Amazon Stories: Dispatch #1 from The Forest Online 2020

Peru’s Las Piedras River in the SE Amazon RainforestPeru’s Las Piedras River in the SE Amazon Rainforest

The Amazon rainforest is the most biodiverse ecosystem on the planet and has many stories to tell. One of the most insightful stories is the relationship between people and forests. For tens of thousands of years this story has played out in the Amazon as one of the forests dominating the landscape and humanity, but over the last century, the story has changed.

This change is illustrated by my ongoing visits to Peru’s Las Piedras River starting in 2012. It was on this first visit to the wild Las Piedras River that I found only a few scattered small buildings along its banks being consumed by the forest.  Less than five years later, those few buildings in the settlement of Lucerna have grown into a town of hundreds of people making their living off the nearby forest through agriculture and logging. The trees that were consuming the buildings have since been pushed back by thousands of acres. Cacao plantations and cattle pastures now dominate the landscape.

IMG_6236One of several buildings in the Lucerna community along the Rio Piedras 2012
Lone Brazil Nut Tree on Road to Soledad.ScullionLone Brazil nut tree after recent clearing near the Las Piedras River, Peru

This rapid pace of change in Lucerna is characteristic of contemporary rainforest frontiers in Peru and many other forest frontiers around the world. It is in these landscapes that we find some of the most interesting combinations of nature and people interacting, and often colliding. As a conservation scientist, this interaction and these collisions are of great interest to me as a topic of study to improve forest conservation practices. As a professor, frontier landscapes provide the ideal classroom for students to learn about human relations, including with the natural world.

To this end, The Forest Online 2020 will visit the department of Madre de Dios, Peru from January 2-22. Also known as Peru’s “capital of biodiversity,” Madre de Dios will serve as our guide to better understand what is and ought to be our relationship to each other and to the natural world. In particular, we will explore life on the Las Piedras River and how biological conservation and human development can coexist. We will meet with conservationists, farmers, students, citizens, and many more as we seek to unravel the story of the local people and forests.

Jaguar Print at ARCC (Lucys hand).Scullion Human and jaguar crossing paths in the Las Piedras watershed

Ultimately, this academic and geographic exploration will be undertaken through the eyes of 16 McDaniel College students. Each student is a member of a four-person digital storytelling team. Each team has a theme to focus on including: ecotourism, community, wildlife, and forest protection. The experiences and stories produced by these teams will be shared on this website and other social media platforms over the next six months. The stories that follow this post are designed to help the students develop skills in digital storytelling and to help you to better understand and bear witness to life in the Amazon rainforest in 2020. So stay tuned!

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