Laughter and music break through the cacophony of the jungle. The soft lights of candles and lanterns illuminate the faces around the circle, catching the crinkles of eyes mid-laughter and flashes of gold that shine from sharp, joking smiles. It is a night of celebration in the workers’ camp here at the Las Piedras Amazon Center, where years of extensive planning and hard work have finally begun to take concrete shape in the form of several new pieces of infrastructure.
Wooden platforms complete with roofs made of colorful recycled billboards and handcrafted bunk beds offer comfortable respite after long days of work in the rainforest. Rammed-earth bathrooms now sit amidst the foliage, with a view from the showers of a growing garden full of Heliconia. Last (but most certainly not least), a new water tower stands tall amongst the trees, ready to complete its task of supplying the camp with refreshment, and for the more adventurous travelers, an excellent vista.
Over the past three months, this project has involved intense and impressive feats of construction completed by a dedicated and skillful team of Peruvian carpenters, plumbers, and electricians. Before that could happen, however, the planning and legal process of forming an NGO and obtaining a concession of land had to be carried out. The very first steps took place over three years ago, when the idea of creating the organization that is now ARCAmazon first came about. In 2014, it was officially founded by a diverse team of conservationists, all of whom have been working extensively ever since towards their goal of land conservation and the Las Piedras Amazon Center. On the 7th of April, with the support of Wild Forests and Fauna, ARCAmazon was able to acquire an 11,021 acre ecotourism concession in an extremely crucial location along the Las Piedras River, within the larger region of Madre de Dios, Perú.
Saved by its origins in the Amazon, the Las Piedras River does not offer the profit to miners and mining companies that the mountain-sourced and gold-rich rivers of the region do. However, many ecosystems in the area have become threatened due to ongoing logging and hunting carried out by migrant workers who have relocated from Andean communities affected by drug trafficking. This combination of factors makes the Las Piedras a region of both great threat and great promise.
“It has really hit me since being out on the land how close it was,” says Jason Scullion, Board President of Wild Forests and Fauna, “two more years and we would have been too late.” Looking just a few minutes down river, outside of the boundary line of the concession, the impacts of deforestation are evident. Even more concerning is the fact that just last year several ecotourism concessions in the area were invaded.
As concessionaires of this land, ARCAmazon will be responsible for its protection, and they fully recognize both the challenges and opportunities that this presents them. Throughout the next few years, they will begin to implement a management plan that involves both strict limitations and ongoing cooperation and compromise with the local community of Lucerna.
Luis Cueto, ARCAmazon team member and head of the concession’s new monitoring and community engagement program, expanded upon ARCAmazon’s position within this changing landscape. “We have the opportunity to be the line of defense against the degradation of the forest,” he said, going on to explain that ARCAmazon has established a good relationship with the local and growing community of Lucerna. He also stated that he envisions a future for the Las Piedras in which conservation becomes a community effort in the region, and is integrated with sustainable livelihoods.
Throughout their first few years working on the land and establishing their boundaries, ARCAmazon will have the support of Wild Forests and Fauna in the areas of capacity development and back-office operations. Additionally, they will be gathering data from baseline studies of flora and fauna in the area that will further inform management strategies. This will be done partially through an ongoing partnership with Fauna Forever, a Peruvian NGO that draws volunteers from around the world who are interested in gaining experience in wildlife research.
In the not-so-distant-future, these camps will be filled with yet more laughter and sharing of stories: about adventures from days in the forest, experiences with local wildlife, discussions and lessons with the staff, and plans for future projects and research. ARCAmazon’s aim, according to its Executive Director, David Johnston, is to bring as many people as possible out to experience beauty and power of the land. Th their new project Amazon Academy, they aim to bring the rainforest to those who cannot make it out to the Las Piedras in person. “The rainforest,” he says, “has a unique ability to inspire truly meaningful introspection. I’ve seen it change people over and over again.”
Want to come out to LPAC, or just get involved? Check out ArcAmazon’s website at www.conservetheamazon.org or look up ArcAmazon or Amazon Center on Facebook!