153,000 Acres Of Brazil Nut Forests Protected by Amazon Conservation and Google

 Brazil nut concessionaires walking in forestAmazon Conservation’s sister organization Conservación Amazónica – ACCA, with support from Google.org, just finished up a two-year initiative that trained community members to use cutting-edge satellite and field technologies to combat deforestation in the southern Peruvian Amazon, now protecting over 150,000 acres of lowland forests.

This initiative trained 75 Brazil nut harvesters and their families in forest monitoring technologies, which will help them safeguard forests to be used for sustainable purposes. Preventing deforestation of natural resources is not only environmentally important, but also economically, as the productive forests in and around the Madre de Dios area in Peru provide a sustainable and forest-friendly economic income to around 45,000 people, about 20% of the population.

In Peru, local families or associations can be granted a piece of public forests to be used for specific purposes – called a concession – such as harvesting nuts and berries, or for ecotourism. This system prevents acres of forests from falling victim to destructive activities, such as land squatting, illegal logging, or invasions by gold miners. Additionally, concessionaires are required by law to report on illicit activities in their concessions, which is a way the government gets community support to protect large swaths of forests.

Brazil nut concessionairesBefore this program, concessionaires and their communities lacked capacity to monitor these large, remote areas and a way to rapidly and safely report deforestation in their territories. Our innovative methodology of combining real-time satellite imagery analysis and drone field technology (which includes smartapps and other technologies developed by Google) with legal training, gave concessionaires the ability to detect and report deforestation as it happened in their territory. This is a stark contrast from before, when the only way to monitor thousands of acres of forests was through foot patrols that took days to complete. 

Now 75 Brazil nut harvesters and their families are using satellite imagery, early deforestation alerts, and GPS applications on mobile devices to monitor their forests. Among them, 23 individuals successfully obtained their licenses as drone pilots from the Ministry of Transport and Communications’ General Directorate of Civil Aeronautics. This means they can now their entire territory in minutes, without having to face potential risks of confronting dangerous individuals committing environmental crimes or even running into outsiders who might bring diseases like the novel coronavirus into their communities. 

Brazil nut appetizersThrough this program, over 153,000 acres (62,000 hectares) of forests are now monitored and protected with technology by the local people we empowered. Moreover, technological kits were donated to each individual or local association, each containing a drone, a maintenance kit, a laptop and a printer, giving them the knowledge and tools needed to safeguard forests..

These successes were celebrated with a closing ceremony in the Castaña Amazon Park earlier this year. Local authorities and representatives of local organizations attended, such as the director of the Research Institute of the Peruvian Amazon (IIAP) and members of local harvesting associations. During the ceremony, attendees enjoyed Brazil nut appetizers, while watching presentations about the project, the results achieved, and the collaborators and participants. The event ended with a guided tour of the Brazil Nut Harvesting Center in the Castaña Amazon Park, which is noted as the first living Brazil nut tree park in the world.

Presenter at Brazil Nut Google EventThe project, led by our director of our Southwest Amazon Drone Center, Carlos Castañeda, will continue to provide technical support to maintain the donated drones and training to reinforce what they learned, as well as be available to answer any questions that may arise during monitoring and surveillance of their concessions. Thus, the continuity of the project and its sustainability are ensured.

This Google.org-funded project was the first of its kind nationwide in Peru. After this success, Amazon Conservation continues its mission of conserving the Amazon basin using new technologies. Over the next three years, we hope to strengthen the real-time monitoring of the forests by empowering local people and employing science and technology as a proven way to fight deforestation in the Amazon and create a model for other tropical forests around the world.

Amazon Fire Tracker 2020 – July Update

Recall we recently launched an innovative new app for Real-time Amazon Fire Monitoring (see MAAP #118 for details).

In a novel approach, the app combines data from the atmosphere (aerosol emissions in smoke) and the ground (heat anomaly alerts) to effectively detect and visualize major Amazon fires.

The app specializes in filtering out thousands of the heat-based fire alerts to prioritize only those burning large amounts of biomass and thus emitting elevated levels of aerosol (defined here as a major fire).*

Example of a major fire in the Brazilian Amazon burning recently deforested area. Brazil major fire #54, July 30, Mato Grosso. Image: Planetscope (Planet).
Example of a major fire in the Brazilian Amazon burning recently deforested area. Brazil major fire #54, July 30, Mato Grosso. Image: Planetscope (Planet).

As of the end of July, we have detected 77 major Amazon fires thus far in 2020, all in Brazil.

