Joining the Regional Executive Committee of Madre de Dios to Help Strengthen Forest Based Economies

© Pavel Martiarena, Conservación Amazónica – ACCA

Ernesto Velarde Valladares, a specialist in ecobusiness at our sister organization, Conservación Amazónica – ACCA, has recently joined the Board of Directors of the Regional Executive Committee of Exporters of Madre de Dios (CERX) for 2021-2023 as Vice President. Elected by members of the committee, including public and private institutions that promote exports in the region, his new work as part of the Board works to create procedures that implement projects and activities around foreign trade. The Board will also be in charge of ensuring the continuation and execution of the various activities planned in the Regional Strategic Plan of Exports.

As Ernesto Velarde makes clear, the regional exports committee ends up being a space for dialogue and technical discussion that contributes to planning all actions in the region aimed at foreign trade.

“We participate in all these spaces from the ecobusiness perspective. We have led all the commercial connections in other technical areas (cocoa, copoazú, chestnut, aquaculture) with both national and export approaches…Let us remember that as Conservación Amazónica – ACCA, we are supporting the entire value chain of each product, since we see various aspects of production base, including processing, linking of actors, commercial and market issues.”

Ernesto Velarde was also the Manager of the Cusco Regional Executive Committee for Export – Committee of Regional Exporters in Cusco between 2008 and 2011, where he acquired extensive experience in the dynamics of the committee at the national level. He has also been part of the Peruvian Department for Business and Tourism and their Commission for Promotion of Exports and Tourism (PromPerú) to promote the biotrade business model at the national level.

In this way, our sister organization Conservación Amazónica – ACCA works to continually strengthen this important space for technical discussion aimed at generating the development of exportable products in the Madre de Dios region.


From Trailblazing Environmentalist to Fighting Blazes in the Amazon 

When Ana Carola Vaca Salazar started her journey to becoming the first female Secretary for the Environment in the Bolivian department of Beni, she wasn’t even allowed to go to school for her dream job. She wanted to be a park ranger in the Amazon, but she recalls that at the time in Bolivia, “I had to go to university to study as a ‘ranger technician’, because women were not allowed to be park rangers.” 

After she began working in the field in 1996, she found her peers had low confidence in her ability, as a woman, to fulfill certain ranger duties, such as dealing with an illegal actor committing unauthorized deforestation or initiating legal processes. Ana Carola spent five years as the sole woman on the team, working to convince people that she, and women in general, could do the same duties as anyone else. “I had to prove that I was better than any other teammate, so that they could accept that I can achieve things too…women had to be better than men at work so that we were accepted equally.” With her perseverance, she became the first female park ranger in the country.

Years later, she now boasts 25 years working in Bolivia’s National System of Protected Areas and is the department of Beni’s Secretary for the Environment. “My work is one thing that I’m very proud of,” she says. “And I think that my time as a park ranger has been the best thing that has happened in my life.”


Fires in the Amazon Savannas

Beni Savanna - Photograph by Paul JonesThough Bolivia is not as well known as an Amazonian country, in reality, more than half of its total land area (54.2%) is covered by tropical forest. In its lowland Amazon, rainforest cover clocks in at a massive 147.3 million acres (59.6 million hectares).

The Beni savannas in the Amazon – the region where Ana Carola works – are the third largest complexes of savannas in South America and boast 5 unique habitats: savanna, treed savanna, forest islands, gallery forests and marsh wetlands. Due to seasonal rains and water melting off the Andes, the area is subject to flooding, which creates conditions responsible for the region’s signature forested islands.

But during other times of the year savannas, wetlands, and swamps can dry up, which creates a dangerous cache of flammable organic material. Additionally, the winds that blow in from the north are much more intense because the savannas are flat. “A bit of wind, a lot of fuel and a small spark–it’s explosive,” warns Ana Carola. “The organic material, the litter created in the swamps, wetlands, and the pampas is what makes fuel that’s very easy to burn, and that is the most vulnerable part.”

