Spotlight: Drew Harper and a Decade of Supporting the Amazon Biome

Drew Harper, an Atlanta-area native and current Minnesotan, has been a supporter of Amazon Conservation since 2012 and shares that the organization’s high ratings in transparency, accountability, and effectiveness stood out to him right from the beginning. When initially researching Amazon Conservation, Drew says, “I liked that it was a smaller organization, so I felt like my donation would make more of an impact. And I also liked that [Amazon Conservation] took a lot more of a creative approach to some of their programs.”

Since his first donation more than ten years ago, Drew has been passionate about supporting environmental conservation not only as a way to give back and protect the Amazon’s biodiversity and forests, but also as critical for the future. Drew shares, “I get concerned about the future and see a lot of destruction going on… I am hoping that we don’t hand a future down to subsequent generations that is basically dooming them to a worse life than what we’ve got.

But Drew doesn’t want others to be discouraged by the doom and gloom of climate change. He encourages everyone who wants to make a difference to support organizations like Amazon Conservation and consider “the importance of acting, and acting now, to help address many of the environmental issues that we’ve got.”

 

Drew Harper
St Paul, MN. Supporter since 2012.

Can you tell us a little about you?
I grew up in the suburbs of Atlanta, originally. I moved around a little bit, but professionally, I’ve been an engineer pretty much my entire career. I just started a new job – 3rd week! – I’m now a sustainability manager at a food production company.

What initially inspired you to help conserve the Amazon rainforest? Why do you think it is important to protect it?
I would say from the very beginning I’ve always had an interest in environmental conservation, and if there’s any one cause that I would feel strongly about it’s environmental causes. I know there are a lot of things that would fall within that bucket, but conservation would be the biggest and then biodiversity would be another subsector of things that I’m strongly passionate about.

As far as why the Amazon specifically, I get concerned about the future and see a lot of destruction going on, that being one area that I see a lot of, but more widely prevalent. But I feel like the Amazon is both very important for the future – in terms of making sure that we continue to preserve what resources we’ve got – and then also included in that, maintaining the biodiversity.

Have you had a chance to visit the Amazon?
Not yet, it’s on the bucket list though!

How did you initially learn about Amazon Conservation?
So basically, I knew I wanted to donate to some organization. I knew I wanted it to be an environmental cause. So I went on Charity Navigator and started filtering through to see which charities were highest on the transparency and accountability type metrics and higher on effectiveness. So then that filtered it down to another level, and then once I had it down to a short list, the reason why I went with Amazon Conservation over some of the other ones that I was looking at is that I liked that it was a smaller organization, so I felt like my donation would make more of an impact. And I also liked that they took a lot more of a creative approach to their programs.

Why did you choose to support Amazon Conservation? What makes Amazon Conservation special to you?
They’re a smaller organization and they’re focused on working with the folks in that area, a lot more focus on cooperation as opposed to just straight enforcement of conservation. They also have a unique perspective on how they approach some of their programs. A program I’m a big fan of is MAAP [Monitoring of the Andean Amazon Project], and the satellite systems that are constantly monitoring, constantly taking pictures of the deforestation that is going on and forwarding that information on to authorities and locals.

So that struck me as something that was pretty creative and novel. And I like that. I don’t know the true metrics, but when I look at effectiveness, in terms of how far each dollar goes, that’s a program that I would consider to be highly likely to be very effective.

Do you have a favorite program or initiative that stands out to you?
So the one that specifically stands out to me was the Brazil nut program because my impression of a lot of the other programs from some of the other charities was that it was conservation, but it almost felt like locking away the area and then… there wasn’t as much cooperation with the local inhabitants, whereas that program I felt strongly about because it felt like it aligned their incentives with what Amazon Conservation was hoping to accomplish so that it wouldn’t be conflict with the people living there locally. It’d be cooperation.