In summary, 84% of the major fires are burned recently deforested areas and 83% were illegal (in violation of fire moratoriums). We detected the first forest fire on the last day of the month.

We have started detecting large and uncontrolled fires in the drier ecosystems of Bolivia, but outside the Amazon watershed.

See below for a more detailed overview of the 2020 Amazon fire season thru the end of July.


Key Results

The Base Map is a screen shot of the app’s “Major Amazon Fires 2020” layer.

Base Map. Screen shot of the app’s “Major Amazon Fires 2020” layer.
Base Map. Screen shot of the app’s “Major Amazon Fires 2020” layer.

As noted above, we have detected 77 major Amazon fires thus far in 2020, all in Brazil.

The first major fire was detected on May 28 in the state of Mato Grosso in southeastern Brazilian Amazon (see MAAP #118). This event was followed by 12 major fires in June, all in Mato Grosso (see Fire Tracker #12).

The number of major fires in Mato Grosso decreased in July, suggesting the state’s new fire moratorium (starting July 1) may be working.

Starting in mid-July, the major fire activity shifted to the surrounding Brazilian states of Amazonas, Rondônia and Pará. This shift coincided with national fire moratorium (starting July 15), indicating it has not been as effective.

Overall, most of the major fires (83%) appear to be illegal as they violate the state and national government mandated fire moratoriums established in July.

Importantly, most of the major fires (84%) have burned recently deforested areas (deforested 2018-20) covering 108,000 acres (44,000 hectares). See MAAP #113 for more on this important point in regards to the 2019 fires.

We detected the first forest fire on the last day of the month. It burned 388 acres (157 hectares).

The other major fires have been in older cattle or agricultural areas (deforested pre 2018).

We have started detecting large and uncontrolled fires in the drier ecosystems of Bolivia, but outside the Amazon watershed.


Key Examples of 2020 Fires

Overall our key finding is that most major Brazilian Amazon fires are burning recently deforested areas, and not raging forest fires. Below is a series of four satellite images time-lapse videos showing examples of recent deforestation (2019) followed by a major 2020 fire burning lots of biomass that was detected by the app.


Brazilian Amazon Fire #1, May 2020

Brazilian Amazon Fire #4, June 2020


Brazilian Amazon Fire #12, June 2020

Brazilian Amazon Fire #18, July 2020

Brazilian Amazon Fire #54, July 2020

*Notes and Methodology

When fires burn, they emit gases and aerosols. A new satellite (Sentinel-5P from the European Space Agency) detects these aerosol emissions. Thus, the major feature of the app is detecting elevated aerosol emissions which in turn indicate the burning of large amounts of biomass. For example, the app distinguishes small fires clearing old fields (and burning little biomass) from larger fires burning recently deforested areas or standing forest (and burning lots of biomass).

We define “major fire” as one showing elevated aerosol emission levels on the app, thus indicating the burning of elevated levels of biomass. This typically translates to an aerosol index of >1 (or cyan-green to red on the app). To identify the exact source of the elevated emissions, we reduce the intensity of aerosol data in order to see the underlying terrestrial heat-based fire alerts. Typically for major fires, there is a large cluster of alerts. The major fires are then confirmed, and burn areas estimated, using high-resolution satellite imagery from Planet Explorer.

No fires permitted in the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso after July 1, 2020. No fires permitted in all of Brazilian Amazon after July 15, 2020. Thus, we defined “illegal” as any major fires detected after these respective dates.

There was no available Sentinel-5 aerosol data on July 4, 15, and 26.


This analysis was done by Amazon Conservation in collaboration with SERVIR Amazonia.


Finer M, Nicolau A, Villa L (2020) Amazon Fire Tracker 2020 – July Update. MAAP.

Bringing Climate Resilience to Local Communities

For the past year our team in Bolivia and Peru have been working with EUROCLIMA+, an initiative of the European Commission focused on combating climate change in Latin America. We are working with local communities to pilot climate change resilience in their sustainable use of forest resources.

Promoting sustainable forest resources is important for keeping forests standing, and an initiative that we have been expanding for many years now. The Amazon rainforest is full of economically valuable products, such as the Brazil nuts and açaí berries, which are important sources of income for local communities. These fruits can only grow in standing forests, and cannot survive in a monoculture or farmed operation setting. 



An Economic Essential

Luis Arteaga, our Technical Director in Bolivia, coordinates this project. His team works in the northern part of Bolivia, where local communities heavily depend on these forest goods to make a living. “Almost all the families dedicate themselves to harvesting forest fruits, mainly the Brazil nut, which is their main economic activity.” 