The burning in the Amazon has already started, and we’ve detected more than 1,000 major fires so far this fire season. While most of the blazes are in Brazil, Bolivia comes in second for the amount of major fires in Amazonian countries. Vulnerable areas that have already seen significant burns include the Beni and the Bolivian Chaco.

Ana Carola recalls an especially intense incident when someone set ablaze their own deforested land, and the resulting fire ended up destroying the surrounding forest. “We didn’t even know until dawn the next morning. The south wind began to turn and instead of continuing onto the farmer’s land, the flames blew over to the pastures of Porvenir, which are one of the few pastures of natural pampas in the Beni that we conserve. And the fire ripped through the earth relentlessly. For nearly ten days, we had to put all our effort towards fighting its onslaught, but regardless, about five thousand hectares of what were savannas and forests of mountain islands were destroyed.”


Needing Help to Close the Firefighting Gaps 

Despite the government’s efforts to equip their firefighting teams, they still lack essential supplies for their ranger corps to effectively fight fires this season, as local communities and municipalities are extremely underfunded. 

Ana Carola explains that they need a monitoring system that tracks heat sources so they can quickly determine where the fires are, but most importantly, what the fire brigades need is firefighting equipment. In some parts of the Beni region, local fire brigades don’t even have access to water for fighting fires.  

“The supplies and the firefighting equipment, that’s what is necessary. There are community brigades, there are volunteer brigades, there are volunteer forest firefighters. What is needed is the equipment and supplies to be able to fight the fires.”

See how you can help Ana Carola and the firefighters in the Beni combat the fires here.


Create a Lasting Conservation Legacy and Support Conservation For Years to Come During National Make-A-Will Month

Dear Friend of the Amazon,

If we’ve learned anything in the past year and a half, it’s that life can change quickly and we need to adapt even quicker. As you may have seen in our reports, the fire season in the Amazon has already begun in full force. It hasn’t been in the news the same way that it was in the past 2 years, but, with the high rates of deforestation in the Amazon and unprecedented droughts, it’s shaping up to be even more intense. To stop the fires from getting worse every year, we need to focus on prevention, stopping deforestation, and planning for a healthier future beyond COVID-19. Your support so far has helped us get started on that. And for that we thank you.

Amidst the many challenges, there are always things to be grateful for. Whether that be your own health or big environmental victories that you helped us achieve to protect our planet, we hope you have found gratitude this past year. 

In that spirit, we want to share that August is National Make-a-Will Month! You’ve been there for Amazon Conservation throughout our journey of growth, so we wanted to ask you to consider adding us to your will to ensure you have a long-lasting impact and legacy in the Amazon. Whether you’ve never made a will at all or need to update yours, this is a good time to think about the future of the people – and planet! – you love the most.

Start my will

If you’re just getting started, you can use FreeWill, a free, online resource that guides you through the process of creating a legally valid will in 20 minutes or less. We partnered with them to provide this service to you, but know that we do not receive anything from this partnership. We just want to give you the tools to make your will planning and charitable gifts a little easier. If you’d rather use another tool or a personal lawyer and still leave a kind gift to Amazon Conservation (at no cost to you now!), we’d be extremely appreciative. 

So this August, we invite you to prepare for the future ahead by writing or updating your will. 

P.S. When you created your plans, did you include a gift to the Amazon Conservation Association in your will? Please fill out this quick form to let us know! 


2020 Impact Report

Dear Friend of the Amazon,

This year’s annual report holds special significance because 2020 brought on worldwide challenges of new magnitudes. At the time of writing this report in 2021, we still face these obstacles, but continue to find ways to adjust our efforts to achieve the conservation needed in the Amazon. In 2020, we had to temporarily close all of our biological stations while the COVID-19 pandemic raged and the lockdowns wreaked havoc on global and local economies, and on the lives of people whom we work closely with every day. Being a lean organization also meant that we had to seriously consider how we could weather this unprecedented global emergency.

Despite all of the challenges, we made some important strides for the Amazon this year. We helped establish four new conservation areas, provided governments and local communities with the tools and information needed to protect their natural resources, garnered data to help stop the expansion of deforestation, and even developed a new Wildlife Conservation Laboratory that will provide key data that may help prevent future pandemics. We also saw the launch of our new holistic strategy that addresses the major needs for maintaining a healthy Amazon, today and in the future: protecting wild places, empowering people, and putting science and technology to work.

