ACA Bids Farewell to Executive Director Cesar Moran

Cesar MoranCesar Moran labored more than four long years with ACA and ACCA, first as conservation director and then as executive director for both organizations. With his seemingly unlimited energy, he traveled between our offices in Peru (Cusco, Puerto Maldonado, and Lima), Bolivia, and Washington, D.C., to the field, to meetings with funders and partners around the world, all the while overseeing operations for ACA and ACCA. As he moves on to new endeavors, we can hardly express our gratitude for all his efforts on behalf of not only our organizations but our shared purpose: to protect the world’s richest forests, train the next generation of Amazonian conservationists, and help people in the Amazon live better lives through sustainable means. We wish him the best, and expect to be in constant touch with him for the foreseeable future, as he continues to support the cause. As we seek new leadershipMonica Romo, director of ACCA’s Puerto Maldonado office, has stepped up to serve as interim executive director.

Noisy, Green, and Inspiring – Los Amigos

Sarah FedermanCICRA intern Sarah Federman relates her experience working at the Los Amigos Biological Station.

Sordid little detail: bugs (although I prefer the Spanish term, bichos – the sound of the word describes more fully my feelings than the hard ending of “bug”) have made off with the rubber parts of my earphones. I am not pleased. However, this is a price I am more than willing to pay to live and work at the Amazon Conservation Association’s Los Amigos Biological Station (known as “CICRA” in Spanish).

I wish I could package the sounds here – trills, screeches, squawks, growls, chirps, clicks, the mechanical hum of cicadas, and the steady patter of the swarm of wasps which flies repeatedly into the metal screens behind me. A flock of birds lives outside the dining hall. When they call, it is like listening to drops of water falling into a metal bowl.

To reach CICRA you must travel up the Madre de Dios river in a motorized canoe for anywhere between five and eight hours. The ride is amazing, opening up a scene of conflicting ideals. The wide river stretches sinuously below an imposing and mysterious wall of shining greens and browns reaching into the glaringly blue sky (or, as the rainy season sets in, the slate grey of an impending downpour); here it is easy to imagine nature as Nature. Below the wall of green, the water is littered with piles of discarded rocks upon which crouch men, women, and children. They sift and add to their ever-growing islands of refuse, which, with time, become archipelagoes of unrealized aspirations. At moments, though, hidden within the chaff is a whisper of gold that glints with the promise of paradise.

It would be easy to condemn one of these “ideals,” especially when presented with a literal divide at one point during the ride: a conservation concession beyond the bank of the river, with mining on the water. I wonder, though, if there is something more, some entanglement of these two seemingly irreconcilable experiences of the environment. It is this itching question, regarding the contents of the space of friction between two traditionally opposed realities which drives me to study not just ecology, but take a more interdisciplinary route of study.

One of the best perks of the job is that I get to organize and teach sábados científicos (Science Saturdays) at the closest town along the river. I was able to coordinate with the town’s teacher to create a year’s worth of lesson plans to complement the students’ scientific curriculum. The children are quite young, so sábado científico classes have a strong emphasis on combining group work, play, and knowledge of local biodiversity and ecosystems with the aim of promoting a sense of communal pride and protectiveness over local flora and fauna. Students often work in teams to solve questions, find and identify useful plants, or act out parts of an ecosystem; in this way we create a positive association between learning, play, and the amazing natural world in which we live.

ACA provides me with the perfect outlet for continuing and improving my passion for ecological investigations. I am allowed time to work with visiting researchers, allowing me to gain valuable field experience and skills, and to design and implement my own research projects. Thus far, I have designed two which I find quite interesting. The first is to monitor butterfly diversity with standard baited traps on an altitudinal gradient between ACA’s cloud forest station (Wayqecha) and CICRA, focusing on fruit feeding Nymphalidae butterflies as indicators of overall butterfly diversity. This investigation is primarily a “teaching study” maintained by students and volunteers with the intent to create opportunities to gain experience and learn field skills in the tropics. The second project is more of an independent investigation which compares vegetative regeneration in pristine and human-altered sites.

Thus far my work at CICRA has greatly expanded my array of field skills. I am confident that these important skills will further my goal to implement meaningful change as a professor or within a conservation organization, researching and educating on the subjects of ecology and conservation.