Noting the ecological makeup of the area, one can see why: the northern municipality of the Santa Rosa del Ábuna conservation area has the highest concentration of Brazil nut trees in the department of Pando, Bolivia. These nuts generate up to 90% of local families’ overall income, and although harvesting is a job that requires a lot of dedication and back-breaking work, it generates important opportunities for commercialization and sustainable forest management. Luis puts it simply, “If Brazil nuts didn’t exist or didn’t grow in these forests, they would have already been cut down for another economic activity.” 

bags of brazil nutsTying the importance of conservation of these forests not only to climate change but also to economic sustainability of local and global economies is vital for countries and communities to see the value of forests. In fact, our area of work in Bolivia holds 85% of the Brazil nut production in the world, and keeping those forests standing through sustainable activities will have a significant impact in the fight against deforestation and carbon emissions.



Confronting Climate Change

A key aspect of our work with EUROCLIMA+ is recognizing how these sustainable forest economies help mitigate the effects of climate change on communities and on the planet, which hadn’t previously been as much on peoples’ minds. This pilot work is also helping local communities become aware of how climate is changing the forests on which they depend, so they can plan for their long-term, sustainable use, without needing to turn to destructive practices like timber extraction and cattle ranching if a harvesting season is affected by global warming. This involves not only making sure we have healthy forests, but also helping communities diversify their source of income sustainably, such as harvesting other complementary forest products like açaí berries and sustainably farming paiche fish. 

“In my opinion,” Luis notes, “one important advancement is that we are learning how climate change has impacted, is impacting, and will impact this vital bi-national region of the Amazon in Peru and Bolivia. Working with EUROCLIMA+ has taught us to use the climate lens to think about all of our future conservation work as well, and this is a good step forward.”

The Escazú Agreement: Internationalizing the Amazon?

Populism and nationalism in politics are two sides of the same coin.

By: Enrique Ortiz, Amazon Conservation Board Member. (Original article published in El Comercio. See here.)

Photo of Enrique Ortiz, author of the articleThe Escazú Agreement, a regional agreement on access to information, public participation and access to justice in environmental matters in Latin America and the Caribbean whose ratification is soon to be debated in Congress, has generated an intense reaction and discussion. There is a sector that affirms that this agreement would attempt against our sovereignty in the Amazon. Considering that if this agreement is ratified, the important decisions for the economic development of the country would remain in the hands of international spheres. On the other hand, others consider that such an agreement leads to improved information flow and citizen participation. Both are necessary for the development of the country, particularly in Peru where social and environmental conflicts have paralyzed many important works for the economy. Understanding the scope of the agreement and its true implications is crucial for the future of Peru.

The Escazú Agreement stipulates that the signatory countries undertake to comply with a series of mechanisms for transparency of information, consultation, decision making processes, protection of environmental defenders and conflict resolution related to projects that may affect the environment.

How can the Escazú Agreement threaten national sovereignty, and in particular, with our Amazon? To begin with, this is a Latin American regional agreement, which has been signed by 22 democratic nations (including those Amazonian), and so far, has been ratified by 9 of them. The agreement clearly states that decisions are the affairs of each country, within their own regulatory frameworks.  It also stipulates that in cases where the conflict is between States, these – and only under a bilateral agreement – can be submitted to arbitration by the International Court of The Hague, as an international instance. That court does not have jurisdiction for internal affairs of a country, such as those between private, communities and the State. The resolution of controversies within a country is another matter, and only after exhausting the national justice mechanisms, they can be resolved by resorting to international bodies, which have nothing to do with the Escazú agreement.

There is a fear that said agreement will hinder important development projects for the country, or for a specific interest group. And it is argued that this is particularly important in times when we urgently need an economic revival. And it is true, we need development plans, but those that are economically, socially and environmentally sustainable. Otherwise, we will have more Tía Marías, Congas and other extractive projects stranded in the midst of conflicts with no solution in sight. What is expected, instead, is that the Escazú Agreement has the key to resolve these situations throughout the country, on the coast, the Andes and the Amazon.

Peru has played a very important role in the gestation of this agreement since the Rio+20 United Nations conference in 2012. Our chancellery -for three governments- has promoted the vision and structure of this agreement, as expressed in the Lima Declaration. Furthermore, Peru held the vice-presidency of the negotiating executive committee’s and signed the agreement in September 2018, at the United Nations headquarters. In August 2019, President Martín Vizcarra and his chancellor sent the draft legislative resolution to the then President of Congress, for approval. How can it be that, suddenly, the referred agreement is branded by some as a surrogate that cedes 53% of the country to foreign environmental NGOs, and as a national newspaper denounces on the front page, “do they want to rob us of the Amazon”? Very strange.

