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.

 

 

 

Camanti: Turning a Former Mining Hotspot in Peru into a Recognized Conservation Area 

In 2019, we reported record high levels of gold mining deforestation in the southern Peruvian Amazon, with the Camanti area in the Cusco region representing one of the top three most threatened areas after La Pampa and Upper Malinowski. But this past week the protected area was officially established as the Camanti Sostenible Conservation Concession, which covers 38,172 acres (15,448 hectares).

The Camanti conservation area includes ecologically important cloud forest along a notable altitudinal gradient of 1,800 to 7,200 feet (550-2,200 meters) above sea level. As a result, it is home to unique plants and animals only found in small elevational ranges. Species found in the Camanti Sostenible area include the rare pacarana (Dinomys branickii) along with endangered and threatened species such as the jaguar, giant anteater, giant armadillo, black-and-chestnut eagle, and the Andean bear.

Because Camanti Sostenible borders the Amarakaeri Communal Reserve, the establishment of this area hinders the advancement of illegal mining that threatened indigenous communities in years past. At its eastern side is the 2.6 million acre Bahuaja Sonene National Park, while to the south and north are 172,800 acres of protected forests that we established in 2019 and 2020, the Ausangate Regional Conservation Area and Señor de la Cumbre. Thus, Camanti Sostenible adds to a mosaic of conservation areas, indigenous territories, and local forests that provide a corridor of forests necessary for species to ensure connectivity, functionality and ecological integrity in one of the most biodiverse areas of the world. 

 

This recognition is possible thanks to the joint work of our sister organization on the ground in Peru, Conservación Amazónica – ACCA, the Camanti Sostenible Association, the technical team at the Forestry and Wildlife Administration of Cusco, and the valuable financial support of the Proyecto Amazonía Resiliente – SERNANP UNDP, and Andes Amazon Fund.

 

First Açaí Fair Celebrates Its Importance in the Bolivian Amazon

The season of açaí harvesting has begun in the Bolivian Amazon. To welcome its return our sister organization on the ground in Bolivia, Conservación Amazónica – ACEAA, celebrated at the department of Pando’s first annual Açaí Fair on April 13th.

 We’ve been working to strengthen and improve açaí harvesting for many years now, as the collection of açaí and other forest products is a key conservation and community development strategy because it can only grow in healthy forests, not in large-scale plantations. Thus, utilizing and improving the harvest of this renewable forest resource provides economic value to keeping forests standing.

The event included an açaí collection demonstration with Robinson Nacimento, a seasoned harvester from the native community of Trinchera in the Bolivian Amazon. To collect açaí, harvesters must climb trees up to 65 feet high and then carefully cut and descend with heavy bundles of fruit of up to 15 pounds. This is not without safety measures, as Misael Campos, the president of the Federation of Açaí and Amazonian Fruits of Pando (FEDAFAP) noted, “He’ll be following the Federation’s standards and security measures, like safety harnesses that we developed with institutions like Conservación Amazónica – ACEAA.” As Robinson explained the different equipment he used to harvest, he showed the harness that Misael referenced saying that, “It’s a  lifeline.” He also showed his bag to collect açai and a machete to cut the bundles of fruit from the branches.

To those not used to the açaí harvesting process, seeing Robinson scale the tree was a nerve-wracking experience. But Misael assured the group of his expertise and familiarity with the process, as harvesting is a regular activity for him. “The worry isn’t being able to retrieve the açaí. It’s that we won’t be able to eat all the berries that he collects!” He also emphasized that the Federation has been grateful to strengthen harvesting practices with help from institutions and nongovernmental organizations, such as ours. He also emphasized the potential to replicate the successes in safer and improved harvesting in other parts of the Bolivian Amazon, saying that, “We can apply this system to other zones as well…there are measures, there’s equipment. We as a Federation are available to share this experience, technology, and equipment that is advancing.”

Pando’s first Açaí Fair overall promoted the knowledge and processing of this key Amazonian fruit and brought together presenters and producers from the municipalities of Santa Rosa, Porvenir, Filadelfia and Puerto Rico. An array of açaí-based products were available to try or purchase, including different types of food and a variety of local crafts. The month of April is even recognized as the month of Amazonian fruits, and açaí has also been declared as part of the Pando’s natural heritage, as the fruit is highlighted for their economic potential and basis for the conservation of the Amazonian ecosystem. 

Learn more about how we partner with producers in Bolivia to improve the safety of harvesting and strengthen the productivity of forests.

