In Colombia’s history of nature conservation, few people can be said to have committed their entire lives to our natural heritage, leaving an inspiring example for future generations.
By Sandra Yolima Sguerra Castañeda, WCPA*
Heliodoro Sánchez Páez, Forestry Engineer from Bucaramanga (Colombia), died on February 12, 2017, after almost 50 years of professional dedication, having shared many lessons with those who had the privilege of knowing him as a teacher, friend, colleague and family man. In homage to Helio, as we called him, I want to dedicate these short lines to share a little of his life and his legacy.
Above all, a noble human being
With his classic phrase: "well ... and what must be done?" Heliodoro broke the ice and opened the door to a good conversation. Beyond his achievements, his human quality will be what we are going to miss the most: a simple, respectful and friendly human being with the people and like good citizen from Santander, always said what he thought. His ethical imprint, honourability and commitment in the projects assumed, was and still is inspiring. Until his last days he was willing to learn and teach with complete generosity, devoted to his family, in love with his wife Gladys and their children Paola and Heliodoro.
Conservation warrior, especially for protected areas
Shortly after obtaining his degree as Forest Engineer in 1968, Heliodoro was linked to the recently created National Institute of Renewable Natural Resources - Inderena, an entity that later gave rise to the Colombian Ministry of the Environment. Inderena was the ministry’s main knowledge laboratory and conservation management platform. There he started as an advisor in the Natural Park of the Island of Salamanca, and became the Head of the National Parks Division, moving through different roles that allowed him to contribute decisively to the declaration of several Protected Areas. Together with Víctor Vásquez and Jorge ‘the monkey’ Hernández, they set up the Biocolombia Foundation, with which they generated the first studies for the formation of the National System of Protected Areas, identifying in turn the priority conservation sites of the country .
Mangrove restoration pioneer
Between 1997 and 2004, Heliodoro led the "Conservation and Management for Multiple Use and Development of Mangroves in Colombia" project, through which the characterisation and zoning of this ecosystem at national level was advanced, and most importantly, implemented effective and innovative actions for their recovery, with active local community participation. For his mangrove restauration work, Heliodoro was the first professional to be awarded the Kenton Miller Award for Innovation in National Parks and Protected Area Sustainability, awarded in Bariloche by IUCN in 2007, to which he contributed as a member of the World Commission on Protected Areas (WCPA) and as one of the creators of the IUCN Colombian Committee.
Protected area management trainer
As a professor at the Francisco José de Caldas District University, he taught Forest Engineering students the basics of biodiversity conservation for almost three decades. Taking classes with Heliodoro was a privilege because his practical teaching was oriented to understanding on the ground, the conflicts of the protected areas and the multiple ways of addressing them. In addition, Heliodoro was editor of the ‘Revista Colombia Forestal’ and adviser of numerous projects and investigations. With his example, he transmitted his strong and mystical spirit so that, despite the challenges, we continue to have protected areas, really protected and well preserved, today more than ever in post-conflict Colombia.
Dear Helio, thank you from the heart for so many years shared! We will continue to work for nature conservation!
"I had the privilege of meeting Heliodoro in 1988 during a workshop organised by FAO in Mexico on the management of mountain ecosystems. His interventions were very coherentd, but above all very practical. During a field visit to an area that was the object of a restoration plan, Heliodoro, after patiently listening to the explanations, could not contain himself and said, "But what are we doing here? Let's do something useful! "And immediately went to work on an anti-erosion barrier and we all followed. I will always remember him as a man of action, committed and bold to defend the cause of conservation, but always showing great humility, respect for all and a great sense of humour. He was a major promoter of IUCN and the World Commission on Protected Areas. We will never forget Heliodoro, we learned a lot from you. Rest in peace"
Pedro Rosabal, Deputy Director, IUCN Global Protected Areas Programme
*Sandra Yolima Sguerra Castañeda is a Forestry Engineer in Colombia, specialised in protected area management and administration. Sandra is a member of the IUCN World Commission on Protected Areas.