Populism and nationalism in politics are two sides of the same coin. Painful examples of this are part of our recent history, and today we are seeing it in Brazil. We want development projects that can advance, that are profitable and that have mechanisms for participation, defense of citizens’ rights, and with a long-term vision, as recommended by the OCDE studies, to which our country wants to access. Vision is a keyword for the bicentennial. Let us keep our eyes open to the opportunities that this agreement can give us.


Behind the Camera: A Look at Camera Trap Impacts

The past few months we’ve featured “Camera Trap Tuesday” on our social media pages, posting glimpses of Amazon animals living their daily lives, freely interacting with each other and their environment when there’s no human presence. But what is the real impact of camera traps? Our camera traps and wildlife conservation expert Nelly Guerra talks about this important initiative; and what it’s like working on our camera trap program in Bolivia with our sister organization Conservación Amazónica – ACEAA. She also recently presented a webinar on the camera trap program in Bolivia, which you can view here.


Benefits of Camera Trap Technology

To begin, Nelly notes that placing camera traps in the forests is the most effective way to record wild species. Images and videos of medium and large-sized mammals commonly elusive to the human eye are recorded in their natural habitats throughout the day and night. Cameras are able to stay out in the field for much longer than a person, be less disruptive, and observe more hours of authentic animal activity. The camera traps are a useful tool to obtain accurate information on the distribution of many species, their abundance, activity patterns, and habitat use. Camera trap management is a key technology that we use to understand the state of biodiversity in an area, which allows us to evaluate key regions to protect and adjust our conservation efforts.


A Snapshot of Our Current Implementation

Our camera trap program has been implemented in our areas of work in Bolivia since 2015. We have camera traps placed in:

  1. TCO Tacana II, an indigenous territory we’ve worked with for decades in the North of the Department of La Paz,
  2. Santa Rosa del Abuná Integral Model Area, a conservation area we helped create in the department of Pando,
  3. Manuripi National Wildlife Reserve National Protected Area, an area for conservation we’ve been supporting also in the Department of Pando.

These places have successfully managed to register a wide variety of wild species, several of which had previously been declared as no longer living in the area.

We have recorded many animals in the area that have been categorized as endangered, near-threatened, or vulnerable by the internationally-recognized IUCN Red List of threatened species. This includes the endangered giant otter (Pteronura brasiliensis), near-threatened jaguar (Pantera onca), bush dog (Speothos venaticus), and harpy eagle (Harpia harpyja), as well as the vulnerable white-lipped peccary (Tayassu pecari) and South American tapir (Tapirus terrestris).


Successes of Camera Traps

One highlight of this project has been getting to know an incomparable variety of wildlife. Camera traps have given us data that helps us understand which forests are healthy, because the healthy ones host a great amount of biodiversity.

Another very important accomplishment of working with the camera traps is they have encouraged the inclusion and interest of Indigenous peoples and communities in working with this technology. They provide a way for these communities to monitor the wildlife that exists in their forests and evaluate their conservation status, while at the same time committing to conserving and caring for the Amazon’s wild fauna. For Nelly, “The greatest achievement has been an interest in documenting wildlife through videos and photographs, as well as the interest to develop new camera trap techniques without altering the natural habitat of the species that hide inside our forests.” Getting communities up and close to the animals with whom they share their forest home helps them become more active in their conservation.


Zooming in on the Future

Camera trap photo of deerTo wrap up, we ask Nelly what she wants others to know about this technology. She replies that, “Working with camera traps is a methodology of gaining conservation information. They are a very useful tool to measure indicators of abundance and distribution of wildlife populations, and obtain data economically without disturbing the natural habitat of wild species. They allow us to analyze the state of conservation of the forests, because the more fauna records collected with the camera traps, the healthier our forests are. Conversely, if you have fewer fauna records that means that our forests are being disturbed by humans and that it makes the fauna migrate to other less disturbed places.”

If all goes well after the pandemic that we are experiencing, Nelly hopes that this beneficial forest monitoring program can be expanded, and more camera traps could be installed in other key areas. She finishes with a message for young conservationists saying, “I would like to encourage students to work and do wildlife research with camera traps, and learn to perform research on the state of our biodiversity in our Amazon forests.”