 

Join Aya and take action for nature this Earth Day

Celebrate Earth Day like 9-year-old Aya, who was so inspired to protect the Amazon rainforest and all its ecosystem services that her new environmental club’s first fundraiser was held to conserve the Amazon.

In her third-grade class in Oakland, California, Aya learned about the impact of climate change on the environment and animals. After hearing about the number of species and critical habitats being threatened, Aya knew she wanted to take action. Thus, she started a student-run Stopping Global Warming Club to protect the Earth. They recently held their first fundraiser — a bake sale to protect the Amazon rainforest — that was a huge success, raising $745 that was then matched and tripled to $2,235! 

The inspiration behind Aya’s desire to start the Stopping Global Warming Club arose from her love for animals. “In my opinion, I think a lot of animals are super cute, and hearing about natural disasters and animals dying out made me feel upset,” she recalled. Aya knew she wanted to be a part of a group of like-minded conservationists, but the environmental clubs she researched were geared towards teens or adults. Unfazed, she took matters into her own hands.When I looked online I saw clubs that are mostly for older people, like 18 or 21 year olds. And so I decided to start a club for younger people.”

The Stopping Global Warming Club currently has 13 members ranging from 5-13 years old. One is Aya’s friend Mira, who initially joined the club because she wanted to make friends in the neighborhood: “But then I learned a little more about global warming, and then I liked it more than just making friends. I liked helping the environment.” Mira added that her favorite animal in the Amazon is a capybara, correctly recalling that it is the world’s largest rodent. Now, Mira is even creating a play to stop global warming, telling us excitedly that, “I wrote the script already!”

The group decided to host their first fundraiser in March to support an environmental charity. When a member suggested that it benefit the Amazon rainforest, Aya agreed, as she recognized the major effects that deforestation has on the planet. “Protecting the Amazon rainforest protects those that live there. But also when you cut down a tree, gasses get released which affects people and animals in other places,” she explained. “I chose to support Amazon Conservation because, first of all, it’s not just any organization. It doesn’t just protect the Amazon rainforest, but it also works with indigenous peoples who really know about the forest, who really know about the different animals and plants.” 

The Stopping Global Warming Club’s initial bake sale fundraising goal was $50, which can protect around 100 acres of forest for a year at Amazon Conservation’s Los Amigos Conservation Area. They ended up reaching and surpassing that goal — raising $745 which was then matched and tripled to $2,235. This significant amount can train 20 local members of a firefighting brigade in the Amazon on how to combat and prevent forest fires, which is essential during the annual and destructive fire season that’s already begun. 

To others who are inspired to protect the Amazon rainforest, Aya encourages them to do so, saying, “Even if things sound impossible, you should still try to do them and who knows what could happen.” Mira added that, “This is a good cause, and people should start protecting the Amazon.”

This Earth Day, we celebrate young conservationists like Aya and her friends, who have been inspired by the incredible ecosystem services the Amazon offers – like habitat and food for animals and local communities alike.  Real change and impactful conservation efforts are critical to the future of the Amazon so that the next generation will also be able to enjoy the many resources the forest provides for years to come. Amazon Conservation is working hard on the ground to ensure a sustainable future for the forest by supporting sustainable livelihoods deep in the Amazon and protecting biodiverse zones in the Andean-Amazon region. With its countless ecosystem services from fresh water, clean air, and climate regulation to health foods, medical treatments and vaccines, and carbon sequestration, the Amazon is truly the greatest forest on Earth. 

 

 

Thus, we hope that today – on Earth Day – you strive to be like Aya and her friends by taking action to protect the forest and its resources.

 

 

 

Make a Sustaining Impact this Earth Month with Amazon Conservation 

This year, Earth Day celebrates all the incredible resources that this beautiful planet provides us. We are taking Earth Day a few steps furtherand celebrating the greatest wild forest on the planet for the entire month of April! We encourage everyone to start taking action for nature and the Amazon this April, but we hope this will be just the start as our planet needs real impactful and urgent action each and every day.

This Earth Month, we are encouraging everyone to #InvestintheAmazon and all of the ecosystem services it provides to everyone from local communities in the Amazon to people all across the globe. From drinkable water and unmatched biodiversity to climate change mitigation and economic resources, the ecosystem services this forest provides are central for the health of the entire planet.

