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ALERT FOR NW PERU’S ANDEAN FORESTS AND PARAMOS: MINING THREATENS TO DESTROY GLOBALLY IMPORTANT CENTER FOR ENDEMIC AND ENDANGERED SPECIES (Saturday the 14th of January, 2006)
For Environmental News Service (ENS), news@ens-
Attn: Sunny Lewis, Editor
By Craig C. Downer, Andean Tapir Fund, PO Box 456, Minden, NV 89423 USA
Though interspersed with sobering dangers, my recent trip to NW Peru (Oct.-
Monterrico and other companies plan to mine copper and other metals such as molybdenum, gold, silver, and zinc using the ecologically devastating process of open-
The negative impacts of mining in these mountain tops and side slopes would be alarmingly pervasive, affecting some of Peru’s richest farmlands, where mangos, zapote, lemons, sugar, banana, coffee, rice, kapok, carob bean, and many other quality crops are produced. In general NW Peru is very dry and contains extensive deserts, yet it is blessed with more water than most parts of western Peru, which contain some of the most extremely dry deserts in the world. By damaging NW Peru’s few precious highland water sources, an ever more extensive and severe desertification would be caused, as Piuran plant ecologist Dr. Fidel Torres-
The millions of tons of waste rock that would be generated would continue to leach caustic sulfuric and nitrous acids for generations into the future, releasing heavy metals that become incorporated into the food chain, including the human consumer. The extensive algorrobo, or carob bean, forests of NW Peru, that depend on their deep roots to tap subterranean water flows, provide humans with a nutritious syrup that is commercially sold. This tree is also utilized as forage for goat herds and other herbivores, while affording firewood, pollen for honey, shade and wind breaks, soil stabilization, etc. However, if the subterranean waters upon which this tree depends become contaminated due to mining operations up slope, and/or if the water tables sink too deeply due to the mining operations’ disruption of natural flows, the algorrobo forests will perish along with thousands of co-
Strong winds that arise in the afternoon in Piura would become more extreme in their effects as the moderating effects of vegetative cover are undone. Scouring the ground, these atmospheric currents would lift many tons of fine particulates from the open pit mines and waste heaps. These particles would remain suspended for long periods in the atmosphere and would include heavy metals toxic to plants and animals and linked to various cancers in man. Of particular concern are the ever more frequent and more extreme El Niño climatic events that bring torrential downpourings and lashing winds to NW Peru. The exposed open pits, heap leach ponds, and discarded crushed ore mounds would be subject to flooding and pounding rains and lashing winds and would certainly spill or leach out their toxic acids and heavy metals during these El Niño events. Potentially not just hundreds but thousands of square kilometers would be seriously polluted, as the unique ecosystem of NW Peru is dealt what may prove its final death blow! El Niño events are projected to become increasingly frequent and severe in future years; and, for this reason, it is all the more imperative that those Andean forests and paramos that have to date escaped destruction by humans be preserved intact. They must be allowed to continue to act as vital “living sponges” that retain fertile soils and absorb rain water during storms, thus preventing floods, to release this water later during the long dry season that is becoming increasingly severe in NW Peru today.
As of 2003, there may have been 206,000 hectares of suitable forest and paramo habitat for the mountain tapir in the northern Andes of Peru above the Huancabamba Depression (Lizcano & Sissa, 2003), the southern limit for the mountain tapir. This area could support between 350-
For this reason, I am now preparing a professional justification for the creation of the “Cerro Negro Andean Tapir National Sanctuary”. This includes a map outlining the chief forests, including cloud forest, and paramo essential for the future survival of a viable connected population of the mountain tapir in NW Peru and linking with Ecuador just to the north. This new sanctuary should contain at least 57,144 hectares of remnant tapir habitat and provide a biological corridor between the Tabaconas-
Unlike the vast areas of Peru already devastated by mining, overgrazing, and other human activities, the region of the Huancabamba Depression still preserves a relatively extensive viable Andean ecosystem. In a very singular manner, its unique geological formation manifests mountains and valleys oriented not just north-
As a significant geographical barrier to mammals, amphibians, reptiles and other “grounded” species, the Huancabamba Depression has played an important role in separating species by creating a divide between the more southern mid-
Also present in the cloud forests and paramos of NW Peru are hidden ancient ruins, including a mysterious temple believed by locals to have been dedicated to a tapir god and from from which I have observed one small statue (possibly of Chimú origin) with tiny flecks of black paint suggesting that this was meant to depict the mountain tapir itself. Various glazed ceramic vessels have also been uncovered and are believed to be of Moché tribal provenance, particularly from the municipality of Yanta, whose highlands and lakes are a very important refuge for mountain tapirs – disturbingly all under the dark cloud of mining concessions.
In closing, it is especially interesting to note an exciting observation by locals, including traditional local shamans and their patients whom I have interviewed. This concerns powerful innervating qualities that they experience when entering the pristine forests and paramo of the Cordillera de Las Lagunillas and its lakes and rivers. Perhaps it was for this reason that some of my local guides physically prohibited me from bathing in one of these highland lakes, thinking I would somehow alter its energetic balance or potency. The force of their conviction leads me to theorize that the actual metals found in these mountains could, indeed, be important in maintaining certain geo-
This concept parallels that of the ancient Kogi who still inhabit the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta of northern Colombia. Their “mamas”, or wisemen, warn against extracting gold, iron, or any naturally occurring metal from the Mother Earth and will even place gold statues in spots they consider strategic to the energetic balance and well-