|Program:||Los Amigos Conservation Concession:|
lasting protection through a conservation trust fund
In more depth...
Program Partners and PersonnelOur partners for this project are the organizations responsible for the Los Amigos conservation concession, the U.S.-based Amazon Conservation Association (ACA) and its Peruvian sister organization, Asociación para la Conservación de la Cuenca Amazónica (ACCA). Key personnel are the team of Promotores (guards) headed by Jerry Martinez; Carlos Castañeda and Augusto Mulanovich of ACCA; and ACA Executive Director Luis Felipe Duchicela. ACA co-founders (and current heads) Adrian Forsyth and Enrique Ortiz were instrumental in bringing about this ground-breaking conservation concession, which was Peru's first and one of the first in the world.
Los AmigosIn 2001, the Amazon Conservation Association (ACA) and its Peruvian partner, Asociación para la Conservación de la Cuenca Amazónica (ACCA), established Peru's first private conservation concession by agreement with the national government. It lies at the mouth of the Los Amigos River in southeastern Peru, protecting the watershed of the Los Amigos River and more than 146,000 hectares of diverse old-growth Amazonian forest from the threats of illegal logging, road development and gold mining.
The Los Amigos watershed can be accessed only through a single point, where the Los Amigos River enters the Madre de Dios River. With its strategic location at the mouth of the river, the conservation concession indirectly protects an additional million hectares of state lands including Manu National Park and a large protected reserve for uncontacted, voluntarily isolated indigenous people.
Limited accessibility has been advantageous to conservation, and the remote upper watershed remains a trackless wilderness almost devoid of human influence. Wildlife thrives, with over 4,000 recorded species, twelve globally threatened species and abundant Amazonian fauna, including giant otters, harpy eagles, spider monkeys, and jaguars.
|A single site in the Los Amigos-Tambopata Biological Corridor is the most diverse in the world, with twice the number of butterfly species as all of North America. (Rick Stanley)||The 85 known amphibian species from Los Amigos include the newly described Pristimantis divnae.||The short-eared dog, one of the rarest and least-known mammals in the Amazon, is often observed in Los Amigos.|
|Piping guans are abundant along the Los Amigos river because hunting is completely controlled. (Gabby Salazar)||Jaguars are common in Los Amigos, where they are sustained by large herds of white lipped peccaries. (Miguel Moran)|
|Credit for images on this page: Amazon Conservation Association and (bottom photo) Asociación para la Conservación de la Cuenca Amazónica.|
|The survival of completely wild nomadic human populations testifies to the pristine nature of the upper Los Amigos watershed. This view from an overflight is of a group of uncontacted people who have camped on a beach to harvest turtle eggs. ACA policy is to avoid all contact with these people.|
|Illegal gold-mining operations on the Madre de Dios River not far from LACC (ICFC)|
Conservation ConcessionsOver forty percent of the Peruvian Amazon is owned by the state, as is typical in other parts of the Amazon Basin, making public land management a critical conservation need. A conservation concession is an innovative instrument that allows non-governmental bodies to manage public land for biodiversity conservation, recognizing that civil society in many cases has greater capacity for protected area management than the government itself.
A conservation concession is governed by the same strong contract laws applicable to other private sector contractual relations with the government, such as telecommunications, mining, and transport. This has certain advantages over national parks, which may be created or eliminated by executive decree.
All conservation concessions require a rigorous management plan that undergoes a performance review by the government every five years, including field inspections.
Since the development of the Los Amigos Conservation Concession, the model has now been replicated throughout Peru, and in a dozen other countries as far away as China.
Wider geographic and conservation context
Location of LACC and nearby protected areas.
Maximizing ecological connectivity is essential for species dispersal, gene flow, and the persistence of wide-ranging species such as jaguars, macaws and white-lipped peccaries. Furthermore, maintaining landscape connectivity from the Andes to the Amazon will prevent extinctions by allowing redistribution of species in response to climate change.
In 2012, the development of two roads introduced new threats to the LACC: a new private road built by timber-extractors Wood Tropical Forest, and a second that connects the municipalities of Fitscarrald and Madre de Dios. To mitigate this potential threat, ACCA will work with native communities towards institutional strengthening and raising funds for a communal guard to protect communities from trespass and illegal activities on their land. In providing support for the communities, these guards will indirectly protect LACC as well.
