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Current Threats 



  • Migration, territory invasion, and traffic through the area
  • Deforestation for agriculture and ranching
  • Extraction and illegal sale of orchids, butterflies, and other species
  • Timber extraction 
  • Indiscriminate wildlife poaching and unsustainable fishing


Migration, territory invasion, and traffic through the area


After the opening of the jungle highway (today, the Fernando Belaunde Terry highway) in 1974, the San Martín department in general and especially the Alto Mayo region underwent a severe environmental crisis due to the intense migration of Andean campesinos from Cajamarca and Amazonas that arrived constantly to settle in the area, including the interior of the Alto Mayo Protected Forest. This situation worsened due to the lack of political control and an insufficient and inefficient participation of the state institutions that are in charge of protecting the natural resources. The presence of a massive migratory population places the integrity and future of the natural protected area at great risk. The migrants are mostly rural farmers and on a smaller scale, traders, transportation providers and others looking for opportunities.


There are many factors that have encouraged the migratory process:  1) the governmental policies of productive occupation of the Amazon, 2) the spatial relationship between the areas and the highways, 3) the limited land and water resources in the areas from where the migratory populations come in the Andean region of the country, 4) the commercialization policy of rice and yellow maize on the part of state companies that created artificial and non-sustainable markets, 5) the past agricultural funding acquired through the governmental Agricultural Bank (now defunct), and 6) the lack of control over and the relative ease of timber extraction. The Alto Mayo Special Project (PEAM) is a decentralized agency of the National Institute of Development (INADE), under the Ministry of the President centered in Moyobamba that institutes multisectorial rural development programs. PEAM's agricultural promotion and production activities, road construction, irrigation, technical assistance, and farming credit have also stimulated the migratory flow to the region.




                               Highway that crosses through Alto Mayo Protected Forest   


In the beginning of the process, the migrant population occupied the lowlands with higher agricultural productive capabilities. Later, after the productivity of the land decreased and the soil was saturated, they occupied marginal lands and employed slash and burn techniques on the forest to grow subsistence crops. The campesino migrants occupied the slopes and applied their own cultural patterns of land use. Because their methods were foreign, they were not appropriate for agriculture in this region or for the maintenance of the forest and its resources. The people searching for migratory lands occupy new zones of virgin forest. In this manner, the campesinos exert constant pressure on the land, which translates into disordered use and severe alterations of the environment in the region.


In the last 20 years, the pressure for new agricultural and pasturelands have resulted in an uncontrolled colonization of the primary forest in the protected area. Many establishments have extended on hills and at the heads of rivers and ravines. This expansion of the colonization toward the primary forest and lands of the native communities constitutes the principal threat to Alto Mayo Protected Forest.


The persistent migratory flow is placing pressure on the land and invading the Alto Mayo Protected Forest, often in collusion with land dealers. There are cases of settlements in the interior of the natural protected area that are simple, with only a few dispersed houses, generally inhabited by families, without characteristics of centralized towns. Nevertheless, these people manage the area like a centralized town before the authorities of the district, with the aim of selling and dealing the land. These settlements are so remote that the local authorities do not visit to do inspections and are often surprised and deceived by the applicants.


In other cases people arrive in a specific zone of the forest, cut the vegetation and open the land, place an inn or small house and later try to sell it, usually to new migrants. In Consuelo (also known as Ventana), in the southern interior of the protected area, this is occurring. These are generally people from other areas that have land and look for more to sell. Presently, the protected area's authorities are making it clear that the sales are crooked and prohibited, however, the land dealers have formed an association to appear legal to convince potential buyers.


With little conscience and little environmental sensibility among the migrant population and the local governmental authorities, effective coordination and the decision making process to support the protected area management are greatly limited. This problem particularly affects the public ministry, which grants land titles in unauthorized areas, and the judicial power, which does not authorize actions to remove the invaders and sanctions the land dealers and illegal harvesters.


The state breaches the legal norms concerning the natural protected areas and the environment because its sectors and social investment programs actually respond to the demands by informal and illegal settlements in the Alto Mayo Protected Forest. They create schools, grant land titles, recognize the settlers and local authorities, offer basic sanitation services, construct access roads, first aid posts, etc. All of these actions consolidate these settlers in the interior of the area and at the same time provides an incentive for other migrants to come to the protected area for these services. The vast majority of the settlers recognize that they are located in the interior of the Alto Mayo Protected Forest, but because they have infrastructure, facilities, and work within the framework of their cultures, it is next to impossible to remove them, except through the use of compensations, which is very difficult considering the small budgets.


