Tag Archives: Illegal Logging

Indigenous Peoples, ‘Guardians of Nature’, Under Siege

Munduruku indigenous tribe members trek through their protected lands that illegal miners had destroyed in search of gold.

From Amazon rainforests to the Arctic Circle, indigenous peoples are under siege

From Amazon rainforests to the Arctic Circle, indigenous peoples are leveraging ancestral knowhow to protect habitats that have sustained them for hundreds and even thousands of years, according to a landmark UN assessment of biodiversity released Monday.

But these “guardians of nature” are under siege, warns the first major UN scientific report to fully consider indigenous knowledge and management practices.

Whether it is logging, agribusiness and cattle ranching in the tropics, or climate change warming the poles twice as fast as the global average, an unrelenting economic juggernaut fuelled by coal, oil and gas is ravaging the natural world, the grim report found.

A million of Earth’s estimated eight million species are at risk of extinction, and an area of tropical forest five times the size of England has been destroyed since 2014.

“Indigenous peoples and local communities are facing growing resource extraction, commodity production, along with mining, transport and energy infrastructure,” with dire impacts on livelihoods and health, the report concluded.

Experts estimate that there are some 300 million indigenous people living in mostly undisturbed natural areas, and another 600 million in “local communities” straddling the natural and built worlds.

At least a quarter of global lands are traditionally owned, managed or occupied by indigenous groups, the UN Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) found.

– Pushing the boundaries –

“Indigenous peoples have truly been guardians of Nature for the rest of society,” Eduardo Brondizio, co-chair of the UN report and a professor of Anthropology at Indiana University Bloomington, told AFP.

Research has shown, for example, that forests under indigenous management are more effective carbon sinks and are less prone to wildfires than many so-called “protected areas” controlled by business concessions.

“We have been guardians of our lands for millennia and have deep interaction with ecosystems where we live,” said Lakpa Nuri Sherpa, a Sherpa activist from eastern Nepal.

“Our lands are among the most biodiverse on the planet.”

But nearly three-quarters of regions worldwide under indigenous stewardship have seen a decline in most measure of biodiversity and ecosystem health, the report found.

“The pressures on them continue to be enormous,” said Brondizio.

“The global economy keeps pushing the boundaries of resource extraction” deeper into indigenous territory, he said.

“Indigenous peoples have been retreating from those economic frontiers for 500 years, but get caught every time.”

Globally, the pace of deforestation is staggering.

Last year, the tropics lost an area almost the size of England, a total of 120,000 square kilometres (46,000 square miles).

Almost a third of that area, some 36,000 km2, was pristine primary rainforest.

– Timber traffickers –

In Brazil — home to nearly half of the world’s plant and animal species — landowners fell multi-storied trees to make way for soya bean crops, rogue miners pollute rivers, and timber traffickers steal valuable species.

“It is like using the goose that lays golden eggs to make soup,” said Brondizio.

The livestock industry is a double climate threat: it destroys forests to make way for grazing land and soy crops to feed cattle, and generates huge amounts of methane, a potent greenhouse gas.

Extraction industries of all kinds have found an ardent backer in far-right President Jair Bolsonaro, who came into office in January.

“I am worried,” said Brondizio, who is Brazilian, noting the weakening of environmental protections and an increase in the vilification of indigenous peoples.

Everywhere in the tropics, local populations that push back against big business and their backers are at risk.

More than 200 environmental campaigners — half from indigenous tribes in tropical forests — were murdered in 2017, according to watchdog group Global Witness.

“Our global home is under threat, and Nature is in decline, all driven by an economic and political system that favours increasing consumption and growth over living in harmony with Nature,” said Aroha Te Pareake Mead, a member of the Ngati Awa and Ngati Porou Maori tribes in New Zealand.