What would you say to other environmentally-conscious people who want to make a difference in the Amazon and help fight climate change?
I see it as multi-faceted. There’s so much environment around us that I think the donations is one thing, and that’s great, but bringing it into all kinds of spheres of their life – both in terms of their personal life, ways you can reduce your impact, whether it’s recycling, composting, reducing your usage, and so on – but then also trying to encourage local institutions to step up as well, whether that’s more government-type institutions or local businesses.

I feel like there’s enough that needs to be done that everyone needs to be pulling in the same direction for us to get to the ultimate goal because I don’t feel like just having a subset of people working on it is going to be as effective or accomplish what we need to. 

A big part of why I donate is I feel like I’ve been given a pretty good hand in life… so I feel like in some ways I have an obligation to give back. For a long time I stewed over what the best way to do that would be, and I would say that this is probably just one piece of that, but a very central piece, I think, on how I should be giving back to the world as a whole.

Do you have anything else to add that you’d like people to know?

I just want to impress upon the importance of acting, and acting now, to help address many of the environmental issues that we’ve got. In particular, the one that stands out to me is climate change, and I assume that is probably a big one for a lot of folks of my generation and subsequent generations, because I am hoping that we don’t hand a future down to subsequent generations that is basically dooming them to a worse life than what we’ve got and that I feel like if we don’t act soon, then that may be the direction that we are heading.

Join Drew and thousands of other donors in supporting Amazon Conservation’s work to protect wild places, empower people, and put science and technology to work. Find out ways you can give, including stock, planned giving, and donor-advised funds here.

Protecting Tambopata National Reserve’s Buffer Zone Through Strategic Planning

Tambopata Macaws Clay Lick
Photo by Brian Ralphs

The 679,040-acre Tambopata National Reserve in the Amazon Basin of southeast Peru was established in 2000 to protect one of the most biologically diverse and least disturbed forests in the world. A myriad of species live in the diverse habitats of the reserve, including colorful parrots and macaws that frequent clay licks such as the famous Colpa de Colorado. But although the reserve is under government protection, miners continuously threaten the area and its buffer zones to tear down tracts of forest and sift gold from riverbeds.

Thus, our on-the-ground sister organization in Peru, Conservación Amazónica-ACCA, in partnership with local governments and officials, are developing a strategic land use plan for Tambopata National Reserve (PEZA) and its buffer zones to improve land management, increase interagency coordination within the Peruvian Government, and provide economic benefits to local communities. The first meeting was on May 26, held by a Working Group whose goal is to ensure the execution of activities. The group that has been formed is working to implement the strategic land use plan, as well as achieve its incorporation in the regional government.

Last month, this working group, which included local government officials, the head of the Tambopata National Reserve and our technical team at Conservación Amazónica-ACCA, prepared a roadmap to launch the Strategic Plan for the Tambopata National Reserve Buffer Zone, which was originally prepared in 2018. It looks to organize interventions against illegal deforestation and generate partnerships that protect ecosystems and natural resources. Local government agencies and actors such as the management committee of the Tambopata National Reserve, the Amazon Conservation Conservacion Amazonica Tambopata Working GroupPeruvian National Service of Protected Natural Areas (SERNANP) and the Regional Government of Madre de Dios lead the implementation.

Protecting the Tambopata National Reserve and its buffer zones is essentials due to the wide variety of plants, animals, and people who call it home, including economic forest species such as cedar (Cedrela odorata), mahogany (Swietenia macrophylla), and Brazil nuts (Bertholetia excelsa). Moreover, researchers have documented large numbers of species within the protected area that aren’t seen as commonly elsewhere in the Amazon due to poaching, such as spider monkeys and tapirs. The Tambopata River watershed is also considered to be one of the world’s richest ecosystems in terms of biodiversity — in an area of just 1,300 acres (550 hectares), researchers have documented 91 species of mammals, 570 birds, 127 reptiles and amphibians and 94 fish.