2020 also marked our 20th anniversary – a proud and humbling milestone for any charitable organization, made even sweeter this year by what we’ve just been through. The pandemic has made clear the connections between the environment’s health, human health, social justice, and economic security. Our mission has never felt more urgent, and we will double down on our efforts to conserve even more of our shared planet. 

There is more to be done and we are ready to lead the work. Thank you for standing by Amazon Conservation and protecting the greatest wild forest left on Earth. Now it’s time to get back to work building the healthy, sustainable, and just Amazon we all need.


John Beavers                                 Jim Brumm                                                                             

Executive Director                       Chair of the Board of Directors



Drag your mouse across the pages to flip through the annual report, or click here to view the pdf.

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Our Novel Fire Monitoring App Detected 2,500 Major Fires in the Amazon In 2020

Following 2019’s intense fire season in the Amazon that made international headlines, we recorded an even more severe year of fires in 2020, with over 5 million acres impacted.

Thanks to the support of our donors, in the months preceding the fire season we improved and relaunched our Amazon real-time fire monitoring app, hosted by Google Earth Engine. This proved to be an effective and accessible new tool to detect major fires in real-time throughout the fire season.

By combining aerosol emissions data with traditional fire alerts, we can now create comprehensive maps that identify the major fires in the Amazon on a daily basis. Through our app, we identified the first major fire of 2020 on May 28, in the Mato Grosso state in Brazil, and throughout the season documented over 2,500 major fires affecting forests mainly in Brazil, Bolivia, and Peru.

Based on our extensive analysis, we determined that, like in 2019, the majority of the burning this year took place in Brazil, in areas that had been recently deforested for agricultural and cattle-ranching purposes. In contrast, the main source of fires in the Bolivian Amazon took place in standing forests, especially in the dry forests of the Chiquitanía. The vast majority of the fires across Bolivia, Brazil, and Peru were identified to be likely human-caused and illegal, in violation of government-implemented fire management regulations and moratoriums.

Being able to produce this information in real-time – as the fires began burning – allowed us to provide the government, local communities, and the media with the precise data needed to take action on the ground. This is one of the many ways we are expanding our fire management work, in addition to furthering fire prevention efforts by promoting fire-free, sustainable development in the region.

This story was featured in our 2020 Impact Report. Click here to read about other conservation successes from 2020.


New Wildlife Conservation Laboratory Launched at Los Amigos Biological Station

Photo of Los Amigos Wildlife Conservation LabOur Los Amigos Biological Station has long been at the center of cutting-edge scientific research in the Amazon. Now we are taking that role one step further. This year, we launched a new Wildlife Conservation Laboratory there to carry out wildlife health and biodiversity monitoring using the latest technology. This laboratory will be capable of carrying out advanced wildlife tracking, conservation genomics, safe pathogen screening, and toxicology monitoring of key species in the Amazon. This targeted biodiversity monitoring will enable us to gather vital data on zoonotic diseases and transmission risks in the region, generating the information government health agencies need to protect local people – and, in our globalized world, people everywhere – from diseases that cross the human-wildlife interface.

A conservation technology “makerspace” for inventing new technologies and innovating current ones is also being created at the laboratory. This year researchers began working on a customized wildlife GPS tracking device much more lightweight, low-cost, and long-lasting than the ones currently in existence. The device takes advantage of a new long-range network of wildlife microchip reading stations, enabling scientists to track wildlife movement in a similar way that toll roads track cars through the EZ-Pass system.The data produced through this effort will be transformational for understanding how wildlife populations are adapting to climate change.

This new laboratory at Los Amigos, made possible thanks to the support of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, is the first step towards a decentralized and locally based One Health laboratory network, for performing routine wildlife health assessments and in-country pathogen screening that could be replicated in rainforest countries around the world. To foster this, screening systems, protocols, and analyses will be developed to prioritize affordability and ease-of-use.

