A monitoring team has shown through satellite imagery that a sector of southeastern Peru’s Bahuaja Sonene National Park is likely experiencing deforestation due to the country’s illicit cultivation of coca, the key precursor ingredient used for producing cocaine.
Illegal coca cultivation is an ongoing problem for Peruvian protected areas.
The far-flung nature of the park area makes it hard for authorities to effectively supervise and view new developments such as airstrips.
A new airstrip recently identified in a protected national park in the Peruvian Amazon indicates that deforestation stemming from the country’s coca cultivation is continuing to take a serious toll on important portions of the area’s primary forest.
Monitoring of the Andean Amazon Project (MAAP), a web portal devoted to presenting information and analysis on important ecological news in the region, has shown through satellite imagery that a sector of southeastern Peru’s Bahuaja Sonene National Park is likely experiencing deforestation due to the country’s illicit cultivation of coca, the key precursor ingredient used for producing cocaine.
MAAP pointed to the construction of a new airstrip built between May and June of this year as evidence that coca was to blame for the forest loss.
“It is characteristic of an airstrip designed for a single engine plane,” MAAP wrote, drawing attention to the fact that such small planes are often used to transport coca leaves. “It is worth noting that there are no native communities in this area.”
Furthermore, MAAP indicated that the area in which the airstrip was constructed lies on protected land reserved for wildlife conservation.
“The direct ecological impact of the airstrip isn’t the issue,” said Matt Finer, a research specialist with the Amazon Conservation Association (ACA). “The issue is that it signifies that illegal coca cultivation, which is a major driver of deforestation, remains active in an important Amazonian national park.”
According to a report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), coca cultivation in Peru dropped to 42,900 hectares in 2014, compared to the 49,800 hectares recorded in 2013 — a decrease of 13.9 percent.
Still, while increased agricultural and livestock activities have encroached on forests, coca cultivation remains a threat in Bahuaja Sonene National Park and other areas in Peru such as the new Sierra del Divisor National Park. MAPP previously reported on the extent of deforestation in the park’s Colorado sector: the group estimated that from 2001 to 2014, over 530 hectares were cut down in the confines of this section of the park, as well as 1,170 in the surrounding buffer zone.
“This sector [referred to as Inambari-Tambopata in the UN report]… also has a high density of coca, with 108 hectares on the interior of Bahuaja Sonene National Park and 1,610 hectares in the buffer zone, likely making it one of the major drivers of the observed deforestation,” MAAP wrote.
In response to MAAP’s findings, SERNANP (the Peruvian protected areas agency) admitted that due to pests destroying crops such as oranges and coffee, some farmers had “no choice” but to plant coca. However, the agency pledged in a statement to more closely monitor the situation and begin coca eradication efforts.
Finer noted that the far-flung nature of the park area made it hard for authorities to effectively supervise and view new developments such as airstrips, but added that satellite images were extremely helpful in the fight against illicit coca production.
“This area is very remote, so it is not easy for authorities to spot,” he said. “That is the power of using high-resolution satellite imagery, though. Now we can spot these clearings and report to authorities.”