From Amazon rainforests to the Arctic Circle, indigenous peoples are under siege. Waiapi people cross the Feliz river by barge in Amapa state, Brazil

Map showing forest cover since 2000, in the five most affected countries

Schoolchildren play on melting ice at Yupik Eskimo village of Napakiak on the Yukon Delta in Alaska, where climate change threatens entire communities

Progression of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon, with total area by state.

by Marlowe Hood, Agence-France Presse posted

Brutal Murder of Activists Raises the Stakes for Amazonian Tribes

JUNGLE PATROL: Illegal logging activity near to Tomajau in the Peruvian Amazon has driven the local Ashéninka to arm themselves in fear of violent reprisals PETER GUEST

JUNGLE PATROL: Illegal logging activity near to Tomajau in the Peruvian Amazon has driven the local Ashéninka to arm themselves in fear of violent reprisals PETER GUEST

NOVEMBER 22, 2014 | BY

Pucallpa is the end of the road – the last town before the Amazon becomes impenetrable overland. From here, logs floated down the river are loaded on to flatbeds and driven to Peru’s Pacific ports for export. Huge, gnarled tree trunks traverse the town, loaded from sawmills that line the riverbank. Some of the logs are two metres in diameter, ancient hardwoods culled from the primary rainforest.

This heartland of the timber trade in Peru’s Ucayali province has become an unlikely haven for the survivors of a massacre that shocked the conservation movement in Latin America and pulled into sharp focus the long – and often violent – struggle of communities on the front lines of climate change.

In September, four activists who were from the Alto Tamaya-Saweto Ashéninka indigenous community – Edwin Chota, Jorge Ríos Pérez, Francisco Pinedo and Leoncio Quinticím – were returning on foot through the Amazon from a meeting with another community close to the Brazilian border. As they reached a “tambo” – a shelter in the forest – they were ambushed and executed. Their bodies were dismembered and scattered into the forest: a mode of murder that recalled the atrocities of Peru’s Dirty War. The men’s remains have only been partially recovered, and are awaiting DNA identification.

It was a brutal conclusion to a 12-year battle for the legal title to their land, which they believed would finally grant them respite from the illegal logging that is destroying their ancestral forests. No one from the Ashéninka community doubts that it was the same loggers who paid for the murders.

Their widows and children are now camped in Pucallpa, without the means to pay for the six-day boat trip to Saweto to reclaim the bodies, honour their dead and elect their successors.

Diana Rengifo, Ríos Pérez’s daughter, a short round-faced woman in her early 20s, had a child with Edwin Chota – polygamous families are common amongst the Ashéninka – and is mourning both. “It feels like a knife in my heart. Nothing will cure it. It will last forever,” she says, her voice breaking. “My father fought, and we will go on until we get change or we die.”


IN HIDING: Ergilia Lopez is the widow of activist Edwin Chota, who was one of four activists killed in September. She holds a picture (R) that her husband took of illegal loggers. She now lives in a safe house in Pucallpa. PETER GUEST

Since they left Saweto in the aftermath of the killings, they have been shunted from place to place, surviving on charity. They are now crowded into a small wooden house set back from a dirt road in the backstreets of Pucallpa, under constant police guard. In this house, funded by ProPurus, a local rights group, they have achieved a kind of stability, and they are intent on getting justice for the killings and demanding that the state finally gives them the legal rights to their land. “If we had the title, this would never have happened,” says Julia Pérez, Chota’s first wife, who is eight months pregnant. “If we had titles, we could have kicked the loggers out.”

The Amazon is a globally critical sink for carbon dioxide, and its survival is vital to international efforts to prevent catastrophic climate change. Peru, which in December will host the 20th ‘Conference of the Parties’, where leaders will attempt to thrash out a new deal on carbon emissions, has nearly 75 million hectares of forest. Research from Stanford University estimates that those forests store nearly 17bn tonnes of above-ground carbon, more than three times the US’ annual emissions.

Over the past decade, Chota and his companions had articulated to an international audience that putting the forests in the hands of the indigenous communities, who have a long-term stake in their survival, is the most effective way of keeping them standing. On November 17, the community of Saweto was presented with the Alexander Soros Foundation Award for its ­contribution to conservation. Diana Rengifo flew to New York to attend the ceremony.

The Peruvian government has an international legal obligation to give titles to indigenous communities like Saweto, but the process has stalled for decades. Local and national bodies have found ways to hold up the process by layering on zoning regulations and dragging out mapping initiatives. In the meantime, they have sold concessions on Ashéninka land.

Peru’s economic development has been driven by a huge expansion in its natural resource sector. According to research from the Munden Project, more than 40% of Peru’s total land area has been given over to mining, logging or oil concessions. Indigenous communities, and their claims on the land, stand in the way of these developments. In the rush to develop new assets, Peru has opened up the Amazon to logging, mining and drilling. As recently as July 2014, the government passed “law 30230”, which allows investors to expand in previously protected areas. Already politically and economically marginalised, many indigenous communities feel that they are being pushed aside to make way for commercial ­projects in which they have no stake and see no benefits for them.

