Mongabay Series: Global Forest Reporting Network

New deforestation hotspot threatens southern Peru’s tremendous biodiversity

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The lower Las Piedras River, in the far west Amazon rainforest of the Madre de Dios region of southern Peru, is an incredibly biodiverse area — but it’s also the site of an increasing amount of deforestation.

New deforestation hotspot threatens southern Peru’s tremendous biodiversity
  • An incredible array of species -- which Mongabay once called a “shocking wildlife bonanza” -- call the threatened forests of the Lower Piedras River home.
  • According to an assessment by the Monitoring of the Andean Amazon Project (MAAP), an area along the lower Las Piedras River near the community of Lucerna experienced a "sharp increase" in deforestation starting in 2012.
  • In the 4 years between 2012 and 2015, MAAP discovered that deforestation skyrocketed to 472 hectares (1,166 acres).

The lower Las Piedras River, in the far west Amazon rainforests of the Madre de Dios region of southern Peru, is an incredibly biodiverse area — but it’s also the site of an increasing amount of deforestation.

The headwaters of the Las Piedras River are in Alto Purus National Park, but the lower part of the river does not enjoy such protections and is surrounded by a number of different types of forestry concessions and other development projects, from logging and ecotourism to cacao plantations and Brazil nut harvesting.

An incredible array of species — which Mongabay once called a “shocking wildlife bonanza” — call the threatened forests of the lower Las Piedras home, from jungle cats like jaguars, ocelots, and pumas to giant tapirs, armadillos, and anteaters, plus wild pigs and numerous monkey and bird species.

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Rainforest along the Las Piedras River from the air. Photo by Tristan Thompson.

While its headwaters are protected, the lower Las Piedras remains under threat due largely to the controversial Trans-Amazon highway, which brought a massive influx of loggers eager to gain access to stands of cedar, ironwood, and other old growth timber, as well as hunters, gold miners, and settlers from elsewhere in the Andes, many of whom built new houses and established new farms at the expense of ancient forests.

According to an assessment by the Monitoring of the Andean Amazon Project (MAAP), one area along the lower Las Piedras River in particular, near the community of Lucerna, experienced a “sharp increase” in deforestation starting in 2012.

Between 2000 and 2011, MAAP found some 88 hectares (218 acres) were deforested in the area. In the 4 years between 2012 and 2015, on the other hand, MAAP discovered that deforestation skyrocketed to 472 hectares (1,166 acres). Last year saw the highest amount of land deforested, with 155 hectares (383 acres).

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Image via MAAP #23.
Global Forest Watch shows much of the deforestation detected by the MAAP team is happening in large, connected areas of primary forest called Intact Forest Landscapes (IFLs); nearly 30 percent of the 2001-2014 tree cover loss shown in the upper-right inset occurred in IFLs. Satellite imagery captured January 20 shows mosaic deforestation along the Las Piedras River, with earlier imagery (lower-left inset) showing a close-up of one of the patches of felled trees.
Global Forest Watch shows much of the deforestation detected by the MAAP team is happening in large, connected areas of primary forest called Intact Forest Landscapes (IFLs); nearly 30 percent of the 2001-2014 tree cover loss shown in the upper-right inset occurred in IFLs. Satellite imagery captured January 20 shows mosaic deforestation along the Las Piedras River, with earlier imagery (lower-left inset) showing a close-up of one of the patches of felled trees.

MAAP notes that the 4,460-hectare Las Piedras Amazon Center ecotourism concession, which hosts an active tourist lodge and research center in addition to employing forest rangers and locals to patrol the area, is an effective barrier to deforestation.

Two other ecotourism concessions that are less active, however, are experiencing “extensive deforestation.”

“We have received information indicating that much of this new deforestation is associated with cacao plantations,” MAAP said. “Cacao is of course used to produce chocolate.”

Citation

  • Finer, M., Pena, N. (2015). Increasing Deforestation along lower Las Piedras River (Madre de Dios, Peru). MAAP #23.

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