In the Peruvian Amazon, the prized shihuahuaco tree faces a grim future

In line with audits carried out from 2009 to 2017 by the Agency for the Supervision of Forest Resources and Wildlife, known as Osinfor, more than 2 million cubic meters (71 million cubic feet) of timber of illegal origin was traded. This volume is equivalent to 75,000 truckloads of timber.

The most extracted species are the Peruvian pine (9 percent of the total), lupuna (8.8 percent), cumula (8.6 percent) and, in fourth place, shihuahuaco (5.5 percent). In 2017, Osinfor carried out supervision in these licensed areas, finding 23,000 cubic meters (812,000 cubic feet) of shihuahuaco. said as part of this investigation that the main destinations for the most traded species are the United States, followed by China, Mexico and the Dominican Republic. The timber arrives in these markets to be cut for furniture, parquet flooring or door frames.

The illegal logging of these trees doesn’t just threaten the species, but also the animals that make their homes among them. In Las Piedras, for example, there remain few harpy eagles (Harpia harpyja), one of the largest raptors in the world, which makes its nests in the tallest trees — and in this part of the Amazon, that would be shihuahuaco trees. Visitors are now very lucky if they see any harpy eagles in the forest.

The price of impunity

The earth and mud track to the basin of Las Piedras is one of two routes with which indigenous communities in this part of the Amazon have come into contact. The isolation in which they and other communities live has allowed the violent extraction of timber, which has gone unpunished. In 2014, the body of indigenous leader Edwin Chota was found riddled with bullets on the outskirts of his territory, after he reported timber trafficking. The audit office only responded to his reports after his murder.

In 2018 alone, Osinfor has identified nearly 4,000 cubic meters, or 141,000 cubic feet, of illegal shihuahuaco originating from the Amazon. Image by Leslie Moreno.

On the other side of the river bank, the sound of sawing is audible. It’s said that they’re logging quinilla. This area is not authorized for extracting timber, but, as with other species, the timber will be sold using falsified documents to launder its illegal provenance.

Recently, the Environmental Audit Office for Madre de Dios became aware of a report of illegal logging of shihuahuaco, cedar and lupuna in the region. The loggers were using electric saws made from a special material to fell the trees, taking advantage of a lack of supervision in the area to remove the timber. Neither the auditors nor Osinfor could do anything about it, and those responsible were never identified.

According to Osinfor, Madre de Dios is the region with the greatest number of supervisors charged with auditing forestry concessions (2,026). It’s followed by Loreto (970) and Ucayali (595). However, it says these numbers are insufficient to check that the handling and use of the conceded resources follows the companies’ forestry management plans. A lot of the supervision entails journeys to remote parts of the forest that, in many cases, can only be reached on foot or by boat.

In the basin of Las Piedras, there’s no cell signal or internet. The only state service that the indigenous people have access to is a solar energy system for which they have to pay.

Between 2009 and 2017, environmental auditors and judges across the country investigated nearly 8,000 people for cases involving the illegal trafficking and extraction of timber. The departments with the greatest number of people under investigation were Madre de Dios, Lambayeque, San Martin and Ucayali. It’s a finding that ties with information obtained and analyzed by The crimes that top the investigation’s ranking in this sector are against the forests or forest formations, followed by the illegal trafficking of forest timber.

Back by the banks for Las Piedras, there’s the sound of a motorboat approaching. Just like many others during the trip, this one also carried timber, but it didn’t unload it in the small harbor, stopping several meters farther away instead, where nobody would see it.

This story was reported by Mongabay’s Latin America (Latam) team and was first published here in Spanish at the Latam site on Sept. 30, 2018.

Article published by Genevieve Belmaker

This story first appeared on Mongabay

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