Skip to content

Taking on Large Landscape Conservation in the Amazon – Part II

By Guest Observer October 30, 2012

In Part I of this series, Amy Rosenthal described the current challenges for environmental and human health in the southwest Amazon. In Part II, she addresses some of the most promising solutions.

What can we do?

First, we need to admit that we don’t know the single right answer – the silver bullet that will shift the balance between development and environment from discord to harmony. Challenges continue to confront the region, and solutions elude us. But, we can point to some early successes at the landscape scale that can be sustained and replicated.

The Amazon Conservation Association (ACA), a consortium of Peruvian, Bolivian, and U.S. conservation organizations with a joint mission, is at the forefront of this work. In 2008, ACA pioneered an innovative strategy to address the changes on the landscape and the threats to the Amazon forest and human welfare. Bringing together a range of stakeholders from civil society, government and private industry, the team laid out a plan to avoid or minimize each threat at a scale that could preserve the benefits from nature that people and animals depend on: pure drinking water, clean air, plentiful and healthy fish, access to forest products like Brazil nuts, stable water supply, forest landscapes that protect from flooding and erosion, and natural beauty that gives us peace of mind, opportunities for recreation, and potential income from tourism.

The MAP[i] plan takes on threats at multiple scales – from the local to regional – by relying on a landscape approach. It incorporates several strategic areas of work:

  • seeding and supporting smart policy – locally to nationally,
  • engaging local communities through education and organization,
  • fostering and investing in sustainable economic activities and sectors, and
  • directly protecting critical resources through conservation and improved land management.

What does the MAP plan look like?

To communities, it looks like a new community-managed forestry and agro-forestry systems – including 185,000 trees planted by ACA staff and communities in the Andean highlands and, in the Amazonian lowlands, 38,000 new trees and 80 families trained to care for them and earn revenue from native fruits and fibers.

To the local government, it looks like workshops to train representatives on the newest techniques and international policies they can now take advantage of and technical support developing maps for new regional parks – of which there are now more than 15 created or proposed.

To sustainable industry, it looks like improved management and quality control for supply that can now be sold for better prices locally and overseas – including dryers and processing plants for several associations of Brazil nut harvesters that serve 509 Brazil nut concessions on 600,000 hectares of forest, managed by 420 families.

To indigenous groups, it looks like more sovereignty over their traditional lands and more protection for their resources from invaders – including 2 new indigenous areas for the Wachiperi and Q’eros groups, and several more that are proposed.

To tourists, it looks like natural bounty never before seen: Forests full of exotic, rare birds – over 1000 species. Meadows of brightly colored butterflies and frogs. Hundreds of fresh, juicy tropical fruits. Waterfalls, cliffs, and blankets of forests. And, Indigenous-led tourism that showcases their rich cultural traditions. This includes more than 5 new tourism sites, focused on cultural tourism, science tourism, and ecotourism.

To those of us in environmental conservation, it looks like a new model – one that creates a holistic program that is greater than the sum of its parts. A model that creates allies from business, government, and communities, rather than enemies. One that has to potential to be built – albeit through great labor and skill – brick by brick into a new system for the southwest Amazon.

ACA calls it a mosaic-based conservation corridor initiative. On a map, like the one below, it looks like a patchwork of areas that radiate from a core – a trifecta of some of Peru’s most treasured protected areas: Manu National Park, Alto Purús National Park, and a National Reserve for uncontacted indigenous peoples. These corridors connect ecosystems that create spillover benefits for people – the clean air and water, the natural beauty and forest products mentioned above, as well as desperately needed stores of carbon to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and slow climate change – which also provide critical habitat for many species, including the jaguars, arapaima, Shihuahuaco trees and harpy eagles, and peccaries that have been under threat.

The three corridors are made of conservation areas – managed by government, communities, or civil society – and zones dedicated to sustainable uses, like agroforestry, Brazil nut harvest, fish farming, community forestry, and ecotourism. And each corridor is designed to confront a different set of threats and opportunities. The ManuTambopata Corridor limits the negative social and environmental impacts of the new Interoceanic Highway and destructive mining. The Castaña Corridor secures habitat for jaguars and traditional livelihoods for Brazil nut harvesting communities under threat from rapid in-migration, logging, and ranching interests. And the Andean Cloud Forest Corridor runs an elevational gradient from the lowlands to the tips of the glaciers to give people, plants, and animals refugia under the hard-to-predict changes of global warming (or, as I’ve heard it referred to, “global weirding”).

Although I’m really excited about these efforts, I can’t claim that the problem has been solved. We still face bureaucratic hurdles to managing corridors since they have no legal status in Peru and Bolivia. The forces that are degrading environmental and human health continue to multiply, and the partners that make the MAP plan a reality are comparatively resource-poor and politically weak. And, in some cases, there remain tradeoffs that can’t be harmonized among the immediate needs of people and the environment. If we want final solutions, we need to figure out ways to change the systems in which these activities are embedded. And, we’ll need to band together to push for the institutional building blocks that can make efforts like these accessible and sustainable over the long-term.