Carbon benefitsIn preventing deforestation and associated carbon emissions (deforestation accounts for some 17% of global carbon emissions), the Los Amigos Conservation Concession provides substantial benefit in relation to climate change mitigation. Its large stores of carbon have been thoroughly researched and measured.
Ongoing protection of LACCThe Amazon Conservation Association has a decade of experience of working with local people as park wardens and has been able to achieve complete control over hunting, logging and other threats to the concession.
Los Amigos Promotores de Conservación (guards) on patrol in 2003.
In addition to river patrols, Los Amigos researchers and park guards have access to 90 km of hiking trails to facilitate habitat monitoring. Since 2002, the ACA park rangers have conducted a surveillance and patrol program that mixes fixed routes with surprise visits to sites of suspected illegal activity. When patrols began, ACA estimated that several hundred illegal loggers operated in the Los Amigos watershed, and two illegal trading posts were active within the concession. Initial contacts were aimed at informing loggers about the implementation of the conservation concession and establishing that no further hunting or logging would be permitted in the area. These preliminary contacts were followed by written notices issued whenever a violation of regulations was detected; copies of notifications were delivered to INRENA (National Institute of Natural Resources) officers for follow-up and enforcement.
Initial reactions were sometimes adverse — some park rangers received violent threats — but eventually the message sank in. By July 2003, overflights indicated that illegal logging activity had ceased entirely inside the concession; half a dozen logging camps still appeared to be operating in the upper Los Amigos. One year later, the last loggers had left the watershed. Two small incursions by loggers occurred in 2006 and 2007 and were successfully turned back.
Following years of human impact, vertebrate populations in the concession then now rebounded. From 2004 to 2007, there was a 300% increase in vertebrate sightings, a 131% increase in reptile sightings and a 67% increase in primate sightings.
Los Amigos Biological StationThe trust fund is not supporting ACA's Los Amigos Biological Station (Centro de Investigación y Capacitación Rio Los Amigos, or CICRA), but its presence is advantageous for conservation, locally and more broadly and indirectly.
The 453-hectare research station is contiguous with the Los Amigos Conservation Concession. The station sits on a high terrace at the confluence of the Madre de Dios and Los Amigos rivers, providing easy access to a diversity of well-preserved upland and lowland forest types and aquatic habitats.
Researchers, staff and neighbors gather for the fifth anniversary of Los Amigos.
Los Amigos has been the most active research station in the Amazon basin, with an average of 25 researchers and assistants present each day (2005-2009). During its existence, more than 450 researchers have conducted over 160 research projects addressing botany, conservation biology, geology, hydrology, zoology, as well as inventories of 31 different taxa, from copepods to marsupials.
Most research visitors at Los Amigos are associated with universities in Peru or abroad, and many receive funding to visit the station through ACA's grant programs. Los Amigos is a leading training site for young Amazonian scientists and conservationists. Research and training facilities at Los Amigos include lodging for visitors, laboratory space, a lecture hall, trail systems, a 60-m radio tower, a scientific library, a weather station, satellite Internet access, a collection of high-resolution digital aerial photos of surrounding forests, access to online scientific literature and databases, a digital flora of plant species collected on-site, and field guides to fish, amphibians and reptiles, and plants.
Conservation trust fundsConservation trust funds have various advantages as a mechanism for long-term financing of conservation 1:
- Can finance recurrent costs;
- Can facilitate long-term planning;
- Broad stakeholder participation leads to transparent decision-making and strengthens civil society;
- Can react flexibly to new challenges;
- Can plan for the long-term because independent of changes in government and shifts in political priorities;
- More capable than donor organizations of working flexibly and with attention to small-scale details;
- Create better coordination between donors, government and civil society;
- Allow donors to comply with international recommendations for aid effectiveness; and
- Provide a vehicle to collect and secure greater private contributions for biodiversity conservation.
1 Conservation Finance Alliance (CFA). 2008. Rapid Review of Conservation Trust Funds. Prepared for the CFA Working Group on Environmental Funds by Barry Spergel and Philippe Ta eb.
