|Dr. Paul Salaman|
|Sierra del Divisor Range|
|Wildlife remains abundant in the Sierra del Divisor|
Sierra del Divisor Q + A with Rainforest Trust CEO, Dr. Paul Salaman
In November, 2013, Rainforest Trust announced a new project in the Peruvian Amazon that would protect 5.9 million acres of tropical forest through the creation of three nationally protected areas and a buffer zone of community-owned lands. This area will primarily protect the Sierra del Divisor, an extremely biodiverse mountain range running along the Brazil-Peru border. Rainforest Trust CEO Paul Salaman, who has played a central role in developing this initiative, explains his motivation.
What makes the Sierra del Divisor worth saving in your mind?
The Sierra del Divisor is the whole package; it’s the heart of the Amazon. This is one of the world’s great remaining wildernesses. It’s a largely unexplored, undisturbed area laying in one of the planet’s most biodiverse areas. Wildlife that has disappeared in other parts of the Amazon remains abundant in the Sierra del Divisor; the area hosts one of the highest levels of primate diversity in the Western Amazon, and may provide habitat for up to 570 bird species. The first – and only – scientific study in the Sierra del Divisor resulted in the discovery of dozens of potentially new species. If we protect this area, there is reason to expect some amazing biological discoveries in the years to come.
The Sierra del Divisor is home to at least two indigenous groups that rely on its preservation to continue their traditional lifestyles. Apart from obvious human rights concerns, there are many good reasons to protect these groups. They possess an impressive understanding of Amazonian ecology and pharmacology and, from a practical standpoint, this knowledge is extremely important as it holds the potential to successfully combat life-threatening illnesses.
What threats does the area face?
Plans to extend a highway from Brazil to Pucallpa, Peru, would mean uncontrolled logging and colonization on a massive scale. Carving this road into the Sierra del Divisor would provide loggers, poachers, and other players in the extractive industry exactly the kind of access they need. What happens then is no mystery; the disastrous effects of road construction have been seen throughout the Amazon.
For example, the proposed road to Pucallpa now ends at the Peruvian border, if you look at this area on Google Earth you will immediately notice that the forest for miles on both sides of the road has been decimated. When we talk about the potential destruction from this road, we are talking about millions of acres. If this happens, it would not only mean habitat and species loss, but it could have disastrous effects for local people, as well, which depend upon the environment for their livelihood.
What can you tell us about your Peruvian partner CEDIA?
CEDIA is one of Latin America’s best-kept conservation secrets. In the last 32 years, CEDIA has managed to protect 25 million acres of tropical forest; this is an area larger than the state of Maine. So CEDIA has a fantastic track record of success and they are one of the few conservation organizations in Peru that has gained – and maintained – the trust of both the government, on national and local levels, and indigenous communities.
The organization’s Executive Director, Lelis Rivera, is a passionate conservationist who has dedicated his life to the cause, and it shows. He has an incredible grasp of the Amazon, of its peoples, wildlife, and biological hotspots. To find this project, we scoured maps of the Peruvian Amazon – an area covering thousands of square miles – and there were few places he didn’t know. It was amazing.
The Sierra del Divisor is by far the largest project Rainforest Trust has ever undertaken. What prompted you to adopt such an ambitious project?
As far as large-scale tropical conservation goes, we may be at the beginning of the end. Within decades, or less, opportunities to protect landscape-sized chunks of the Amazon like this will likely be gone. Already these kinds of opportunities rarely happen in other Amazonian countries. While remote areas, like the Sierra del Divisor, were once safe by virtue of their isolated location, this is no longer true; destructive development now reaches even the most remote corners of the Amazon. Knowing this puts pressure on us to act quickly, as there is no question what the future holds for this incredible place it if we fail to act.