Peru’s Madre de Dios region has become a global poster child for deforestation and environmental devastation from an unchecked gold rush. More than 1,000 square kilometers of lowland rainforest has been deforested since 1985, two-thirds of which — an area roughly the size of New York City — has been cleared since 2009. Much of that destruction and gold production has been centered in La Pampa, a makeshift city of more than 25,000 people.On Feb. 19, hundreds of army commandos and 1,200 police officers raided La Pampa, expelled most of the miners, arrested suspected criminals, and established three military bases to ensure, for now, that the miners don’t return. That said, illegal gold mining elsewhere in Madre de Dios continues as usual.Luis Hidalgo Okimura, the newly elected governor of Madre de Dios, has pledged his support to the continued battle against illegal gold mining in the region. His plan is to legalize and regulate mining to better control it, as well as incorporate its profits into the tax base. He said he also wants existing mining sites to be mined deeper for missed gold to reduce further tree loss.However, others say that focusing on reducing mining in the region is just shifting the problem to other areas. Walter Quertehuari Dariquebe, a leader with the indigenous Huachipaire tribe that resides within the Amarakaeri Communal Reserve just west of La Pampa. He told Mongabay that new gold mining and deforestation “have now shown up on our doorstep. The government has simply kicked an ants’ nest. Now ants are running all over, making trouble elsewhere — especially for us.” PUERTO MALDONADO, Peru — Luis Hidalgo Okimura, the new governor of Peru’s Madre de Dios region, entered his conference room in the regional government building here carrying a half-empty bottle of Inca Cola and wearing a golden chain around his neck. The chain was merely jewelry, however, as Hidalgo signaled immediately that change has come to the international epicenter of illegal gold mining. “When I took office in January, it was my idea to open Madre de Dios to NGOs and the outside world for their support,” Hidalgo told Mongabay in an exclusive interview in late July. “I didn’t know the military intervention was already planned. But I understood that it was the only alternative the national government had to really bring change to this area. From the beginning, I offered my help.” The well-publicized, high-drama intervention came Feb. 19, when Peruvian law enforcement swept into one of the world’s most notorious gold-mining operations to shut it down, make arrests and dig in to stay for a while. What a difference a year has made in Madre de Dios. Illegal gold mining deforestation in La Pampa. Data: ACCA, MAAP, SERNANP. Image courtesy of MAAP. Illegal gold mining deforestation in La Pampa, 2017-19. Data: ACA, MAAP. Image courtesy of MAAP. Luis Hidalgo Okimura, who became governor of Madre de Dios in January, told Mongabay that unlike his predecessor he fully supports the national government’s raid on the notorious La Pampa gold mining area that took place just six weeks after he took office. Photo by Renting Cai/Wake Forest University. Hidalgo’s predecessor, Luis Otsuka, was a gold miner and leader of the region’s mining federation. He largely ignored international aid to help preserve one of the most spectacularly biodiverse tropical regions on Earth. And he seemed to care little that national efforts to curtail mining were always short-lived and ineffective. Given widespread media attention, Madre de Dios has become a global poster child for deforestation and environmental devastation from an unchecked gold rush. More than 1,000 square kilometers (400 square miles) of lowland rainforest has been deforested since 1985, two-thirds of which — an area roughly the size of New York City — has been cleared since 2009, when gold prices spiked. Much of that destruction and gold production has been centered in La Pampa, a large and lawless stretch on both sides of the Interoceanic Highway that morphed into a makeshift city of more than 25,000 people, including more than 6,000 miners. What emerged was a kind of hell on Earth: lush rainforest reduced to a desert landscape of toxic ponds, organized crime, human trafficking and prostitution.