Peru Must Honor Promise To Return Forests To Indigenous Tribes

Indigenous Communities Promised Millions Of Acres In 2008

Decades of illegal gold mining have destroyed large expanses of virgin Peruvian rainforest into polluted wastelands. Excavations to separate gold flecks from tons of earth have left holes big enough to swallow a half-dozen buses.

Excavations to separate gold flecks from tons of earth created holes big enough to swallow a half-dozen buses. Mercury, a neurotoxin used to bind the gold, pervades the local food chain, reaching humans through the fish they eat.

deforestation and climate change

The ruined lands scar the southeastern region of Madre de Dios, a mecca of biodiversity where natural marvels lure ecotourists and where several tribes call home. Most of the destruction has been done by invaders from outside the region. Fortunately, thousands of them have left in recent months as the government cracks down on illegal mining, dynamiting mining machinery, dismantling brothels and cutting off gasoline supplies.

Agriculture and illegal mining are the largest causes of deforestation in Peru, said Environmental Minister Manuel Pulgar-Vidal on the eve of the U.N. climate conference in Lima this week.

rainforest destruction Peru
Areas once full of biodiversity in Peru are now industrial wastelands that pollute land and water. Photo by Rodrigo Abd, AP.

“It is terrible for the nearly irremediable wounds it causes to the forest,” he said.

In the past decade alone, mining has denuded 230 square miles (595 square kilometers) of forest in the Madre de Dios region, while poisoning the rivers with chemicals. A study released last year by the Carnegie Institution for Science found that 76.5 percent of people in the region had mercury levels above acceptable limits.

Peru is more than 60 percent rainforest and only Brazil has a larger share of the Amazon jungle, whose preservation is vital to mitigating global damage from climate change.

Deforestation and land conversion account for about 40 percent of Peru’s greenhouse gas emissions. The country has vowed to halt deforestation by 2021, and Norway in September pledged $300 million toward that goal.

Yet Peru’s stewardship of its rainforest has been questioned by environmentalists, and deforestation appears to be on the rise. University of Maryland scientist Matthew Hansen, who tracks deforestation globally, said preliminary data indicates that Peru lost an average of 770 square miles (1,995 square kilometers) of forest annually over the past two years, up from 490 square miles (1,270 square kilometers) a year during the previous decade.

As part of the agreement with Norway on halting deforestation, Peru said it would grant native communities ownership of a total of 19,300 square miles (5 million hectares). Environmentalists say evidence shows that that native communities are less likely to damage or destroy the areas in which they live, making them better stewards of the world’s forests than governments or private interests.

forest tribes and forest conservation

Granting that much land to the more than 600 native communities that seek titles will not be easy. Regional governments, many of which have turned a blind eye to deforestation-related corruption and illegal logging, were given jurisdiction over land titling in 2008. Hopefully, the pledges will be acted upon sooner rather than later.


climate change and deforestation

Sacred Seedlings is a global initiative to support forest conservation, reforestation, urban forestry, sustainable agriculture and wildlife conservation. Sustainable land management and land use are critical to the survival of entire ecosystems. Sacred Seedlings is a U.S.-based program that supports the vision of local stakeholders. We have projects ready across Africa. We seek additional projects elsewhere around the world. We also seek volunteers, sponsors and donors of cash and in-kind support. Write to Gary Chandler for more information