The Amazon Rainforest, Peru | July 2017
If you have ever spent time in the rainforest, you will know that nothing compares. Although the harsh environment does everything in its power to make your life a living hell: insect bites, plants that slice you like razor blades; intense humidity; the heat of the sun; and more… You can’t help but be in awe of the astonishing landscape and variety of species that thrive in such a rich ecosystem.
Last summer, I was fortunate enough to spend six weeks at the Las Piedras Amazon Center in the Madre de Dios region of Peru, an experience that opened my eyes to the immense beauty of our planet and woke me up to the urgent need to protect it.
It would be easy to write an entire blog about the jaw dropping plants and animals encountered, and just as easy to write an entire book on the spiritual benefits to living outside. But what is much harder to write about is coming to terms with the destruction that I saw firsthand, occuring every day in these areas of immense beauty.
The Concession Forestry System
Forest protection in Peru is a complicated affair. Currently, forest management enforces the creation of forest concessions (designated areas of land) – an attempt by the government to limit timber extraction to small-holdings through restricted logging in certain concessions only. Forest concessions vary, with allocated areas for Brazil Nuts, Logging, EcoTourism and Hunting, and not everyone plays fair. Often, Brazil Nut concession owners allow illegal logging on their land as this doubles their income potential. Similarly, land designated for hunting often facilitates illegal timber extraction as an additional income source. It should also be noted that Peru is historically gold rich, and illegal mining still continues to this day.
All of this is only further exacerbated by police corruption. The Peruvian police force have been known to frequently turn a blind eye to illegal activities in forests – as long as they recieve a good price for their silence.
This complex legal concession system, coupled with economic disparities and limited government action, has allowed a range of environmentally destructive activities to continue in the rainforest with relatively little consequence.
The Damage Being Done
During my stay in the rainforest I saw evidence of illegal logging activity, illegal hunting, slash and burn rainforest destruction, and ultimately witnessed the impact that new road infrastructure has on the surrounding forest.
Logging: I don’t need to explain the destructive chain of events that follows logging: deforestation, habitat loss, biodiversity loss, extinction. In Peru the focus is on the extraction of hardwood such as cedar and mahogany, with some reports claim that up to 80% of the logging in Peru is carried out illegally. During a two day river excursion, I saw evidence of over 10 different sites where illegal logging had/or was currently occurring.
Slash & Burn: For the rural population in Peru, extreme poverty makes ecotourism a difficult business to start up. As a result, segments of forest are bought for agricultural purposes and the forests are literally burnt to the ground to make room for cattle farming. Only 10 minutes after seeing a group of wild capuchin monkeys swinging from tree to tree, I witnessed the Amazon rainforest being set alight to make way for cows!
Finished in 2011, this highway connects a network of existing highways in Brazil, to the Atlantic ocean bordering Peru. Notably, it crosses directly through the Madre de Dios region of the Peruvian Rainforest and into the heart of the Amazon. This project is part of a wider national road investment plan which looks to construct over 23 highways, supported by the World Bank.
The benefits to this infrastructure are obvious: increased access to resources, hopefully leading to increased development, and better quality of life for Peruvian citizens. But the environmental impacts speak for themselves.
The screenshot below from Google Earth shows where I stayed in pristine Rainforest (green pin), and where deforestation has spread out from the new road infrastructure in just 7 years. The areas in light brown are thousands of miles of burnt down rainforest by the road side, destruction only made possible because of this infrastructure.
This screenshot below is more zoomed out, and shows the severe impact the road has had further north in Brazil. The top right of the image shows what used to be rich Amazon rainforest – now, an expansive infrastructure of logging and farming.
International Day of Forests
This blog doesn’t ask you to do anything. It doesn’t ask you to try and change anything. Instead it tries to make you better understand that destruction of the rainforest might be a distant threat – but that doesn’t make it any less real.
The affinity I feel with Peru feels authentic, and very real to me. In the same way that building a power station in my back garden would feel personal, attacks on the beauty of the Amazon rainforest do too.
Forests are a valuable resource, yes. But it is their outstanding beauty and role as a haven for nature that makes them matter to people.
Imagine your life without them. Imagine never getting the chance to visit them. Imagine taking them for granted. Imagine seeing one burn down in front of your eyes.
Makes you think huh?
A personal account by Eilidh Robb