30-40 m. On the upper slopes of the western ridge there are scattered groves of mature lightly logged forest with old growth trees and an upper canopy of 15-25+ m and emergents reaching 40 m. These mature forest patches are rich in large lianas, bromeliads and other epiphytes. An ancient old growth sapucaia (Lecythis pisonis) along the river is the largest tree left in the region and allows one to imagine what the forests were like before the 1950s. The small Pacangê River passes through the center of the forest, flowing out of a large cattail wetland on the south end of the forest and into a rubber flanked wetland on the north end before entering the Cachoeira Grande River. This forest is the source of 6 large streams and several small streams and has several ponds that retain water throughout most of the year. The forest is flanked on the north and east by rubber monocultures with abandoned inter-rows enriched with native forest trees and on the south by an abandoned pupunha palm plantation. Pacangê is connected to the largest forest block in the region (13,000+ ha) along its western boundary, and together with the forest of Fazenda Itapema I this is the widest section (5 km wide) of this forest block.
A steep high ridge runs along the eastern flank of this 700 ha area, with the Pacangê River valley below and the forests of Itapema II to the west. Rubber groves with abandoned inter-rows dominate the landscape, but there is also an extensive network of varzea wetlands and several large fragments of pioneer forest (Senna, Tapirira, Cecropia, Schefflera, Inga, Vismia, Bauhinia, Piper, Miconia, Henrietta, and Cyperus grasses). There are several native tree enrichment plantings in the rubber groves of the southern sector. Michelin maintains several large extra-reserve rubber groves in this area as part of their long-term experimental study of rubber clone resistance to the Mycrocyclus ulei fungus. To the east lie large cacao/rubber/banana plantations and to the southwest and south the landscape is dominated by mixed tree crop groves and large chronically disturbed forest fragments.