Barbara Fraser
Joel Rojas of the Loreto Regional Fisheries Department explains regulations to community fisheries monitors in the Huitoto community of Pucaurquillo Peru. Photo by Barbara Fraser

A Model Forest? Regional Park Balances Local Needs and Conservation

Barbara Fraser
2/20/15

For Alfredo Rojas, the history of the remote villages along the Ampiyacu River is one of enslavement. Growing up here, Rojas listened to his parents tell stories of the rubber barons who beat and killed the Indians who failed to meet their latex quota. Rojas worked as a child, doing household chores for a family in a nearby town, and, as a teen, collected rubber latex or hauled timber for a local landholder or patron named Sánchez.

Later, outsiders came up the Ampiyacu River, providing villagers with tools and food in exchange for timber, or advancing them shotgun ammunition, nets, and salt in exchange for fish and game. By the time the outfitters had deducted those advances from the local's pay, there wasn't much left. Within a few decades, there wasn't much left in the forest either.

The valuable mahogany and cedar were gone, the lakes no longer harbored ten-foot-long paiche fish, and the wildlife disappeared, frightened further into the forest by the sound of chainsaws.

"People came here to destroy," Rojas says.

But no longer. The green wooden building where he stands, watching the rain, commands a sweeping view of the river. Anyone traveling further upstream must now stop and register. This is one of three control posts guarding key entrances to the Ampiyacu-Apayacu Regional Conservation Area, one of the newest protected areas in the sprawling, still heavily forested region of Loreto in northeastern Peru.

"Were happy," says Rojas. "We don't have outsiders coming in any more. We don't have patrones."

The conservation area is an ambitious experiment in which the regional government has partnered with four indigenous groups—the Huitoto, Bora, Yagua and Ocaina—to share the task of managing forests, game, and fishing.

The arrangement is still in its early stages, but if it works, it could signal a new way of managing natural resources in an area where park rangers are scarce and travel expensive.

"The regional conservation areas are important to safeguard the places on which people depended for their subsistence," says Cristián González, director of the Ampiyacu-Apayacu Regional Conservation Area and the neighboring Maijuna-Kichwa Regional Conservation Area. "One of our accomplishments has been to begin better control and monitoring. From the time the area was created, the communities have been concerned about outsiders coming in, because they were the ones who were benefitting most from the resources here."

For indigenous communities along the Ampiyacu and Apayacu Rivers, establishment of a conservation area has brought trade-offs. Although outsiders no longer have unchecked access to their forests, the communities must comply with limits on hunting and fishing. And if they want to sell timber, they need to draw up management plans.

But fish and game animal populations are recovering, and Rojas and members of other communities along the Ampiyacu River say the new constraints are a reasonable price to pay for keeping their forests intact.

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