A series of conflicts have arisen in the area concerning land possession. In some cases, there are so many centralized, illegal settlements in the interior, like recognized towns and their respective local governmental authorities that benefit from the state's social investment and the attention of the government. There are also invaders dispersed throughout the area, some spontaneously grouped and others organized, but they are not recognized. There are towns that are right at the boundaries of the protected forest and that have been titled under the Special Land Title Program (PETT). These towns are found in areas that because of their topography and soil characteristics are not apt for settlements and are on lands catalogued as protected lands (19).


The border between Amazonas and San Martín is ambiguous. In the southern portion of the area, a departmental landmark is located in the wrong place that further confuses the situation. The people think that the Amazonas department continues up to this sign, which includes the town of Ventana, however, this town is found in the interior of Alto Mayo Protected Forest in San Martín. Consequently, the Amazonas authorities have given permits or land titles allowing the people of Vista Alegre, an Andean town, as well as other people, into the protected area. There are also people from Rioja and Moyobamba that send workers to work on "their" lands in the interior of the area. The people of the town Naciente de Río Negro have also been involved in land dealings in the area. The people that are settled in this zone have purchased the land on which they work, but land sales are unlawful in the interior of the protected area. In the town of Villa Hermosa, in the high Nieva sector, in the Bongará province, Yambrasbamba district, there is also a departmental border dispute and there are land sales in the interior of the protected area.


At the beginning of the 1990's, when the natural protected area did not have personnel, the people of Rioja had interest in securing the Onercocha lagoon for tourism. They placed a security guard, to whom they gave food and paid every so often. When the people of Rioja quit going to the lagoon and abandoned the project, the guard brought in outside people who settled there forming the villages of Paraíso, La Perla, Santa Rosa, and Triunfo, all of which are within Alto Mayo Protected Forest.


In the west of the protected area, in the buffer zone in the Amazonas department, the threat of invaders also exists. The town of Chisquilla has a large amount of intact forest because there are still few people and access is difficult. They intend to construct a dirt road to the Tialango zone to access new land and to promote agriculture and ranching. They have already managed to obtain explosives to clear rock and open a road.


Deforestation for agriculture and ranching


Agriculture and cattle ranching are the principal activities of the migrant population that come to the region. They do not plan or employ technical methods. They sow and raise grass for grazing on the slopes of hills causing deforestation, serious erosion of the land and loss of topsoil. 




                                                    Deforestation within the protected area


The forest resources are not used in a sustainable way. In the lowest parts of the protected area, the forest has been severely affected and its destruction continues. The forest activities in the mountainous lands cause irreversible changes in the capacity of the vegetation and the soil to retain water. They are causing severe soil management problems. The imminent disruption and destruction of the vegetation on the mountain slopes causes difficulties in the control of water flow and erosion of the soil. Consequently, the loss of forest impedes the future sustainable use of the productive areas in the lowlands in the river basin.


Deforestation contributes to the accelerated loss of the area's biodiversity through habitat destruction. The migrant population is characterized by acute ignorance and the lack of an environmental conscience. The negative impacts of deforestation affect the productive capacity of the land, the loss of which entails economic impoverishment and social malaise.


The local population believes that ranching and rice and coffee cultivation are the only development choices. Upon arrival, the migrants plant coffee, with the first harvest being in three years time due to the low productivity of the soil. The campesinos clear more forest in search of new, more productive land or turn to ranching. This activity requires constant expansion of the pastureland, which requires clearing more forest. Ranching is growing at an alarming rate among the settlers in the interior of the area as well as in the buffer zone. For example, in the town Naciente de Río Negro, there are 200 head of cattle and the number is increasing.


