New deforestation hotspot threatens southern Peru’s tremendous biodiversity

2 February 2016, Mongabay news - The lower Las Piedras River, in the far west Amazon rainforests of the Madre de Dios region of southern Peru, is an incredibly biodiverse area — but it's also the site of an increasing amount of deforestation.

The headwaters of the Las Piedras River are in Alto Purus National Park, but the lower part of the river does not enjoy such protections and is surrounded by a number of different types of forestry concessions and other development projects, from logging and ecotourism to cacao plantations and Brazil nut harvesting.

An incredible array of species — which Mongabay once called a "shocking wildlife bonanza" — call the threatened forests of the lower Las Piedras home, from jungle cats like jaguars, ocelots, and pumas to giant tapirs, armadillos, and anteaters, plus wild pigs and numerous monkey and bird species.

While its headwaters are protected, the lower Las Piedras remains under threat due largely to the controversial Trans-Amazon highway, which brought a massive influx of loggers eager to gain access to stands of cedar, ironwood, and other old growth timber, as well as hunters, gold miners, and settlers from elsewhere in the Andes, many of whom built new houses and established new farms at the expense of ancient forests.

According to an assessment by the Monitoring of the Andean Amazon Project (MAAP), one area along the lower Las Piedras River in particular, near the community of Lucerna, experienced a "sharp increase" in deforestation starting in 2012.

Between 2000 and 2011, MAAP found some 88 hectares (218 acres) were deforested in the area. In the 4 years between 2012 and 2015, on the other hand, MAAP discovered that deforestation skyrocketed to 472 hectares (1,166 acres). Last year saw the highest amount of land deforested, with 155 hectares (383 acres).

MAAP notes that the 4,460-hectare Las Piedras Amazon Center ecotourism concession, which hosts an active tourist lodge and research center in addition to employing forest rangers and locals to patrol the area, is an effective barrier to deforestation.

Two other ecotourism concessions that are less active, however, are experiencing "extensive deforestation."

"We have received information indicating that much of this new deforestation is associated with cacao plantations," MAAP said. "Cacao is of course used to produce chocolate."