(Photos by Rick Stanley and Gabby Salazar)

Examining Peru’s Gold-Mining Conflict

Peru Gold mines Back in February 2010, the government of Peru issued an emergency decree to impose stricter environmental regulations on gold mining. The decree put a hold on approval of new mining claims in Madre de Dios, added controls over where mining is permitted, and prohibited river dredging. The Mining Federation of Madre de Dios (FEDEMIN), afraid the new regulations would cause informal miners to lose their livelihood, called for a strike beginning on April 4. Before the resolution of the four-day strike, violence broke out at a roadblock in northern Peru, resulting in six deaths. (Photo by Walter Wust)

Illegal mining has increased dramatically in recent years with the rising price of gold. Much of the gold market is informal, and thus the government has no way to enforce a tax on gold sales (nor labor and environmental regulations). In defense of the decree, Peruvian president Alan Garcia stated, “How can we permit a savage type of mining that doesn’t pay taxes, doesn’t pay proper wages and doesn’t use modern equipment … and which continues to contaminate the Amazon?”

The environmental impacts of gold mining are extensive. Small-scale miners use mercury to extract gold from river sediments. Through this process, large amounts of mercury run into the rivers – polluting fish which are a major protein source in the Amazon – and are absorbed by the soil. Once extracted, the amalgam is burned, releasing the mercury into the air and leaving behind pure gold and a high level of air pollution. In addition to mercury pollution, mining damages riverbanks, contributes to deforestation and, in the case of dredging, destroys riverbeds and silts in the waterways. Some illegal mining operations are carried out within protected-area buffer zones and concessions dedicated to ecotourism.

To resolve the four-day strike in April, an agreement was reached between the miners and the government. Peru’s Prime Minister, Ángel Javier Velázquez Quesquén, agreed to modify the decree to include mechanisms for its implementation. A commission was created by government and mining representatives to help formalize the miners within a reasonable timeframe, thus allowing illegal miners to become legal and to resolve the overlapping concessions.

Progress has been slow, partly due to arguments over representation on the commission and more recently due to the government’s unwillingness to take big steps right before an election. The regional election, however, has now passed and the news is that the pro-mining candidate was not elected. Over the last few months, community organizations have been working to find ways to prevent new mining invasions. Thus, while there have been setbacks in the process, we have also seen positive steps being taken.

Several civil society organizations in the region have been collectively active in supporting the Peruvian government’s efforts to increase environmental regulation. Taking a leading role, ACA provided a dossier of information on the impact of mining in Madre de Dios to Peru’s minister of the environment, Antonio Brack. This information included GIS studies of land use change, a report on mercury pollution in fish (funded by a grant from the ACA’s research grants program), and a collection of publications and photos of mining’s impact. In addition, ACA has supported an open dialogue between the environment ministry and regional and local stakeholders to examine the range of issues surrounding mining in Madre de Dios and to promote mining best practices. We support efforts to resolve these issues so that miners can continue to make a living while complying with regulations in their work as a way to protect the Amazon Basin and the health of the miners, their families, and their communities. (Photo above by Enrique Ortiz)

NPR Series on ACA Projects Wins White House Journalism Award

ACA’s hosting of NPR journalists in the summer of 2009 resulted in an award-winning multimedia package.

Reporter Lourdes Garcia-Navarro and photographer John Poole traveled along the Interoceanic highway in southern Peru with Adrian Forsyth and Enrique Ortiz, ACA’s president and vice-president, respectively. Joined by former secretary of the interior and ACA board member, Bruce Babbitt, the group visited some of the most impacted gold-mining areas, and witnessed firsthand the environmental destruction caused by the Interoceanic highway, a new road that will extend from the Atlantic Ocean in Brazil to the Pacific coast of Peru, threatening to create a band of deforestation that will cut the southwestern Amazon in two. The resulting multimedia piece has won an Award of Excellence from the White House News Photographers Association.

The group witnessed miles of deforestation, but they also visited one of the few glimpses of hope in the Amazon basin – ACA’s Los Amigos Biological Station. Here, they saw how the simple dedication of a few committed scientists preserve 360,000 acres of rainforest for research and future generations. To join the journey with the award-winning journalists, click on: Traveling Down the Amazon Road. To read more about the prestigious award from the White House News Photographers Association, see: White House News Photographers Association / Eyes of History. (Photos by John Poole)

Wayqecha Comes Alive During the Rainy Season

   During the low tourist season of Wayqecha flowerNovember–January, Wayqecha is a magnificent wonder of flowering plants, curious animals, and diverse birds seldom seen at other times of year. Story by Wayqecha intern Laura Morales.

