Report on deforestation and gold mining in Madre de Dios

27 August 2017

A report by researchers from the Carnegie Institute of Science at Stanford University, published on 22 August, highlights in summary form the scale of deforestation in the Madre de Dios region since 1999. The team employs high-resolution Landsat data. Deforestation arises from logging, mining and other activities.

Recent published work by the team, up to 2016, shows an annual average loss of forest in the Tambopata National Reserve of 521 hectares, while in the contiguous ‘buffer zone’ forest cover vanished at a rate of 2,044 hectares a year. The buffer zone is the area designed to protect access to the forest for indigenous peoples, while work is supposed to go on there to help diversify their way of life to protect standing forest. Informal activity in the buffer zone, however, risks polluting rivers in the Tambopata Reserve, in addition to the likely threats posed to the buffer zone itself.

Continuing monitoring by the Institute and MAPP (Monitoring of the Andean Amazon Project) shows (as we reported recently) a slowdown in deforestation since 2016 in the reserve itself. But it also chronicles a rise in deforestation in the buffer zone. 1,210 hectares were lost in the buffer zone between December 2016 and July 2017, as cited by Mongabay. This compares with the recent 2,044 hectares a year annual rate of loss in the buffer zone reported above.

The report usefully defines illegal as opposed to informal mining as set out in the 2011 Law 29815, the first real effort seriously to curtail deforestation. ‘Illegal mining’ is that which takes place in a prohibited area such as a nationally protected park, and/or using prohibited machinery and/or not meeting administrative, labour or environmental standards.

The report also refers to the history of government measures, beginning in 2012 when there was a significant but brief positive impact. There are many reasons for the loss of momentum since then, including conflict with residents, the costs involved, the failure to sustain the political impetus etc. But there is a further reason: mining is a nomadic activity and so is difficult to control; miners move on once they have stripped an area and so monitored areas change all the time.

The report argues vigorously for a stronger impact. Miners do not make good the ecological losses and, illegal or not, gold mining is not a sustainable form of forest use. Its nomadic nature makes it more damaging than, say, cattle ranching. All this is in addition to the well-known harmful social infringement of human rights and the propensity to take on the illegal characteristics mentioned above.

The report ends with a strong lobby for more monitoring that is consistent over time. The mapping techniques developed by the team are made available free to local groups, with on-line training, although requiring a locally-available technician to interpret the results.

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