I wanted to share my thoughts about the Amazon fires. These past four weeks have taken me on trips to various rainforests all over Peru, from montane rainforests in the Andes (cloudforests), to Pacific tropical forests on the coast, to Amazonian rainforests in the north, central, and southern Peru. The Amazon is vast, the rainforest feels vast, and yet as the world is learning, it is very vulnerable.

The world is reading the news about the forest fires all over the Amazon. I am not shocked, I am not surprised. This was expected. Every year, the rate of forest fires in Peru as in Brazil has increased. The “summers” (what locals call the dry season) are longer and stronger. Normally the drier forests close to the Andes are the ones that burn the most intensely. Not so this year.

On one of these trips to Calabaza, one of our Rainforest Partnership partner communities, the president of the community urgently asked us for our help in protecting their lands. Calabaza, as many many communities in Peru, do not have all the paperwork that officially recognizes the borders of their territories. Hence they can’t make decisions over their territories, like the creation of their own conservation areas. 

The plea of the president of Calabaza especially shocked me because his sense of urgency to protect their lands came as a direct response to current world events. “Climate change is changing the pattern of rains, preventing us from successfully cropping our food, making us lose hectares of agricultural production, our sole source of income, and we have nothing left, nothing”, he said.

A few years ago, at one of our project sites in the northern Andes of Peru, while we tried to observe an Andean bear population, the fires and ashes around our partner community of Corosha were so intense that we couldn’t see anything around us.

Two years ago I felt that the clouds in the cloudforests were replaced by smoke. Any response was sparse and hardly enough. Peru has good policies, but not enough resources and human capital to implement them. There is some political will, but climate change and its consequences are not at the top of the political agenda.

Now that the Amazon is burning, that all the fires have converged temporally and spatially, fingers are pointed at different actors for lack of action. But this is not something to blame on recent decisions; it is a result of multiple years of compounding bad decisions.

Today, I am traveling to the heart of the northern Peruvian Amazonia, through the Ucayali river, that together with the Marañon river form major tributaries to the mighty Amazon river. I don’t know what we will find but I remain hopeful.
Climate change has already affected and continues to affect the very livelihoods of communities that live within forests. It feels like the whole Amazon has to burn before the rest of the world learns about it and starts paying attention to this ongoing problem. Let’s not lament what went wrong. Let’s focus on how we can take action. Join us to further empower our partner rainforest communities that want to protect the forest. Help us support sustainable livelihoods for rainforest communities and create protected areas and manage them to be sustainable in the long term.