By Camille Cater
In a study published in Nature Ecology & Evolution in August, scientists reconstructed the past 1,000 years of human impact on the Ecuadorian cloud forest. They then compared it to the state of the forest before human arrival in the region as well as to modern day levels of deforestation. What they found may sound surprising.
The study concluded that indigenous peoples cleared more land in the cloud forest than what has been cleared for cattle ranching since 1950. If this sounds odd, it’s because we have a misunderstanding about what the Amazon really looked like before European arrival. When European explorers landed in South America in the 1500’s they reported on untouched, pristine rainforests. But, these landscapes had actually been influenced by hundreds of years of intensive farming. They farmed in a way which involved continuous enrichment and reusing of the soil rather than expanding the amount of land they cleared, which was much more sustainable than the methods used today.
But, indigenous cultivation practices stopped being used in the region in the late 1500’s because of Spanish violence against indigenous peoples, resulting in a 75% decline in population. Unfortunately, sustainable indigenous practices and knowledge about rainforests were lost along with thousands of indigenous lives.
Europeans constructed the idea that the Amazon was undeveloped, and that the indigenous populations didn’t significantly impact the land. But we now know indigenous peoples’ impact on the cloud forest was larger than what modern day industry has created in the last 70 years. We also now know that humans found a way to sustainably farm in the past, and therefore can be done again in the future.
So why is the mainstream ideal of a pristine rainforest still one that is “untouched by humans?” This disadvantageous interpretation of human-rainforest relations often leads to the exclusion of indigenous peoples. But this study demonstrates exactly why it’s crucial to include indigenous peoples in rainforest conservation.
That’s why Rainforest Partnership works with communities living in the rainforest. Rainforest Partnership operates this way because indigenous partner communities have the deepest understanding of the rainforest and deserve to remain part of them. Rainforest Partnership develops income-generating activities that fit the specific needs and strengths of the community to protect rainforests.
Rainforest Partnership is currently carrying out several projects in the Colibri Cloud Forest in central Peru. They include the creation of an ecological regeneration project to restore forest biodiversity and establish sustainable coffee agroforestry systems, beekeeping, creating a butterfly sanctuary, ecotourism, and creating protected areas. Visit the Rainforest Partnership website to learn more about all of our projects.
A brand new project in the Colibri Cloud Forest is underway! In order to better understand how to protect the region, Sean McHugh is conducting the first ever mammal survey in this area. He will set up 30 camera traps to capture images and video of the mammals in the area.
Want to be involved in this ground-breaking research? You can sponsor one of Sean’s cameras by donating or creating a team of friends, family, and coworkers to help you raise your fundraising goal! If you’re interested in learning more, please visit the website.