This story was featured in our 2020 Impact Report. Click here to read about other conservation successes from 2020.


Building a Climate-Smart Forest Economy Alongside Indigenous Peoples

Thanks to the support of Euroclima+ and many others, this year marked two years of working in partnership with local and indigenous communities in Bolivia and Peru to make the management of their forest resources climate-smart across almost 2 million acres of protected areas. This project built their capacity to adapt to changes in climate while taking key steps to build the region’s bioeconomy.

As of 2020, we supported 242 people – a third of whom were women – to improve the sustainable production of Brazil nuts and açaí berries, the two main forest products that grow in this part of the Amazon. To achieve this, we first helped communities assess and understand the state and vulnerability of their resources in the face of extreme weather events – like flooding and drought – to plan the best way to manage their forests and their production under climate change. A major part of our efforts have focused on helping them increase the added value of their forest-based products so that a larger share of the income generated would stay in the community.

One example from this year is the new açaí processing plant that we helped the local community of Santa Rosa del Abuná build in Bolivia. The plant now enables them to extract pulp from this fragile berry that spoils in a matter of days, package it, and store it under refrigeration. Providing the community the capacity to process berries and not just sell the raw product has improved their local market power and profits, while providing them an incentive for keeping their forest healthy. Along with increasing the income from the community’s açaí harvest, we also are helping them diversify and increase their income through developing the production and organic certification of their Brazil nut harvest as well.

Based on the results of this work, we are now prepared to replicate this model and scale it across the Amazonian forests of Bolivia and Peru.

This story was featured in our 2020 Impact Report. Click here to read about other conservation successes from 2020.


Adapting to a New Reality: Advancing Conservation Virtually

Day4 Amazontec infographicIn 2020 our Alliance of sister organizations contributed to over 80 virtual events in the United States, Bolivia, and Peru, helping keep conservation efforts moving forward even amid the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. Adapting our in-person work into a virtual format also came with some benefits: we were able to more efficiently and quickly deliver capacity-building workshops to a wide variety of stakeholders – from local community members taking part in our drone training program to international researchers monitoring deforestation from space – as well as expand access for thousands
of people.

For instance, to help educate the press and improve their reporting on environmental, biodiversity, and climate news, we developed a rigorous training curriculum and virtual workshop for Bolivian journalists. Our initiative was met with high interest. Of the 140 journalists who applied from a wide variety of news and media organizations, sixty were ultimately selected for the training and will have a chance to visit the Amazon to help tell the stories of those who live there. We aim to expand the program to include journalists from other Amazonian countries and the United States in a future regional curriculum.

In Peru, we also converted our annual AmazonTEC conference into a virtual forum that brought together policymakers, technology experts, and forest guardians to discuss how technology can advance environmental policies. With no physical location restrictions, our 5-webinar AmazonTEC event reached over 250,000 people in 20 countries digitally, with presentations from renowned speakers from NASA, Matt Finer at AmazonTECUSAID, the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, the governments of Peru, Colombia, Norway, and more. The fourth of five sessions (right image) was titled “Towards a Regional Agenda for Action in the Amazon” and considered challenges facing the Amazon. Panelists discussed the role of science and technology in achieving its protection and brainstormed the necessities for an actionable agenda for the region.

Virtual events like these were crucial for us to adapt to the challenges brought on by the pandemic as they enabled us to connect with local communities, indigenous groups, policymakers, the media, and other stakeholders in a new way to continue to advance our conservation efforts together.

This was a story originally featured in our 2020 Impact Report. Click here to read about other conservation successes from 2020.


Patrolling From Space: Empowering the Peruvian Government and Local Communities to Stop Illegal Deforestation

2020 marked an important 5-year milestone in our partnership with the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (Norad) to build government and community capacity for real-time deforestation monitoring and to combat illegal deforestation in Peru.

Building on the trust and expertise we established over our 20-year history, we helped the forest service, prosecutors, and police agencies improve their ability to act on illegal deforestation by helping them create the National System for Monitoring and Control, based on our high-tech, real-time, and cost-effective forest monitoring. The past five years have seen the incredible growth of this system – called Monitoring of the Andean Amazon Project (MAAP), – which now provides a functional real-time satellite monitoring system not only to Peru but to 83% of the Amazon basin.

