Protecting the Wild Heart of the Amazon, Peru

Protecting the Wild Heart of the Amazon, Peru

Climbing from an immense plain of unbroken rainforest, the Sierra del Divisor Mountain Range stretches more than 600 miles along the Peru-Brazil Border in the heart of the Amazon Basin. Complete with plunging waterfalls, dormant volcanic cones, wild rivers, pristine forests, and uncontacted tribes, this largely unknown and unexplored range is one of the Amazon’s last true wildernesses. Protecting a biological community rich in rare, endemic, and threatened species, this region is also one of the highest conservation priorities in Peru. Moreover, its location in the center of a ten-million-acre multinational wildlife corridor makes its preservation critical.

The Sierra del Divisor faces imminent threats from oil and mining development, road and pipeline construction, over-fishing, and illegal logging. Unchecked, these threats could destroy the area in a matter of years. To permanently protect the Sierra del Divisor and the biodiverse lands surrounding it, Rainforest Trust is working with Peruvian partner, CEDIA, to establish two protected areas with a buffer zone that will span 5.9 million acres.

Contributions for the project will be used to create a Sierra del Divisor National Park, establish a White Sands National Reserve, and obtain land titles for 57 community territories that will form a buffer zone around the protected areas. Funds will also provide financial assistance install park infrastructure, create management plans for protected areas, and provide indigenous communities with training in park protection.

Unlike other Rainforest Trust projects, protection for this area will be accomplished by national decree rather than land purchase.                                                                                                                           

The first phase of the Sierra del Divisor conservation project will be to raise $646,000 by December 2014 to establish multiple new protected areas, including the 4-million-acre national park. The subsequent phases will raise $2.2 million by 2015 to set up infrastructure and management plans for these protected areas as well as train and build capacity for the indigenous communities protecting these lands. – See more at: https://www.rainforesttrust.org/projects/tropical-rainforest/peru/#sthash.Qxi3nqGm.dpuf
The first phase of the Sierra del Divisor conservation project will be to raise $646,000 by December 2014 to establish multiple new protected areas, including the 4-million-acre national park. The subsequent phases will raise $2.2 million by 2015 to set up infrastructure and management plans for these protected areas as well as train and build capacity for the indigenous communities protecting these lands. – See more at: https://www.rainforesttrust.org/projects/tropical-rainforest/peru/#sthash.Qxi3nqGm.dpuf

LOCATION: Loreto and Ucayali Regions, Peru

SIZE: 5.9 million acres

KEY SPECIES: Red uakari monkey, jaguar, South American tapir and Goeldi’s monkey

HABITAT: Amazonian tropical forest, white sand forest

THREATS: Road construction, illegal logging, oil and gas development, mining

ACTION: Creation of Sierra del Divisor National Park, White Sands National Reserve, and 57 community territories forming a national park buffer zone

LOCAL PARTNERSCEDIA (Center for the Development of an Indigenous Amazon)

FINANCIAL NEED: $2,989,800; 50¢-per-acre cost for all phases

$711,719DONATIONS
$2,989,800GOAL

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Biodiversity

Due to its unique geological formations and varied soils, the Sierra del Divisor holds an impressive number of rare and endemic species. Although the area has yet to be thoroughly studied, a rapid biological inventory conducted in 2005 found several dozen species that are potentially new to science. Based upon these results, researchers expect that future surveys will lead to the discovery of even more species. Historically inaccessible, the Sierra del Divisor remains a refuge for plant and animal species threatened elsewhere in the Amazon.

• Of the 38 medium and large mammal species confirmed to live in the Sierra del Divisor, 20 are threatened. Mammals found include jaguars, pumas, Giant armadillos, and South American tapirs.

• The area hosts a remarkably high number of primate species. Of the 33 species found in the Amazon Basin, 16 are found in the Sierra del Divisor – more than any other protected area in Peru, including Manú National Park.

• Habitat for two of these threatened primates, the Red uakari monkey and Goeldi’s monkey, has yet to receive protection in Peru.

• A total of 3,500 plant species are thought to exist in the area, so far over 1,000 have been identified. Ten of these – including four trees – are new to science. Commercially valuable tree species, such as mahogany, logged at unsustainable levels in most of the Amazon, are found in comparative abundance.

• Scientists believe as many as 300 fish species inhabit the streams and rivers of the Sierra del Divisor Mountains. So far, 109 species have been found in the area, including 14 species new to science or previously unrecorded in Peru.

• Of 365 confirmed bird species, several are endemic to the region’s white-sand forests, including the Rufous Potoo and Fiery Topaz. The Acre Antshrike, previously known to inhabit a single ridge in Brazil, is only found in the Sierra de Divisor. As many as 570 bird species may frequent the area.

• 109 species of amphibians and reptiles have been found in the Sierra del Divisor, including several species new to science and previously unidentified in Peru.

Challenges

Once protected by its remote location, the Sierra del Divisor is now besieged by a variety of threats that could irrevocably destroy it. Proposed oil exploration, gas pipelines, and road construction projects pose serious challenges that grow annually. Meanwhile, neighboring areas already devastated by mining and logging offer evidence of impacts to unprotected areas.