 

 

 

Journalism Workshop In Bolivia Promotes the Protection of Biodiversity Conservation Corridors

In 2020, our sister organization on the ground in Bolivia, Conservación Amazónica-ACEAA, organized a journalism workshop to promote the ecosystem services and threats faced by the Madidi-Pilón Lajas-Cotapata Conservation Corridor. Though this conservation corridor is located in the biodiversity hotspot of the tropical Andes, it faces risks from encroaching illegal miners and loggers. Thus, the course, “Capacity-Building in Communication for Biodiversity Conservation in the Madidi-Pilón Lajas-Cotapata Conservation Corridor of Bolivia”, generated interest among journalists and university students both locally and abroad.

The Madidi-Pilón Lajas-Cotapata Conservation Corridor is a combination of three vast protected areas in Bolivia, the Madidi National Park, the Pilón – Lajas Biosphere Reserve, and the Cotapata National Park. These areas create a corridor that protects and connects more than 5.8 million acres of Amazonian forests, covering a mosaic of Andean rainforests, mainland Amazonian forests, mixed mountain and highland ecosystems, and lowlands. Corridors bridging patches of habitat that would otherwise be cleared are important for wildlife because native flora and fauna have better access to natural resources, which are normally scattered across a landscape and change based on seasons and climate. Corridors also protect essential water resources from contamination and pollution.

After a standstill due to the pandemic, at the beginning of 2022 the course was restarted to focus more on rural journalists, since the original course tailored to journalists in cities in universities.

Bolivian biologist Andrea Morales and environmental investigative journalist Jimena Mercado presented on the Corridor’s environmental, biological, and technical aspects, as well as shared the communication potential and journalistic approach. “It has definitely been something new for attendees, the topic of biodiversity conservation. Few were knowledgeable about what a corridor was. So I think the issue of threats to protected areas has been a powerful lesson for them….Although they are in contact in protected areas with environmental issues, they were not handling the terms correctly,” says Morales.

Luis Arteaga, Technical Director of Conservación Amazónica-ACEAA, points out that the course made it possible to explore concerns noted by students and journalists themselves. For example, Vicky Gonzáles, who was an attendee from Río Tv and based in Rurrenabaque, a small town on the Beni River in the Bolivian Amazon, said that, “We know what is happening, but here is where that information stays. What I liked the most is knowing that there are institutions that can help us disseminate this information internationally.”

To learn more about this initiative, click here.

 

 

New Arroyo Bahia Conservation Area Protects Essential Water Sources For 80,000 People

On May 4, the Arroyo Bahía Conservation Area in the Bolivian Amazon was declared, protecting nearly 10,000 acres of forests and critical water sources for the surrounding local populations. It is the municipality of Cobija’s first protected area. Arroyo Bahía provides valuable ecosystem services in the form of freshwater to 80,000 local people in Bolivia, Peru and Brazil due to the city’s location in the department of Pando, which shares a western border with Peru and a border with Brazil to the north and east.Thus, protecting ecosystems that traverse multiple countries supports the livelihoods of thousands of people.

The declaration of this protected area is timely as the upper and middle sections of the Arroyo Bahía basin have been experiencing significant deforestation over the past five years, according to research carried out by Josefina Marín, who serves as the environmental economist of Fundación Natura Bolivia. One of the main reasons for the loss of forest cover has been the increased demand of clearing areas for raising livestock, which causes erosion and soil compaction. This affects the regeneration of forest species and contributes to the sedimentation and clogging of Arroyo Bahia Conservation Area Amazon Conservationstreams. Consequently, the forest coverage of the banks of the tributary rivers to the stream have been drastically reduced from 1985 to 2008. This, along with the pollution from the dumping of waste, has had terrible consequences for water quality and causes drinkability problems. The Brazil nut harvest has also been reduced lately due to the decrease in the production of the trees and the drop in prices.

Thus, the establishment of the Arroyo Bahía Conservation Area will protect this basin from contamination and deforestation. It will also support the local peoples’ livelihoods, and mitigate floods and fires. Additionally, the basin is home to great diversity in spite of continuously encroaching human activity. 351 plant species have been identified in two sampling sites, along with 35 amphibian species, 13 reptiles, 185 bird species, 32 mammals, and 30 fish species.

Thank you to support from the Andes Amazon Fund which helped make the declaration of this area possible.