Here are a few ways you can start making your lasting impact this April and make a real difference beyond Earth Month:

  • Get a jumpstart on your commitment: Make an investment today!
  • Share why you support Amazon Conservation’s work for a thriving Amazon by tagging @amazonconservation and using #InvestIntheAmazon on social media.
  • But, most of all, ensure your impact is sustainable by signing up for our newly revamped Wild Keepers Monthly Giving Program.
    BONUS: All new Wild Keeper members in April will be entered in our Earth Month giveaway to win a special gift straight from the Amazon! Winner will be announced on May 5th via social media

 

 

Reforestation and Governance Protects Critical Water Sources For Local Communities

Apolo is the second largest municipality in the Bolivian department of La Paz and overlaps with nationally important protected areas, including the Madidi National Park (7,320 sq mi, 18,960 sq km) and Pilón Lajas Biosphere Reserve. Our sister organization on the ground in Bolivia has worked with this community since 2015 to protect critical water sources for local communities. This past month, Carlos De Ugarte, the Coordinator for Conservation Areas, presented a webinar with several highlights on the most recent phases of this incredible project, including the cultivation of 18,500 seedlings since 2016 and reforestation of over 3,000 trees.

Apolo has been highlighted by the Bolivian Ministry of Environment and local communities as a conservation priority due to the Paramarani mountain range located in its central region. Eight indigenous communities, including Apolo with its 6,000 inhabitants, depend on the Paramarani mountain range for their water supply, so protecting this area means preserving the environmental services this hydrological system provides. Thus, we implemented key conservation initiatives such as the reforestation of degraded areas, installation of protective fencing, training to combat forest fires, and the strengthening of local water committees.

To begin, local community partners and our team planted over 3,000 native plant species in the areas of concern, because reforestation helps increase the absorption of water to the ground which regenerates water sources and springs. Additionally, the presence of more plants reduces soil erosion as well as reduces contamination. Seedlings were cultivated in the Madidi National Park nursery, where we have raised nearly 18,500 seedlings since 2016. Between 2019 and 2020, over 1,000 species were planted around the Paramarani mountain range, and in 2021 over 2,000 were installed. This included reforestation with agave, which was carried out as a fire protection strategy because mature agave plants are notably tolerant to droughts.

Moreover, the team installed fences to protect water sources from pollution caused by humans and livestock and promote the natural regeneration of vegetation such as tree cover, shrubs, and grasslands. Protective fences were implemented around twelve water sources utilized by seven Paramarani communities, and around seven water sources used by six communities in the Altuncama mountain range. Organic farming was also promoted to protect water sources as the use of chemical products must be avoided as much as possible.

Lastly, our team assisted in governance strengthening initiatives, helping expand the Apolo Municipal Water Management Platform to ensure that this water management work is continued. In 2018, this coalition included eight out of the nine communities of Paramarani and the local government. In 2019, it expanded to include seven communities of Altuncama. The communities’ Statutes and Regulations of the Water Committees were also updated, and the team helped manage community requests made through the platform.

Efficient management of this protected area is extremely important to make sure critical water sources stay protected. This project has helped preserve an important hydrological system and its environmental services, supporting both the communities and wildlife that call the Paramarani mountain range home.

 

 

Ruthmery Pillco, Who Leads Our Andean Bear Conservation Project, Named Disney Conservation Hero

Ruthmery Pillco, who leads field activities for our Andean Bear Conservation Project, was recently announced as one of fifteen Disney Conservation Heroes, recognized for their efforts to protect the planet. She joins a diverse global community of indigenous conservationists protecting critically endangered and threatened species such as Grauer’s gorillas, golden lion tamarin monkeys, and leatherback sea turtles.

The Disney Conservation Fund awards grants annually to individuals and organizations working together to stabilize and increase the populations of at-risk species. Ruthmery’s work to protect the Andean bear in the Peruvian Amazon, which is categorized as vulnerable to extinction by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, has earned her this distinction from Disney. During this project, she works with local communities to reforest areas for the Andean bear’s habitat and restore native plant species. She also leads a field team to identify and record information about the bears’ distribution and diet. Additionally in Costa Rica, her botanical expertise and project leadership enabled her team to help prevent the extinction of a rare and critically endangered plant species in the cinnamon family that has only been known to scientists since 1998. Her team carefully collected seeds from the only four mature plants found in the wild, propagated and planted them to grow the wild population of this species.

Ruthmery joins the latest cohort of 15 Disney Conservation Heroes across 13 countries who work with local communities to care for wildlife and their habitats, including those who protected their own land as nature reserves to individuals who found new ways to support wildlife while honoring cultural traditions.

“We know that behind each of these [conservation] efforts are dedicated individuals going above and beyond to ensure a world in balance,” writes Claire Martin on Disney’s blog, who helps manage the awards. “These Heroes have each taken risks, shown courage, and contributed to an inspiring global story of hope for the future.”

Read Disney’s full blog here.