Desperate Farmers Flock to Amazon for Logging Work

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"If you can imagine there are about a thousand people out there with no meat, no fresh meats," said Ortiz. "You can imagine these animals are becoming very rare, if not extinct in the area. That's one of the problems of logging."

Reserve Impact

Making a living became even more difficult for the loggers when the Peruvian government created a reserve in Madre de Dios in April 2002. The land reserve encompasses more than two million acres (810,000 hectares) to protect indigenous peoples living in isolation there.

Logging inside the reserve is now illegal and many of the loggers interviewed by Ortiz and McConnell say they have nowhere to go. They claim that a public concession opened up to loggers is not sufficient to meet their needs or the international demand for timber.

"There are more than 3,000 loggers, and in the concession system there are only 300, 400 people," an unidentified logger told Ortiz and McConnell. "Most of us are out of work. We have been loggers for 15 to 20 years, yet we are here with our arms crossed and do not know what to do."

Alan Schipper, a forestry engineer whose family has owned an industrial logging company in Puerto Maldonado for 50 years, believes that the government has locked up too much of the Amazon region in national parks and reserves, much more than the isolated peoples need to survive.

Situated near the newly established reserve lies the Alto Purus Reserved Zone, a 6.7 million acre (2.7 million hectare) reserve established in 2000. Schipper believes it has ample room for the isolated peoples and the advantage of not being impacted by loggers.

"Puros reserve is an area where the natives can roam freely, so protecting an area that has been destroyed by loggers does not make sense," he told Ortiz and McConnell.

In a fit of rage and frustration Rafael Rios Lopez, a disgruntled logger, led a protest in the summer of 2002 to burn government and conservation group offices in Puerto Maldonado to demonstrate against the unfair treatment of the loggers. Fearing prosecution by the authorities, he went into hiding.

He reappeared in November 2002 and was elected governor of Madre de Dios. He is currently pressuring the government to open up the territorial reserve to logging, said Ari Hershowitz, director of the Biogems Project for Latin America at the National Resources Defense Council in Washington, D.C.

Meanwhile, Miranda's association of small loggers is trying to work out a peaceful resolution to the conflict. They have accepted the terms of the reserve and are working with indigenous and environmental groups to develop methods of sustainable logging that also protect the isolated peoples from unwanted contact.

"We will change the system of extraction of lumber. We will change so that our children, other generations, can also work, and this department still has resources then," Miranda said.

Note: National Geographic Today airs the second in a five-part series today on the plight of peoples living in isolation in the Peruvian Amazon. The series was produced by Doug McConnell and Enrique Ortiz of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, which is headquartered in San Francisco, California.

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