• Several proposed timber concessions lie within the Sierra del Divisor; illegal logging is a constant threat along its entire border.

• Mining and oil exploration proposals surround the Sierra del Divisor. Five concessions overlap within the southern part of the range.

• Unregulated commercial fishing and hunting jeopardize native animal populations. Freezer-equipped fishing boats allow catches of unprecedented levels that could lead to local extinctions. The area is a sanctuary for many disappearing species and, as such, attracts poachers.

Road Construction

challenges In 2003, the Initiative for the Integration of the Regional Infrastructure of South America (IIRSA) proposed a plan to connect the Peruvian city of Pucallpa by road to its Brazilian counterpart, Cruzeiro do Sul. The road is part of a larger transoceanic route that would link Pacific and Atlantic seaports.

Construction plans place the highway in or near the Sierra del Divisor Reserved Zone. If constructed, the highway would have devastating effects. Construction of Amazonian highways is known to facilitate the invasion of non-native species, restrict habitat, spread disease to indigenous communities, erode cultural traditions, and provide loggers with access to millions of acres of forest. In the Brazilian Amazon, almost 90 percent of deforestation takes place within 60 miles of government-built roads.

For now, talks between the Peruvian and Brazilian governments have slowed due to disagreements about road locations and transportation method (road or rail). The creation of a Sierra del Divisor National Park will add enormous legal hurdles to prevent  road construction and protect millions of rainforest acres from logging.

Communities

Peru communitiesAn exhausting 20-hour boat ride from the nearest city, the remote Sierra del Divisor Mountain Range remains nearly uninhabited. The few people living within its borders reside in temporary riverside dwellings and follow traditional hunting and gathering practices. Outside its borders, 20 communities exist consisting of long-established indigenous families as well as colonists.

To survive, these communities depend on small-scale agriculture and the subsistence use of natural resources. The encroachment of extractive industries, such as oil and mining companies, are viewed warily by many in these communities as a threat to their traditional forest-dependent lifestyles. In some cases, these communities have organized themselves to protect local resources and promote sustainable use.

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Landscape

A geological oddity comprised of jumbled ridge lines, spectacular volcanic cones, mountain lakes, and rugged canyons, the Sierra del Divisor is the only mountain range found in the Amazon Basin. Its varied landscape has resulted in a wide range of habitats containing remarkable levels of biodiversity.

An important and fragile piece of this landscape are the white sand forests found between the Tapiche and Blanco rivers. Scattered throughout a handful of areas in northeastern Peru, these forests, characterized by their stunted trees and open understories, grow atop unusually sandy soils. Although scarcely studied, these delicate ecosystems are rich in endemic plant and animal life – at least 100 species are restricted to these forests – and are high conservation priorities.

Thunderstorms traveling west across Amazonian plains collide with the Sierra del Divisor and shower the area with heavy rains. As a result, at least 10 rivers originate in the Sierra del Divisor, supplying water to over 40,000 people. Headwaters in the Sierra del Divisor play an important role in fish migration and serve as spawning grounds for several species of commercially valuable fish, which provide local people with sustainable food and income sources.

Solutions

To protect the Sierra del Divisor, and the many threatened, undiscovered, and endemic species it contains, Rainforest Trust is working with CEDIA to create a Sierra del Divisor National Park, a White Sands National Reserve, and a buffer zone of community territories on the western edge of the Sierra del Divisor.

Rainforest Trust will work closely with local communities that have a stake in the future of these lands. As confirmed on numerous occasions, these communities tend to produce the best conservationists. This project will directly benefit over 9,000 people in 57 peasant and indigenous communities.

Sierra del Divisor National Park – Although significant steps have already been taken towards creating the Sierra del Divisor National park (including biological and cultural studies) more work is required before park status is conferred. Because Peru’s park service lacks the resources to conduct these final steps, CEDIA will assume this responsibility and manage the necessary fieldwork. This includes determining if Iskonawa territory overlaps with the proposed park boundary as well as investigating and resolving the status of individual farmers that settled in the area prior to 2005. Finally, it will require settling disputed oil concessions that overlap with the proposed park in several areas.

Once the park is established, CEDIA will work with Peru’s park service and local communities to implement a management plan, create a management committee made up of governmental and community representatives, draft a monitoring plan with the participation of local communities, offer forest guard training courses, and provide infrastructure (control posts) and equipment to ensure effective protection.

White Sands National Reserve – After demarcating the boundaries of the White Sands National Reserve, CEDIA will begin the process of annulling illegal logging concessions that overlap with the proposed natural area. This is a procedure that CEDIA successfully pioneered along the Rio Tigre in Peru’s Loreto Region. Once the reserve is established, CEDIA will work with local communities and park officials to develop management and monitoring plans for the area.

Buffer Zone – CEDIA will work with peasant and indigenous communities in areas adjacent to the White Sands National Reserve and the Sierra del Divisor National Park to obtain legal land titles. Once titles are granted, these communal lands will form a buffer zone around the protected areas.

Ensuring these communities are well governed is important if good land management decisions are to be made. By means of workshops and on-going courses, communities will receive training in community organization, governance, and record keeping. CEDIA will also help these communities create sustainable management plans for their communal properties.

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