For more about these initiatives, check out Amazon Conservation Association or an upcoming article in the journal Ecological Restoration.

 


[i] Madre de Dios, Peru; Acre, Brazil; Pando, Bolivia. This is the southwest Amazon region, which faces similar threats and communities, outlined in Part I of this post. ACA’s MAP plan also includes critical initiatives in Cusco, Peru.

Share

What Makes Us Take on Large Landscape Conservation?

By Guest Observer June 27, 2012

Dealing with Threats (and Opportunities) at Sufficient Scale. (Part 1 of 2)

Editors’ note: In this first of a two part series, author Amy Rosenthal, secretary of the board of the Amazon Conservation Association, explores the history, contemporary challenges and benefits of working on a landscape-scale in the southwest Amazon. As the scale and rate of industrial development in the region grow exponentially, local communities and associations, place-based nonprofits and other collaborators have come together to plan and execute an ambitious initiative to address the environmental and human needs of this unique place.   

The southwestern Amazon has been a remote place for most of human history. It is a steamy region, where lush jungles support an incredible diversity of flora and fauna. Bands of monkeys swing through the trees. Jaguars and pumas hunt white-lipped peccaries and capybara. Harpy eagles and macaws nest in trees 16 stories tall. The giant, ancient arapaima vies with schools of piranha to rule the rivers. And, many-colored ants, butterflies, grasshoppers, and beetles number in the millions. We are still discovering new species today.

Unlike historically populous areas of the Amazon, this area now known as the MAP Region (Madre de Dios, Peru; Acre, Brazil; and Pando, Bolivia) is thought to have been inhabited by small, disperse bands of peoples. The first waves of non-Indigenous immigration took place in the late 1800s, when colonists sought to reap the benefits of the rubber and gold rushes. Yet, roads and urban construction – the hallmarks of the human footprint – were slow to appear. The first paved roads arrived only in the 1980s, accompanied by rampant violence and deforestation, and the world’s first eco-martyr, Chico Mendes.

The impacts of mining are visible in the Peruvian Amazon. Photo courtesy of Amazon Conservation Association

Today, the MAP Region is being transformed. From the air, instead of a rich green carpet, you see what appears to be a long spine, with a series of fishbone cuts deep into the jungle. Dusty red cities crop up –Cobija, Puerto Maldonado, Iberia – and one metropolis – Rio Branco – full of cars and shopping malls. Peri-urban zones are flat, yellow or grayish green and dotted with white cows; they spread in every direction and along the spine as far as you can see. On the Peruvian side, smoke wafts up from grey-brown holes in the forest – gold mines; these sites appear almost overnight, quickly fill with Andean migrants and mercury, and over days are dug down to sand and bedrock. On the ground, in many places, there is no reminder of the cathedral forests and the crouching jaguars, save the early morning sounds of macaws flying overhead or the lonely sloth that wanders into an urban downtown.

On the one side, this is a story of successful development: paved roads, modern bridges, sparkling new cities, and more jobs for the Andean poor.

On the other, it’s a calamity for people and for the environment. In 2009, the U.S. EPA measured urban air emissions of mercury in this region to be the highest found almost anywhere in the world. Waters, fish and birds are poisoned, and people are afraid to eat local foods. Indigenous groups have no alternative sources for their water and protein needs and so they suffer some of the worst health effects. The forest burning literally chokes the cities. Over the past decade, Rio Branco has had to close its airport numerous times because of low visibility due to smoke. While living in Rio Branco in the early 2000s, I saw ash fall from the sky like rain. Rates of respiratory illnesses – especially in children – are up. Hunting has decimated many monkey populations. The fishbone roads, towns, and mining camps disrupt critical migration pathways for jaguars, macaws, and peccaries.

And, the effects of climate change are beginning to be felt: the region has had successive years of devastating floods in the rainy season and sickening droughts in the dry season. Thousands of people have lost their homes, and rainy season emergencies have become the norm. In the dry months, many people fall prey to water-borne illness and diarrhea. Rates of dengue and malaria have increased, and some studies have demonstrated a relationship between rates of infection and deforestation.

What can we do? Learn more in Part II:  What Makes Us Take on Large Landscape Conservation? Dealing with Threats (and Opportunities) at Sufficient Scale.

Amy Rosenthal contributed this article. Ms. Rosenthal, an occasional observer for this website, isScience-Policy Interface Specialist with the Natural Capital Project, a collaboration among the WWF, The Nature Conservancy, Stanford University, and the University of Minnesota to create tools that map and value ecosystem services and help policy makers, companies, and multinational institutions make good decisions about development. From 2007 to 2010, Amy was Deputy Director for Projects at the Amazon Conservation Association (ACA), where she designed and managed major conservation initiatives and established ACA’s REDD program. Prior to her work with ACA, Amy contributed to the book The Last Forest: the Amazon in the Age of Globalization and established an environmental management training program with the Federal University of Acre in Brazil.

Share