The migrant campesinos employ agriculture without any technical criteria and in an unregulated fashion. A hectare of coffee that should produce 40 to 50 quintals (4050 to 5070 lbs) on appropriate land with sound management produces 8 to 10 quintals (850 to 1015 lbs). An agriculturalist employing technically advanced management with 1 or 2 hectares of land devoted to coffee could subsist. According to a local authority, approximately three to five migrants families arrive daily in Naciente de Río Negro, clearing forest, even on stony land. They use the land for subsistence agriculture for two years, then leave secondary forest growing and move on, only to be back to the same land in 3 or 4 years (20). 


In the northern part of the protected area (in the Paríso, El Triunfo, Bello Horizonte, Candamo sectors among others) approximately 2000 hectares have been deforested, including secondary forest. In the south of the protected area, an estimated 350 hectares have been deforested, including secondary forest, for a total of between 2300 and 2500 hectares deforested in the interior of Alto Mayo Protected Forest.



                               Deforestation in the interior of the Alto Mayo Protected Forest


In the buffer zone, intensive agriculture is practiced, principally for the cultivation of irrigated rice that occupies the flat areas. This rice cultivation generates acute water and soil contamination from the intense application of fertilizer and chemical products. The rest of the agricultural land is planted with coffee, which approaches the higher land of the interior of the protected area. The inadequate promotion of coffee cultivation pushes the farmers to the higher and most fragile parts of the protected area. Unlike the rice growers, the coffee farmers interviewed in the interior of the protected area mentioned that there is demand for coffee grown without chemicals, that is, organic coffee for export. If this were to become common, the protected area would avoid unnecessary environmental contamination.


The irreversible negative effects on the region's hydrology and nutrients are anticipated over extensive area of the Mayo River basin in the coming years if the land use patterns and the level of deforestation continues on the primary forest of the protected area. Deforestation causes the deterioration of the highlands in the river basin that provide water to the lower regions. Deforestation has increased the risk of natural disasters in the area. Avalanches or landslides, flooding of the rivers, erosion and soil destabilization in sloped areas expose people and infrastructure to gradual collapse.


The flooding of the Mayo, Yuracyacu, Indoche, Gera, and Tónchima rivers, in the rainy seasons has caused losses in irrigation systems, houses, cultured land, and infrastructure. The overflowing of the Indoche River in 1989 affected 218 families, flooding 1065 hectares of farmland, with losses of 3000 metric tons of farm products and 2,100 animals (21).


In the western buffer zone, in Amazonas, cattle ranching dominates the area. This forest zone has been severely impacted, to the point that it is difficult to obtain firewood near the towns. In this zone, there is a threat of an advancing cattle ranching frontier into the protected area. Deforestation is evident from the mouths of the rivers to the protected forest. The mouth of La Chorrera gorge is being destroyed in an alarming fashion. The same is occurring in the Trialango gorge, which is the water source for the Jumbilla small hydroelectric dam. The local farmers do not pay mind to the recommendations from the authorities and continue the deforestation.


Extraction and illegal sale of orchids, butterflies, and other species


Illegal orchid sales occur most visibly in small villages along the highway crossing the protected area. Some settlers offer transportation to where orchids are extracted from the interior of the area. They have constructed an infrastructure including shelves to place the species on for those passing by to see.


Although the director of the protected area has already notified the owners previously of their illegal activity, the sales continue. During a visit to the field conducted by ParksWatch-Peru, the head of the protected area intervened to prevent these sales, with the support of the Forest and Fauna Technical Control Administration seated in Moyobamba and with the support of members of the National Police from Narjanos. They were ordered to dismantle the infrastructure for good and return all the orchids to the forest. They were told that any future operations will be met with seizure of the plants and a fine.


There are numerous nurseries dedicated to growing, reproducing, and selling orchids and other plants in Moyobamba. There are at least three important nurseries, yet according to the owner, only one (Agroriente Viveros) has the appropriate operating license (22).  According to an informal conversation, nursery workers go to the street sellers searching for rare or new species to reproduce for science. The nurseries can supply the market with legally grown orchids, however, the search for new species perpetuates this illegal harvest of wild orchids. There also exists a network of informal extractors that continually offer the nurseries rare species.


Orchid sales are permitted only for cultivated plants. Article No. 279 of the Forest Law Rules establishes that the commercialization of ornamental species, such as orchids, are to be done in accordance with the specific rules put forth by INRENA (currently being expanded) (23).  The commercialization of these ornamental species classified under some of the threatened species categories defined in article 272 of the Forest Law Rules, only applies to those originating from centers of production (in vitro cultivation laboratories and/or nurseries) properly registered with INRENA and employing an approved annual propagation plan (24).