Restoring Degraded Forests with Rosewood

Team member planting rosewood seedling

Rosewood (Aniba rosaeodora) is a unique type of tropical hardwood, noted for the dark red color that stains its inner trunk and a sweet smell that gets processed into Rosewood essential oil, which is a major ingredient of high quality perfumes and cosmetic products. The oil is obtained from tree trunks through steam distillation from chipped wood and bark, methods that require the destruction of the tree. Because of this economic value, rosewood trees have been cut in such large proportions in the Amazon that natural populations are significantly depleted. It is internationally recognized by the IUCN Red List as an endangered plant species. Thus, with support from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Amazon Conservation began a project to recover a population of rosewood and explore the use of this species for reforestation and restoration of degraded forests damaged by slash-and-burn agriculture and artisanal, illegal gold mining. 

The lowland Amazonian forests at our Los Amigos Conservation Hub in Peru offer the perfect conditions for re-establishing rosewood trees. The areas at Los Amigos selected for planting had previously been disturbed by slash-and-burn agriculture and artisanal gold mining, but surrounded by primary forest. The project demonstrates that rosewood is a species that can be used in projects to restore degraded lands, which can be applied to thousands of hectares of degraded lands across the region impacted by extractive activities. Moreover, the trees planted in this project can serve as a seed bank for others who may wish to reforest and conduct ecological restoration that includes rosewood, either for strict conservation or for managed, nondestructive leaf harvest, which could generate additional income for local communities.


Just arrived rosewood (Aniba roseadora) seedlings being prepared to plant in temporary bags.Getting Started: A Quest to Find Rosewood Seedlings


We planned to purchase rosewood seedlings from a local provider in the region of Madre de Dios, Peru, but this proved to be a challenge due to the scarcity of rosewood seeds. After contacting a number of providers throughout Peru, we obtained 2,500 seedlings from our friends at the nonprofit Camino Verde, located in northern Peru. 

The long trip from northern Peru took its toll on the seedlings. Upon arrival to Los Amigos, the project’s agroforestry technician placed and cared for them in the nursery, where he closely monitored their development and nursed them back to health. After a couple of weeks of care, the seedlings were ready to be transplanted to the degraded areas identified for restoration! 


Rosewood seedling with biocharPlant TLC: Adding Soil-Enriching Biochar to Help Seedlings Survival 


To increase the chance of the seedlings’ survival once transplanted to the affected areas – since much of the soil was dry and damaged – we added biochar when planting them.

Biochar is a soil-enhancing charcoal made from sustainable sources that helps retain water and nutrients in the soil for plants to take up as they grow. Biochar has also been known to clean mercury contamination from the soil, which would also improve the soils previously contaminated activities.

A total of two tons of biochar were acquired from the nonprofit consortium CINCIA (Centro de Innovación Científica Amazónica), half of which were kindly donated. 


Our team preparing the Rosewood restoration areaPreparing the Restoration area

Preparation of the restoration area was originally planned for March and April of this year, but the delay of the rainy season last year allowed us to get a head-start in prepping the area for the seedlings in mid-September 2019 (which was great timing, as our original timeline would have been affected by the COVID-19 global pandemic).

Our agroforestry experts prepared the land through clearing weeds and shrubs from the area. The standing Guayaba trees (Psidium guajava) already present in the forest were left, serving as a complementary tree species to the rosewood seedlings, providing shade and protecting them from intense sun and rain.


Rosewood seedlings being transported by riverGiving the seedlings a new home

From October-December 2019, our agroforestry technicians planted the rosewood Team member planting rosewood seedlingseedlings mixed with biochar. The first 1,250 seedlings were transplanted to a target area of 2.1 hectares (5.2 acres), which had been verified as an ideal area for restoration through reforestation using this species. A tractor and a short boat trip down the river helped bring the seedlings to their new home, where they were planted throughout the end of 2019.

The remaining 1,250 unplanted rosewood seedlings continued to grow in the nursery through the rainy season, along with other local seedlings to support a healthy forest ecosystem and the steady growth of rosewood, including 500 moriche palms (Mauritia flexuosa or “aguajes” in Spanish), 150 bolaina blancas (Guazuma crinita) and 650 Amazon grapes (Pourouma cecropiifolia) seedlings. By April 2020 the rainy season had ended, and our team had just finished planting the remaining trees. As of April, a total of 5,000 trees have been planted: 2,500 rosewood seedlings and 2,500 complementary tree species. We look forward to studying how this reforestation effort improves degraded forest, and based on the survival rate of the seedlings, whether it can be expanded to other areas of the Amazon disturbed by slash-and-burn agriculture and illegal gold mining.


We thank the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation for their generous contribution to carry out this important project, which will support the planting of almost 5,000 essential trees to restore damaged lands in the Amazon.