Pinchot Alumni prove that business can protect the Amazon

Contrary to popular belief, the rainforest wasn’t actually saved in the 80s; it is actively being destroyed before our eyes by mining, logging and agriculture. But Wild Forests and Fauna (WFF), a non-profit founded by three Pinchot alumni, is working to protect this critical resource by using business as a driver for conservation.

Today we celebrate the International Day of Forests. This month, WFF founders Liz Feldman (C8), Nancy Zamierowski (C9) and I (C10) also celebrate our one-year anniversary of protecting more than 11,000 acres of Amazon rainforest. In March 2015, Wild Forests and Fauna assisted our Peruvian partners, ARCAmazon, in purchasing this land that is home to more than 45,000 plant species and abundant animal, bird and insect life.

This milestone is the result of WFF’s strategy to conserve large portions of the Madre de Dios region of the Peruvian Amazon. Pressure and encroachment from agricultural expansion, road building, land invasion, and illegal logging are the leading causes of degradation and deforestation in the area. This land will act as a buffer between the rapidly developing city of Puerto Maldonado, the unprotected rainforest to the north, and the un-contacted tribes that inhabit the Amazon.

IMG_2467-1024x683A view of ARCAmazon’s protected land from a cliff across the Las Piedras river. Photo Credit: Gordon W. Dimmig

From Pinchot to Peru

In 2012, Liz and I joined Nancy on a spring break trip to the Peruvian Amazon to do research & development for a business idea she was working on. We met three scientists, Chris Kirkby, Jason Scullion and Lucy Dablin. Chris’s goal was to prove to the Peruvian government that the rainforest was worth more standing than cut down. And he wanted to use the business of ecotourism to make his case.

Lucy and Michael Looking at big Tree
The team admiring one of the many threatened big trees in the Amazon.  Photo Credit: Jason Scullion

As MBA students in Pinchot University’s Sustainable Business program, we were highly intrigued about the opportunities of such a project. That week, we joined Chris’s team to visit an ecotourism lodge for sale at the time. With Chris’s guidance, we proceeded to experience an old growth forest teeming with mind-blowing wildlife. In the evenings, the three of us introduced our new friends to the magic of brainstorming with the Business Model Canvas and power of the quadruple bottom line.

The following week, we joined an NGO to visit a nearby gold-mining village. The trip was heartbreaking yet transformational. As far as the eye could see, the land was deforested, the water was stained, and life was barren.

Carnegie-Plane-768x431The Carnegie Airborne Observatory flies over a gold mine in Madre de Dios, Peru. Photo Credit: Carnegie Airborne Observatory

For me, at that moment, I knew that I couldn’t go back home and forget the destruction. I had come to Pinchot to learn how to take my passion for social and environmental sustainability and turn it into real-world solutions. Here we had that opportunity.

Liz, Nancy, Jason, and I formed Wild Forests and Fauna later in 2012. Our aim was to support Chris and his team in Peru.  We would plan and execute the business and funding strategies necessary to protect a thriving Amazon rainforest.

Candlelight-BMC-2The Business Model Canvas by candlelight.

Wild Forests and Fauna’s Approach to Conservation

A team of scientists, artists, entrepreneurs and dreamers, Wild Forests and Fauna is a 501(c)3 US-based non-profit organization dedicated to the protection and restoration of threatened forests through community-based projects and supporting local leadership.

Based out of Asheville, NC and Seattle, WA, the WFF team believes that to address the challenges of conservation and climate change, we must take a systematic approach and involve multiple stakeholders. To meet the needs of the forest, those that steward the land must be able to meet their needs both culturally and economically. WFF programs are designed to support both.

Lucy HandLucy using her hand to document the size of a fresh large cat track. Photo Credit: Jason Scullion

Conservation is a complex problem and will take a variety of approaches and long-term partnerships to address the increasing pressures of global development. This is why Wild Forests and Fauna continues to work in Peru, through its ARCAmazon project and through Future Leaders, a multi-year youth leadership program that provides aspiring young individuals with skills in sustainable business, innovation, and leadership.

2 - LuisLiz Feldman (C8) leading the first Future Leaders workshop at WFF’s partner’s rainforest lodge. Photo Credit: Luis Garcia Neyra

In addition, WFF runs Native Seeds, a cultural, ecological, and economic restoration project with women traditional healers in Gulu, Uganda and is currently evaluating opportunities to work in the United States through its Big Tree Project.

As part of their conservation strategy, ARCAmazon constructed the Las Piedras Amazon Center (LPAC), an education and research center. Through ecotourism and sustainable products, LPAC will fund its operations, community engagement projects and a new forest-monitoring program dedicated to wildlife study and community development.

kitchenChris Kirkby, president of ARCAmazon, shares with guests and researchers his NGO’s strategy to conserve the land.

On this International Day of Forests, consider the impact you have and the mark you’d like to leave on the forests at home and across the globe. Wild Forests and Fauna is actively looking for partners and volunteers to collaborate with on our projects in Peru, Uganda, and the United States. If you’re interested in partnering with or learning more about Wild Forests and Fauna, reach out directly to doug@wildff.orgliz@wildff.org, or ryan@wildff.org.

You can also follow us on facebook at wildfftwitter at wildforestfauna, or sign up for our mailing list at wildff.org.

Deforestation-Threat-LPAC-2014This map shows the threat of deforestation from the newly paved interoceanic highway to the east of the protected land. The 2011 and 2014 maps highlight the results of community development and the buffer created to protect the land to the west and the north. Photo Credit: David Johnston


About the Author

Doug Sorin

Doug Sorin

Board Member since 2012, Executive Director from 2013-2015

Doug brings his entrepreneurial spirit and positive outlook to the world of conservation. Originally from New York, he managed UBS Investment Bank’s Mortgage Backed Securities Operations team through the credit crisis and was the first Executive Director of WildFF. Currently residing in Seattle, Doug’s passions lie in creating profitable business ventures that are deeply rooted in ecological and social justice. He holds his MBA in Sustainable Systems with an Energy Certificate from Pinchot University (formerly known as BGI).

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