When I first arrived to work at Wayqecha in July 2009, I was struck by how relatively dry this cloud forest was. The forest itself was green, but the transition between the upper cloud forest and the puna grassland was dry as a bone. In September I kept hearing from my co-workers the promise of rain. Well, we waited … September and October passed and we worried that the rains wouldn’t come. Finally, in November we had abundant rain, and the change in the cloud forest and puna was amazing. Many plants produce their fruit at this time of year in greater abundance than during the austral winter, attracting many animals.Wayqecha rainbow

On my rounds of the trails, forest, and puna, and through the reports of researchers working at the station, I noticed an increase in the presence of animals, sighting them and finding their tracks more often. We sighted a resident fox several times and even saw a long-tailed weasel right at the door of the station. Birds, the most visible of animals at the station and always relatively abundant, seemed to explode with new varieties during this period. There was a noticeable change in the demographic of the hummingbird population.

Aside from the boreal migrants that come at this time of year, many more local birds come to feed on the newly abundant fruits, shoots, and insects. Of insects, butterflies in particular appear in new shapes and colors – for example, the spectacular Morpho sulkowskyi makes its first appearance. Of course the butterflies are preceded by an abundance of caterpillars, some so large and Wayqecha shrubfull of bristles as to strike fear into the heart of the most experienced biologist lest he put his hand on one accidentally. And of course the myriad orchids in Wayqecha begin to bloom more abundantly at this time of year.

Everything seems to take on new life with the change in seasons and coming of the rains. Unfortunately this change and contrast is something that few visitors and researchers at the station get to experience. In contrast to the animals, most people flock here during the dry season of May through August. However, the few researchers who do brave the constant drizzle, cloudy weather, risk of landslides and falls along slippery trails, are rewarded by witnessing this greening of Wayqecha.

(Photos by Trond Larsen)

ACA Encounters Species Never Previously Seen in the Bolivian Pampas

 Sac-winged bat During field trips earlier this year to the community of Toromonas, in northwestern Bolivia, ACA-Bolivia team members came across four species that had never previously been registered in that location. These species include the lesser sac-winged bat (Saccopteryx leptura), and several birds: the black manakin (Xenopipo atronitens), Snethlage’s tody-tyrant (Hemitriccus minor), the brownish twistwing (Cnipodectes subbrunneus), Thamnophilus stictocephala, and Heterocercus linteatu.

ACA conducted these biological inventories as part of its work with the Takana indigenous communities who are the guardians of the remoteBolivian Bird and clearly understudied Pampas del Heath savannas just north of Madidi National Park. ACA staff have created monitoring protocols for hunting and fishing in order to develop management plans for local biodiversity conservation in these communities. By learning how to measure the impact of their own hunting and fishing activities and role of local wildlife, the community members are establishing sustainable hunting and fishing practices for the future. (Photos by Omar Martinez)

ACA and Partners Protect New 7,500-Acre Property in Peru

ACA’s Peruvian sister organization, the Asociación para la Conservación de la Cuenca Amazónica (ACCA), recently purchased 7,576 acres of land in southern Peru, thanks to funding from ACA, the American Bird Conservancy, the World Land Trust, and private donors. Located between the Piñi Piñi and Tono Rivers in the Manu Biosphere Reserve, the property is renowned for its incredibly diverse bird population. This acquisition and the creation of a private conservation area by ACCA will help to ensure the long-term protection of the region’s incredible diversity of wildlife. (Photo by Megan MacDowell)

The property, known as Villa Carmen, lies within the spectacular 4.7-million-acre Manu Biosphere Reserve, which is one of the most pristine areas of remaining rainforest in the Amazon. The land contains roughly 90 percent old-growth rainforest, with about five percent diversified agriculture and five percent secondary forest. Villa Carmen is particularly valued for its bird life, as it is home to more than 600 known species, including threatened species, like the military macaw, and migratory songbirds, like the Canada warbler.

ACA and ACCA will jointly oversee the management of Villa Carmen, where we will promote sustainable agroforestry and aquaculture, host educational programs, conduct research, and further incorporate local communities into conservation efforts. ACA is extremely excited about this new opportunity to protect a vital wildlife area, and we encourage you to check back for updates on Villa Carmen’s progress! (Photo by Adrian Tejedor)