One innovative way to establish and maintain protected areas is by creating conservation trust funds. There is an urgent need for such endowments, especially in the tropics, where human numbers and consumption are burgeoning and populations of many wildlife species are in decline. In these developing countries, money to maintain national parks is often short. In many cases, expenditures are less than five percent of those deemed necessary to establish and maintain a viable reserve network.2 Unlike taxes, user fees, and debt swap, endowments provide sustained funding and are relatively resilient to the fluctuations of power and tourism.3 Permanent funds, ideally administered by a board of qualified trustees, will be critical in maintaining conservation areas in perpetuity.
— Excerpt from Facing Extinction: 9 Steps to Save Biodiversity by Joe Roman, Paul R. Ehrlich, Robert M. Pringle, and John C. Avise. Solutions. January-February 2010, Issue 1. Allen Press.
2 Balmford, A & Whitten, T. Who should pay for tropical conservation, and how could the cost be met? Oryx 37: 238-250 (2003).
3 Spergel, B. Financing protected areas. Making Parks Work: Strategies for Preserving Tropical Nature: 364-382 (2002). Island Press.
PurposeThe Los Amigos Conservation Concession is a proven success, and the time had come to put in place long-term finance for this private reserve, as required by the agreement between the government of Peru and Amazon Conservation Association at LACC's inception. To fulfill this need, ICFC established a trust fund for LACC in 2011, raising $1-million for its initial capitalization.
Park guards are the cornerstone of protection for the vast area covered by Los Amigos. In securing these positions, the trust fund will serve the wider purposes of:
- Permanently and directly protecting 146,000 ha of extremely diverse forest from the threats of illegal logging, road development, and gold mining.
- Indirectly protecting an additional million hectares of state-protected lands including Manu National Park and a large protected reserve for uncontacted, voluntarily isolated indigenous people.
- Securing Los Amigos as the hub for a new developing biological corridor, perhaps the largest in the Amazon Basin, which is designed to mitigate the impacts of a major highway project.
- Securing Los Amigos in its function as a world-class centre for Amazonian conservation science and training (although the biological station itself is supported independently of this project).
- Protecting a large store of carbon, with large "avoided deforestation" benefits in relation to climate change.
Google image of the Los Amigos River watershed
Actions and ResultsWhile the ICFC Board of Directors has ultimate responsibility for the Fund, it is managed by a committee with representatives from ICFC and ACA and one independent member. The fund's financial assets will be professionally managed by the TD Waterhouse Private Investment Counsel group.
In the spring of 2012, ICFC staff attended a reception and signing ceremony in Lima with the Peruvian Minister of Environment, who warmly embraced the Trust Fund as an affirmation that their policy model of engaging NGOs in partnership with government to permanently conserve topical forests works.
During this visit, we also determined that capitalization of at least $1.8 million was needed to support salaries and field expenses for five (an increase from four) Promotores (guards).
The Promotores whose salaries are supported by the fund include one manager or "chief land steward" and four support crew members. The guards are charged with the task of protecting LACC from unauthorized human use, and are equipped with a radio for speaking with government authorities and field gear for patrolling the river. Park guards not only patrol and protect - they also collect valuable quantitative monitoring data on biodiversity recovery and maintenance. In 2013, they also began leading education workshops for high school students in the region.
Patrols of the Los Amigos river have been carried out regularly since 2012. There have been no reports of poachers, illegal loggers, miners, or any other unexpected human activity. While no illegal activities were detected within the Concession, there were two reports of illegal miners in the nearby area. With the help of government officials, the miners were evicted and informed of potential prison time for the offence, and there have been no attempts to re-enter. Evidence of illegal logging was also discovered after a new road was constructed near the northeast corner of the concession. This situation was addressed and camera traps were installed to continue to monitor the situation.
On the Los Amigos River our guards recently encountered uncontacted indigenous people, and on an earlier occasion observed burnt wood on the beach, also possibly indicating activity by the uncontacted indigenous people - highlighting the importance of protecting this area for cultural as well as natural heritage. One interpretation for why these people moved into Los Amigos is that we have been successful in protecting and returning the river to a pristine condition.
Further infoSee also the Amazon Conservation Association's webpage and this National Geographic page.
This 11-minute feature titled A Toxic Legacy: Gold Mining in Peru profiles the new film
Amazon Gold and shows the destructive impact of illegal gold mining in Peru's Madre de Dios