Arcelia in Pucallpa

Arcelia is now able to attend market safely PETER GUEST

This tension has boiled over into violence in the past. In 2009, the government led by President Alan García declared a state of emergency after indigenous people in the Bagua Province protested against a change in the law allowing private companies to exploit oil reserves within the Amazon. The army was deployed to break up blockades laid by the protestors, and in the resulting violence 23 security personnel and nine indigenous activists were killed. The case against 53 protestors is still rolling on. At the end of October, in Iquitos, also in the Amazon, 500 members of the Nuevo Andoas and Alianza Capaguari indigenous communities occupied an airstrip to protest the use of their land for oil production by the Argentine company Pluspetrol. They claim that concessions have been given without consultation, and that the company has not done enough to prevent and clean up spills.

The failure to recognise indigenous peoples’ rights to their land has potentially been even more damaging, creating a legal and security vacuum into which narco-traffickers and the illegal logging trade can work with impunity. According to new research from Global Witness, at least 57 activists have been murdered in Peru since 2002; 60% of the killings occurred in the last four years. Many of these have occurred after direct confrontations with illegal groups operating on their traditional lands.

The events in Ucayali are, in microcosm, those playing out across the Amazon. Pucallpa is a rich town, with a smart airport, wide, clean streets and hardware shops well-stocked with chainsaws and white goods. It is all bought with the proceeds of the timber trade. By evening the ­riverbank sits under a shimmer of sawdust and diesel. Legal and illegal timber mixes seamlessly in Pucallpa, where illicit traders can acquire official paperwork from corrupt officials. These interests are lined up against the Saweto widows as they take up their husbands’ fight.

As Raul Casanto, who heads a regional Ashéninka association in Pucallpa, says: “It would be convenient if the case just went away. All of the power here is in logging.” Casanto believes that the Ashéninkas could be heading for a confrontation, like in Bagua. “That’s the only way people will listen to us. The only way to get the government’s attention is direct action,” he says.

Three men, with connections to the timber trade, are awaiting trial for the Ashéninkas’ murder. The case has exposed serious weaknesses in the local judiciary. The investigation was slow to start, after the incident was initially dismissed as a fight between narco-traffickers and illegal ­loggers. The current prosecutor’s brother-in-law is representing one of the accused – the widows have only just found legal representation in the form of Lima-based lawyer Margoth Quispe, a former human rights investigator.

Quispe believes that the chances of getting justice in the local courts are nonexistent. “Definitely, in Pucallpa, no. In Ucayali province, no,” she says. Her strategy is to take the case to the national courts in Lima. Ergilia Lopez, Jorge Ríos Pérez’s widow, is travelling to Lima this week to ask for the case to be transferred. “I don’t want revenge,” Lopez says. “I want the government to deliver justice.” That justice, she says, is not just for her husband, but for 21,000 other Ashéninkas in Peru, who are facing the same threats, intimidation and incursions into their territory.

Illegal Camp 5

Wood cut down in illegal logging activities REUTERS

From Pucallpa, Tomajau is a 10-hour boat journey along the Ucajali and Tamaya rivers, down curving channels, which at low ebb are strewn with broken tree roots that jut out of the water like sea mines. Like Saweto, Tomajau has recognition but no title, and the illicit timber trade has moved in. Every few miles along the riverbank, low cliffs have been turned into makeshift slipways to load timber into the river. Rafts of a dozen or so logs float downstream, some steered by small motorised skiffs, others left to float free in the current.

The village is set back from the river on a quiet lagoon, where silver fish leap straight into passing boats. It has a small school and a radio in a tin shack to communicate with Pucallpa and the other Ashéninka communities. In the morning, the community’s Apo – leader – Amancio Encinas, sets out into the rainforest with four men and two dogs. Armed with roughly-made shotguns, machetes and bows and arrows, they patrol the forest, hacking through overgrown paths to hunt the capuchin monkeys and forest pigs.

After an hour they find a freshly gutted trunk, more than three feet in diameter. Blocks of sawn wood are scattered around it. Another three hours in, a long, straight trail has been smashed through the forest. At one end is the river, at the other, the sawn roots of another huge hardwood. Loggers penetrate deep into the forest to find the largest and most valuable trees to harvest. In the past, Encinas has confronted them and was met with threats on his life.

