Indiscriminate logging pushing giants of Peruvian Amazon to extinction
By Carla Samon Ros
Puerto Maldonado, Peru, Jun 3 (EFE).- The towering, slow-growing, reddish-barked shihuahuaco, a giant tree found in the Peruvian Amazon, is on the verge of extinction from indiscriminate logging and high international demand for its hard, dense wood.
In Peru alone, estimates are that an average of 504 of these trees are being felled daily and that 80 percent of that activity is occurring in Madre de Dios, a rainforest-clad southeastern department that is regarded as the country’s biodiversity capital.
Tatiana Espinosa, a forestry engineer and director of the Arbio organization, which since 2010 has sought to protect more than 900 hectares (3.5 square miles) of Amazon rainforest in Madre de Dios’ Las Piedras River basin, provided those figures to Efe.
She noted the rate of destruction has skyrocketed over the past three years, recalling that 74 of these so-called “grandfathers of the Amazon” were felled per day in 2019.
At the current rate of species loss, the shihuahuaco (Dipteryx micrantha) could be a mere memory in just over a decade, specialists say.
HIGHLY PRIZED PRODUCT
Hardwood logging, both legal and illegal, poses one of the main threats to the Peruvian Amazon along with gold mining and agricultural activity, with the level of deforestation in 2020 (203,272 hectares) climbing to its highest level of the past two decades.
By cutting down trees that stand as high as 50 meters (164 feet) tall, weigh up to 40 tons and can live 500 years or more, loggers threaten a species that has an extremely low regeneration rate and also plays a key role in the rainforest due to its high level of carbon capture and use as habitat by birds and predators.
The shihuahuaco’s wood, known on international markets as “iron wood,” is transported to Lima after processing.
A portion is then sold domestically, while the rest is exported – mainly to the China and the United States but also to Europe and Mexico – for the manufacturing of furniture, parquet flooring and door frames.
A “PERVERSE INCENTIVE”
Espinosa says the shihuahuaco is under threat in Peru from laws that permit the commercial exploitation of wood in non-timber forest concessions.
The goal of the legislation is to increase the profitability of concessions awarded for tree crops such as chestnuts, which are harvested just once a year.
However, the law provides a “perverse incentive” and in practice allows lumber to be harvested at all chestnut concessions, she added.
In the short term, the expert is urging authorities to classify the shihuahuaco as a threatened species.
“Since it’s not considered threatened, its use is not prohibited. If that continues, the species is going to suddenly disappear,” Madre de Dios’ regional agriculture director, Carlos Gutierrez, told Efe. EFE