The international export of orchids and other ornamental species is conducted according to CITES guidelines, for which INRENA authorizes the corresponding exportation, establishing safeguards relative to the property of the country's genetic resources. Nevertheless, authorized cultivators affirm that a large number of orchids continue to leave in country, due to the ignorance and corruption of the civil employees charged with control. There have been cases in which foreign scientist obtained new species for science from Alto Mayo Protected Forest through illegal sales. They are then taken from the country and registered with a scientific name referring to the name of the scientist and not to the location of the origin of the species (25).



                                   Illegal orchid sales along the highway


The extraction and sale of these orchids, including CITES protected species, puts the regional biodiversity at risk. It has also greatly impoverished the Alto Mayo Protected Forest ecosystem near the highway. Some campesinos claim that they have to walk for up to four days into the forest in order to find certain orchid species with commercial value (26).


Collection and commercialization of butterflies has also been widely conducted with equipment and sophisticated technology. During our field visit, there were three traders from another region preparing paperwork for the transport of butterflies at an inhabitant's house in the interior of the protected area. When we arrived and the business was halted and they all denied these intentions.


Foreign visitors could easily converse with a campesino along the side of the highway and learn that he had collected around 1000 butterflies per month from the Alto Mayo Protected Forest for a retailer. That retailer pays, depending on the species, up to $6 per specimen and then exports them to the United States and Japan.


An email sent to ParksWatch Peru by Karol Villena, a biologist for AgrOriente Nursery, regarding the orchid extraction problem (13/08/03).


Hello Diego
I am delighted to have the ability to help you, on the contrary, I am thankful that you give me the opportunity to do something for this beautiful forest. I think that the root of all these problems is the settlers living in the forest. I think the authorities should be very firm in order to end their occupation completely or to relocate them to another place. These people are the principal destroyers of this forest. They cut the trees, build small farms, harvest orchids, butterflies, ferns, and birds.


In my opinion, it is not worthwhile to educate them, or to show them how to rationally exploit the resources. I think it would be a waste of money because their hunger is not rational; they only want to fulfill their needs. An orchid sold for a sole (about 28 cents) for the international market can have an actual cost of $10-500. The forest's orchids have not been thoroughly studied; two years have passed since a scientist discovered 5 new orchid species by simply walking along the highway. Last year the news of the discovery of the Phragmipedium peruvianum traveled around the world and has been considered the greatest orchid discovery in the world, as its beauty has great genetic potential in hybridizations. Lamentably, it was discovered by campesinos that did not know its value and were only extracting it for insignificant amounts of money, while each plant was being sold for between $500 and $10,000 on the black market!!
I think that we still have time to save this forest, and that immediate measures should be taken. Warnings or signs should be placed warning the sale of orchids within the forest is prohibited and to completely remove those living here, or at least immediately remove the stands selling the orchids. It is incredible that a year and a half has passed since the discovery of this new species and even after the worldwide contraband scandal, absolutely nothing has been done. Things continue in the same way and more shameless because in the afternoon on the day you all were here, I went to visit a artesian store that the municipality has opened for the local artisans, even there I found a pair of this species' plants, one of which was in bloom, apparently not harvested even a month ago, and it belonged to the current lieutenant mayor, no less.


I informed the professional that works for INRENA here in Moyobamba. He took note but did not go to see for himself until two days later and only because I followed up. According to him, the plant was no longer there and he told me I had been lying and that he did not want press problems with this plant. This attitude alone is infuriating and on top of that, they call you a liar!!!!!!

Timber extraction


Due to highway access and human presence in the zone for several years, the forest resources in the region have been greatly affected. All the valuable wood, like the Spanish cedar (Cedrela odorata), has already been extracted in places of heavy access and in the areas around the settlements. Today this wood is only found in very isolated places in the interior of the protected area.


