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Massive plans for oil and road development may threaten Peruvian Amazon

New infrastructure could put pressure on national parks and indigenous groups, some who have chosen to cut themselves off from civilization.

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BONITO, Brazil (13 August 2012)_ Oil exploration and the planned construction of hydroelectric dams in the Peruvian Amazon may pose serious threats to biodiversity and indigenous tribes, some of whom have been living for centuries in voluntary isolation, a conservation specialist said.

Clinton Jenkins, speaking at the Association of Tropical Conservation and Biology meeting in Bonito last month, focused much of his attention on Loreto, located in the Western Amazon basin.

Boasting some of the greatest mammalian, avian, floral and fish diversity on the planet, the region is facing tremendous challenges amid record oil prices and rising global energy needs, he said.

The national government has agreed to delimit specific geographic areas or “blocks” for hydrocarbon activities areas that may be leased to state or international companies for exploration and production.

Unless decisive steps are taken, these activities could put pressure on national parks and indigenous groups, who have chosen to cut themselves off from civilization, said Jenkins, Principal Research Scholar at the Department of Biology, North Carolina State University.

Extensive CIFOR research has highlighted the deleterious global impact of unsustainable logging, mining, cocoa and oil palm production, all of which require roads and other infrastructure projects in order to expand.

“Unfortunately the history of development initiatives throughout the Amazon basin shows that governments have generally prioritised external actors at the expense of forests and forest dependent people,” said Peter Cronkleton, leader of CIFOR’s research on improving livelihoods through smallholder and community forestry and co-author of Tenure Rights and Beyond Community Access to Forest Resources in Latin America.

These projects could significantly disrupt the ecological connectivity of the Amazon River to the Andes.

“While progress has been made recognising property rights of indigenous people in the region, they continue to struggle to maintain and strengthen their rights to and control over resources vital to their livelihoods,” he said.

Also raising alarms are plans for new hydroelectric dams, identified as a priority by Peruvian regional governments.

Jenkins and his colleague, Matt Finer, documented 150 dams planned across the Andean Amazon, five within Loreto.

These projects could significantly disrupt the ecological connectivity of the Amazon River to the Andes with substantial impacts for fish populations, nutrient cycling, and the health of Earth’s largest rainforest, they said in a study published in the journal PLoS ONE.

In collaboration with the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL) and the Peruvian organization Derecho, Ambiente y Recursos Naturales (DAR), Jenkins has been an active participant of a project aiming to secure a sustainable future for the biodiversity and people of Loreto.

Some of the most immediate challenges Loreto faces, he says, is the lack of high quality data (illegal logging is widespread but unmapped), the confusing political and legal situation, poor coordination among regional authorities, lack of basic capacity for monitoring and enforcement, and political will.

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