In Peru, the game-changing technology employed by MAAP supported the government in crafting Operation Mercury in 2019, which launched a highly-successful crackdown on illegal gold mining deforestation in the region of La Pampa. This year, we continued monitoring the long-term success of the operation, showing the good news that, even a year after, there was still a 78% reduction in gold mining deforestation. Moreover, we identified two “leakage points” of gold mining, that is, instances where gold miners moved their illegal operations to other neighboring areas. By alerting the authorities of these new deforestation cases in real-time, they were able to stop the unlawful activities, limiting the destruction they could have caused.

At the same time, we helped forest concessionaires and other local community groups more effectively patrol and monitor their territories by using satellites, drones, and smartphone apps. We then provided them with the legal tools needed to submit the evidence to the government through the newly-implemented National System, thus enabling them to have a more effective channel to report illegal encroachment and deforestation.

This work laid the foundation for a new partnership with USAID – now in its second year – to help us take forest governance to scale by strengthening the government’s ability to take action across the entire Peruvian Amazon, and empowering hundreds of local people to vastly improve the protection of their forests using the latest in cutting-edge technologies.

This story was featured in our 2020 Impact Report. Click here to read about other conservation successes from 2020.



Preserving Agrobiodiversity and Ancestral Farming Practices in Peru

We helped establish two new protected areas to safeguard nearly 50,000 acres from deforestation and unsustainable development in one of the most biodiverse areas in the Peruvian Amazon. Señor de la Cumbre now protects 7,800 acres of forest in Madre de Dios, an area heavily affected by deforestation from illegal gold mining. The second supports indigenous communities in the Cusco region, where we helped establish the Ccollasuyo Agrobiodiversity Zone. This innovative type of protected area focuses on rescuing ancient agricultural practices capable of growing a wide variety of native crops sustainably. One of the first of its kind in the country, this area conserves over 35,000 acres of forest and the unique species that inhabit it.

Señor de la Cumbre

Small but mighty, this conservation area contains highly-biodiverse forests, important water sources, and has a high tourism potential thanks to its abundant wildlife. Due to its particular habitat and climate, Señor de la Cumbre is inhabited by several threatened species as well as species endemic to Peru, such as the saddle-back tamarin. To help protect this vital area and its important species, we provided the local community and government with the continuous legal and technical support needed, throughout the arduous 8-year process, to achieve its declaration.

The establishment of Señor de la Cumbre also helps advance our larger conservation strategy in the Manu-Madidi Conservation Corridor. By creating a mosaic of conservation areas like this one between Manu National Park in Peru and Madidi National Park in Bolivia – the two most biodiverse national parks in the world – we are strengthening habitat connectivity so that wildlife have the needed space to move across uninterrupted swaths of land. Not only that, but bridging large tracts of forest also builds greater climate resilience and adaptation capacity into the region’s forest and aquatic ecosystems.

vegetables in marcapata ccollana agrobiodiversity zoneCcollasuyo Agrobiodiversity Zone

Another conservation success was the establishment of the Ccollasuyo Agrobiodiversity Zone. This area, located in the Peruvian province of Quispicanchi, is home to a hundred indigenous Quechua families who cultivate more than 100 varieties of native potatoes, 12 types of native corn, and unique root vegetables such as oca, mashua, olluco, quinoa, kiwicha and tarwi. For generations, the families of Ccollasuyo have continued to apply their ancient practices to grow these plants that are important markers of the world’s agricultural genetic diversity.

Complementing the conservation of this region, we also began to help a neighboring Quechua community, Marcapata Ccollana, to establish a conservation area that will protect an additional 50,000 acres. Combined, these agrobiodiversity zones and conservation areas help mitigate the effects of climate change in a unique way by promoting and preserving ancestral forest-friendly and climate-resilient farming practices.

This story was featured in our 2020 Impact Report. Click here to read about other conservation successes from 2020.