Although the timber activity is limited due to the area's geography, selective timber extraction continues in the zone, above all Tornillo (Cedrelinga catenaeformis) and Virola sp., which constitute the majority of the illegal extraction. The harvesters do not have any type of harvest permission, nor do they have concessions or follow any sort of management plan. Extensive use of power saws to fell trees and prepare the boards in situ to facilitate transportation has contributed to the irrational use of the forest resources in the region. There are traders and carpenters that contract out to small extractors that do the hard work in the field and then bring them the wood.27  If there is wood of greater value, it is sent by truck to the coast in the city of Chiclayo, lower quality wood is also included that is mainly used in construction. For transportation, the traders obtain false or forged documentation in order to pass the checkpoints on the highway. They place the boards under cargo such as coffee and it is difficult to detect. The local carpenters are also important part of the demand for wood.


In Aguas Claras, the Technical Forest and Fauna Control Administration of INRENA has a control point. The infrastructure is minimal and consists of a small covered cart located next to the highway patrol's checkpoint. Although one may think the location is strategic being so close to the national police, the forest control personnel affirms that the police do not offer any support. On the other hand, the police do not receive any funding from the ecological police for such duties. 




                                             INRENA forest control point in Aguas Claras


Streams are used to transport the wood out of the protected forest. Wood from the interior of Alto Mayo Protected Forest is removed; dealers and extractors contract with local settlers in the interior dedicated to timber extraction. They remove the wood surreptitiously.



Illegally harvested wood seized by the area's administration             Timber extraction in Alto Mayo


Thanks to our presence in the zone and our logistical support, the director of the area was able to pursue the wood extracted from the interior of the protected area. This wood was found at about six in the afternoon on the side of the highway, waiting to be loaded on a truck. The director called Aguas Claras forest patrol and the police to carry out the raid, following standard protocol. Both groups arrived where the wood was, the corresponding documents were drafted and the wood was detained. On the following day, the director returned to the area and the owner, despite the raid, had already removed the wood. This created confusion, distrust, and frustration. The forest control administration demonstrated its inefficiency and suspicious behavior. If this is how things work in the presence of the protected area's administration members, how does it function in raids that are carried out without their presence?


Indiscriminate wildlife poaching and unsustainable fishing


Due to the intense migration in the region and the growing number of human settlements in the interior of the Alto Mayo Protected Forest, there has been a strong negative impact on the fauna. The migrants indiscriminately hunt animals with guns. Human presence and associated activities not only frighten the fauna but also destroy habitat. Nowadays, wildlife cannot be found around the settlements or the highway. It is necessary to walk between 4 and 6 hours, and in some cases 8 hours, in order to find major fauna. 


When it comes to fishing, the migrant population does not dedicate much time to it. They use nets and hooks to catch fish daily. On the other hand, the natives that live around the protected area use barbasco, which is a vegetable that is crushed and put in the water and forces the fish to look for oxygen near the surface. The moment they surface, they are captured. When this is used frequently, the barbasco affects the overall availability of fish. There are also people that fish with dynamite, a very destructive method that kills all types and sizes of fish. Use of this method has not been recorded in the protected area, but because people use it to fish other places in the region, it is a threat that could easily enter the protected area.


Management difficulties in the area


Small budgets make managing the area difficult and limit the planning and implementation of long term activities. There is a great lack of control and vigilance for the Alto Mayo Protected Forest. There are not control points or cooperative offices. The administration does not possess sufficient personnel, adequate equipment for fieldwork, logistic capacity, means of transportation, or fuel. The area still lacks definitive borders and the associated signage. This makes planning control and vigilance actions and monitoring very difficult. The multi-sectorial coordination opportunities, which include committee management, promote many meetings about common interests, but concrete agreements are not made or make effective decisions that affect the development of Alto Mayo Protected Forest.


Other threats


The presence of small shops selling fuel in the interior of the protected area near the highway is a threat of contamination for the area, of both the air and the soil.



          Local fuel station in the protected area                         Drainage contamination from the station


The presence of an industrial cement production plant and a quarry for the main highway material in New Jerusalem exercises influence over the area. Although this plant and quarry are found outside the buffer zone, the impact they generate through the production of smoke and dust from the operations, still affects the area, both the buffer zone and the interior of the protected forest, because of the winds. The subtle effects can be observed on the slopes of the hills where the accumulation of smoke and dust clouds and will have long term effects on the zone's flora and fauna. 




