Can Tourists Save a Peruvian Rain Forest?

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Research Activities

ATI opened in August 2003. The center is surrounded by a national park, national reserve, and several private reserves operated by Inkaterra. The facility itself is located on an 840-acre (340-hectare) mixed parcel of old growth and previously cleared rain forest.

Lodging and laboratory facilities cater to researchers. An interpretive center, medicinal plant garden, children's garden, canopy walkway, and nature trails, meanwhile, cater to both tourists and researchers.

Mustalish, of ACEER, says the mix of pristine rain forest with land degraded by logging and agricultural use makes ATI unique. "It gives us an opportunity of providing an education and research opportunity for people to study applied science as opposed to just basic science," he said.

For example, Mustalish says researchers can address questions about ecosystem recovery, identify sustainable harvesting techniques for plants with medicinal value, and work with local farmers to determine how to improve crop yields without cutting more forest.

As plans for the paved road—known as the Transoceanica—take shape, ACEER is creating a series of computer models that demonstrate potential impacts of the project based on varying levels of conservation.

Mustalish says ACEER will also leverage its expertise to create an alternate economic development model. It will be based on lower-impact practices like ecotourism, sustainable agriculture, and creative forest-based markets.

Shoobridge, however, believes the road project will only make it easier for laborers to migrate to Puerto Maldonado and cut down and export the rain forest's timber.

"Logging corporations will have more access," Shoobridge said. " [They] will take out the wood, impoverishing the ecosystem. After this, the logging roads into the forest will be used by colonists and squatters who will slash and burn the remaining forest."

Tourist Road?

But Mustalish has a more optimistic outlook. He hopes that ATI and the new Transoceanica road will help make Puerto Maldonado and its surrounding rain forest more accessible to tourists. ACEER would ultimately like to see the region become a must-visit destination for the thousands of tourists who currently descend on Cusco and the famed Inca ruins of Machu Picchu.

To encourage visits by both researchers and tourists, ACEER is constructing a canopy walkway in the cloud forest between the Andes mountains and the Amazon Basin. Partners in the project include the Washington, D.C.-based Amazon Conservation Association and the National Geographic Society.

ACEER expects to complete the cloud forest canopy walkway sometime next year. The project will complement a new walkway that's currently being installed at ATI and will offer tourists an uncommon way to experience the riot of forest life—including nearly a thousand bird species—where the landscape transitions from mountains to jungle.

"When that happens, there could be a lot more visitors," Mustalish said.

For more Peru news, scroll down.

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