The murders at Saweto have cast a long shadow. Loggers have warned Encinas not to be like Chota. He remains defiant. “We are afraid,” Encinas says. “Our own people were killed, and the same thing could happen to us. But what we have learned from Saweto is that land rights are everything . . . We will fight for them.”


Daring activists uses GPS to track illegal logging trucks in the Brazilian Amazon

Illegal Logging in Para State, Brazil as revealed by Greenpeace activists.

Illegal Logging in Para State, Brazil as revealed by Greenpeace activists.

October 15, 2014

Every night empty trucks disappear into the Brazilian Amazon, they return laden with timber. This timber —illegally cut —makes its way to a sawmills that sell it abroad to places like the U.S., Europe, China, and Japan using fraudulent paperwork to export the ill-gotten gains as legit. These findings are the result of a daring and dangerous investigation by Greenpeace-Brazil that had activists hanging out with truckers and illegal loggers, all the while surreptitiously tagging trucks with GPS locator beacons. The high-tech equipment allowed the organization to track where the logging trucks went.

“Illegal logging can be hard to get to tackle. Logging happens deep in the forest, far from the eyes of the world,” reads a blog on the mission by Greenpeace. “But all that is changing. Covert GPS tracking technology and satellite surveillance means we can find out what loggers are really up to —and tell the world about it.”

The organization’s findings are published in a new report entitled Amazon’s Silent Crisis: Night Terrors, focusing on sawmills in Santarém in Pará. After tracking the trucks —which only move at night to avoid police scrutiny —the group followed up with satellite surveillance and even overflights to document how illegal loggers are still stripping the Amazon.

Odani sawmill in the middle of the Amazon. A new Greenpeace report alleges that this sawmill, and several others, are sourcing illegal timber.

Odani sawmill in the middle of the Amazon. A new Greenpeace report alleges that this sawmill, and several others, are sourcing illegal timber.

“The forests that [the trucks] visited are owned by the federal government and classified as public forest,” reads the report. “No authorization to log these areas had been granted. Logging in such circumstances is illegal under Brazilian law. Yet reconnaissance overflights of these areas revealed logging camps, access roads and clearings full of log piles.”

But how is illegal timber laundered into places like the U.S. and the EU, both of which now have laws against any company selling illegally-harvested timber from abroad?

According to the Greenpeace report, “loggers routinely submit applications to exploit land that they have no intention to log. Instead, they apply the credits they receive to timber stolen from elsewhere. This gives illegal timber a fake point of origin. Once laundered in this manner, illegal timber becomes indistinguishable from timber that has been harvested legally.”

This exposes a major hole in the process, allowing unscrupulous traders to go on illegal logging with impunity. The findings also put U.S. and EU companies at risk of legal action if they are supplied by these illegal loggers.

Logging truck moving at night. Photo by: © Greenpeace.

Logging truck moving at night. Photo by: © Greenpeace.

One company the Greenpeace report signals out is called Rainbow Trading. According to the activist group, Rainbow Trading says it is supplying 90 percent of its timber from five legal logging estates. But when the organization looked into the estates using satellite imagery “three showed no sign of logging, which suggests that their primary purpose is to provide the sawmill with the paperwork it needs to launder illegal timber logged elsewhere.” Timber taken by these night trucks go to one of Rainbow Trading’s sawmills and two others —Odani and Sabugy —that also supplies that company as well as others.

According to the Guardian, the activists anticipated government raids this morning on the illegal operations in the forest, acting on information they obtained.

This is the first time Greenpeace has used these tactics, and activists involved in these stealth operations likely risked their lives. Murder of environmental activists is a huge problem in Brazil. A recent report found that 448 environmental activists were murdered from 2002 to 2013 in the country, the highest of any nation in the world, and most of these are over land issues, such as illegal logging.

“Everyone is afraid of something sometimes. But, even with fear, we wanted to expose that official papers are worth nothing in proving the legality of Amazon timber,” an anonymous Brazilian involved in the investigation told the Guardian. “We were convinced the operation would bring strong evidence of this silent crisis affecting the Amazon and its people.”

Illegal Logging in Para State, Brazil.

Illegal Logging in Para State, Brazil.