Cement factory, constantly emitting into the atmosphere                  Quarry within the protected area


Another problem is related to the oilbirds. On occassions, hunters burn the openings of the oilbird caves in order to kill and capture them. According to reports, in the reproductive oilbird colonoy found in El Naranjillo cave in El Naranjillo, people have burning tires at the entrance and subsequently destroying all the biodiversity held within. In a letter sent to the president of the San Martín region by S. Kasel, director of GTZ FANPE, this practice is considered to be an unjustified crime against the region's sustainable development, done not out of necessity nor poverty (28).




Future threats 



  • Increased migration and deforestation
  • Increased access to the interior of the protected area
  • Potential increase of demand and extraction of orchids


Increased migration and deforestation


If the present migration and deforestation rates remain constant in the near future, there will be significant and irreversible impacts on Alto Mayo Protected Forest. To date, no preventive measures have been taken for this situation. It is foreseeable that the migration flow will continue toward the interior of the protected area and the consequent destruction and deforestation will continue.   



                                    Landslides caused by deforestation


Increased access to the interior of the protected area


The construction of new access roads, dirt roads, pedestrian paths, and the consolidation of existing roads, constitutes an incentive for migrants and resource harvesters to enter the protected area. All the recently established towns, both in the interior of the protected forest and around it, want to be interconnected by roads. The settlers in these towns are the same that promote road construction, both new access roads as well as those between towns. In some cases, they construct the roads on their own initiative with local resources and in other cases with the support of the regional authorities with social program financing. An example of such support is the central government's program "A Trabajar Rural" that pays the local work force for road construction and improvements.


The existence of a network of access roads places the integrity of the protected area's resources at risk and impacts the quality of habitat, allows people to circulate freely, reduces fauna, compacts the soil, alters the drainage patterns, and allows access for cattle ranching and agriculture. 



   A trail in the southern part of the interior      Transport of cargo and supplies from the highway to the interior


Potential increase of demand and extraction of orchids


Presently, substantial demand exists for commercial orchids. The settlers living near the highway have created an infrastructure for showing and selling orchids, indicating the business has success. According to interviews, all types of people come to buy orchids, from occasional travelers that stop their cars in the side of the road to bus passengers traveling between provinces to specialized researchers to informal suppliers from nurseries and storekeepers from the cities.


Orchid harvesting has already created problems in the most accessible areas and near the highway. In these places, orchids are simply not found because they have all been harvested. If the demand for orchids continues, there will be an incentive for the local settlers to travel further into the protected forest in search of orchids.



19  Plan Operativo Anual del Bosque de Protección Alto Mayo 2001. Pag. 8.
20  The current use of secondary forests is very intense and not at all sustainable, the short fallow periods do not allow the soil to recooperate.  Native communities in other regions allow land to go fallow for 10 to 12 years, which actually promotes secondary forest growth.  Alto Mayo sees high turn over rate for the lack of land and the intense colonization. They impede regeneration and maintain high deforestation rates. 
21  Bibliografía FANPE. Julio 1998.
22  Agroriente Viveros. Jr. Reyes Guerra 900 Moyobamba. Contacto Blga. Karol Villena
23  Article No. 279 of the Forestry Law Regulations is currently under elaboration and should include extraction guidelines regarding harvest, reproduction, and management of permitted species. It should include regulations to avoid biological pirating. This rule is being drafted with the National Service of Agrarian and Vegetative Health SENASA.
24  Ley Forestal y de Fauna Silvestre Ley No. 27308 y su Regalemento Decreto Supremo No. 014-2001-AG.
25  Personal communication with a local biologist.
26  Siegfried Kastl ATP GTZ FANPE.  28 de Marzo del 2003. Carta dirigida al Sr. Max Ramírez García Presidente Regional, Región San Martín.
27  The enabling system, pervasive in the Peruvian Amazon, consists of the logging company or creditors providing credit for consumables, fuel, and tools to facilitate and obligate locals to harvest wood to pay back their loans. Once the locals provide the wood, the creditor discounts the debt according to whatever price he decides to give the logger. Locals are often tricked, exploited, and only eran minimum benefits. 
28  Siegfried Kastl ATP GTZ FANPE.  28 de Marzo del 2003. Carta dirigida al Sr. Max Ramírez García Presidente Regional, Región San Martín.


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