Camino Verde

Camino Verde is a 501-c-3 non-profit organization dedicated to: * Protecting and understanding biodiversity in the Peruvian Amazon. * Protecting indigenous rights, autonomy, and wisdom. * Spreading sustainable ways of life and encouraging fair, sustainable development. Our mission is to plant trees and encourage others to do the same.
Jul 7, 2014

Rosewood Revisited

Dear friends of Camino Verde,

For the June solstice of 2014, our winter solstice, I had the pleasure of finding myself in Iquitos, Peru, the largest city in the Peruvian Amazon and the largest city in the world not connected elsewhere by road.  In place of a road – the Amazon River, the earth's greatest river system and one of the "Seven Natural Wonders of the World" according to a 2012 global vote.  You may remember from previous missives that what brought Camino Verde to this part of the world – not too terribly far from our Tambopata home base – was a tree whose history is both fascinating and tragic.

I'm speaking of Brazilian rosewood (Aniba rosaeodora), a beautiful, enormous Amazonian hardwood whose rich, floral scent fueled an unlikely persecution: rosewood trees were sought out and exploited to the point of near extinction to supply the demand of Chanel and many a perfumer throughout the 20th century.  Think teams of haphazard lumberjacks ripping rainforest giants from the soil roots and all to distill an essential oil whose dollar value in the perfumers' trade blinded natives and industrialists alike to the inherent worth of a species, its inherent right to exist.

Fast forward to the 21st century.  Once plentiful rosewood trees became extinct over entire regions of Amazonia.  Despite ongoing demand for its aromatic oil, efforts at reforestation of the species were lackluster and few.

You may recall that in the first months of 2013 Camino Verde was able to acquire and give a home to over a thousand rosewood trees, the fulfillment of a five year search for seeds that finally, so to speak, bore fruit.  Over half of those rare seedlings were planted in partnership with Brillo Nuevo, a native community of the Bora tribe found on the remote waters of the Yabasyacu River, an area formerly thick with rosewood trees.

Last week I had the honor of revisiting those rare infant seedlings, now a year and a half on, and to share stories with the farmer-stewards elected by their community to be the caretakers of those trees.  To my delight, in the sixteen intervening months many of these precocious green youngsters had surpassed the height of their human keepers – a testament to the dedication of our native partners and to the resilience of the rainforest itself. 

The growth of the trees is worth celebrating in and of itself, but our plans for their future are equally exciting.  With our allies at the Center for Amazon Community Ecology, longtime friends of the Bora of Brillo Nuevo, we are forging a sustainable future for a once-abused species that will also provide meaningful income for a proud but marginalized people.  By the end of 2015 we plan to be harvesting the first branches and leaves in a new paradigm for rosewood essential oil production – one that promotes and enhances the species' survival rather than threatening it with oblivion.

Just days after returning from the pink dolphin-rich waters of the Yabasyacu, we visited another community remarkable for its role in the rosewood story.  Just an hour by fast boat from Iquitos up the Amazon River, the town of Tamshiyacu is home to Juan Silvano Yumbato and a small group of visionary farmers who with support from the Peruvian government planted hundreds of rosewood trees in the last decade.  Juan told me how the community had learned to value and protect this highly valued tree, and after a fruitful day of visiting with farmers and applauding this village's remarkable efforts, we sat down to forge an unprecedented plan for the survival of rosewood.  

Juan and his neighbors have agreed to collect seeds from their carefully stewarded adult trees, seeds that we and our partners at the Peruvian Amazon Research Institute will propagate to seedlings and distribute to native communities and Camino Verde's reforestation center for prosperous growth and safeguarding in perpetuity.  In exchange for their efforts, in the months to come we will deliver distillation equipment to Juan and his fellow rosewood stewards, allowing them to earn an ethical income from sustainable harvest of rosewood leaves and branches that rather than harm, will in fact encourage the trees' growth.

Thanks are in order to David Crow of the aromatherapy company Floracopeia, whose commitment to plant-based medicines and sustainable practices led him to offer to distribute the entire essential oil output of Juan and the folks in Tamshiyacu.  Thanks too to the Center for Amazon Community Ecology, whose ongoing relationship with the people of Brillo Nuevo and other native communities made a successful reforestation of rosewood possible there.

And thanks also to you – without your donor support the survival of rosewood and the many other species we plant and protect would be little more than a dream.  By the way, at last count the number of rare and endangered Amazonian tree species we care for passed 300!  Back on the home front at our Tambopata reforestation center we've planted another half dozen species closely related to rosewood, trees that in 2-3 years will provide entirely new, never-before-distilled essential oils.  Now more than ever, your contribution means a viable future for so many of the organisms that provide the air we breathe and make the Earth livable.  

Please continue to support our unique biodiversity preservation programs at whatever level you're able.  The trees thank you.  I thank you.

Wishing you a wonderful solstice season and excited for the future we're creating together,

Jul 7, 2014

Rosewood Revisited

Dear friends of Camino Verde,

Though our first project on GlobalGiving has been closed for some time, developments have been so exciting lately that I couldn't help but send you some information on the aftermath of what your support has made possible.  You can still support this ongoing work-- through our new project page on GlobalGiving found here.

For the June solstice of 2014, our winter solstice, I had the pleasure of finding myself in Iquitos, Peru, the largest city in the Peruvian Amazon and the largest city in the world not connected elsewhere by road.  In place of a road – the Amazon River, the earth's greatest river system and one of the "Seven Natural Wonders of the World" according to a 2012 global vote.  You may remember from previous missives that what brought Camino Verde to this part of the world – not too terribly far from our Tambopata home base – was a tree whose history is both fascinating and tragic.

I'm speaking of Brazilian rosewood (Aniba rosaeodora), a beautiful, enormous Amazonian hardwood whose rich, floral scent fueled an unlikely persecution: rosewood trees were sought out and exploited to the point of near extinction to supply the demand of Chanel and many a perfumer throughout the 20th century.  Think teams of haphazard lumberjacks ripping rainforest giants from the soil roots and all to distill an essential oil whose dollar value in the perfumers' trade blinded natives and industrialists alike to the inherent worth of a species, its inherent right to exist.

Fast forward to the 21st century.  Once plentiful rosewood trees became extinct over entire regions of Amazonia.  Despite ongoing demand for its aromatic oil, efforts at reforestation of the species were lackluster and few.

You may recall that in the first months of 2013 Camino Verde was able to acquire and give a home to over a thousand rosewood trees, the fulfillment of a five year search for seeds that finally, so to speak, bore fruit.  Over half of those rare seedlings were planted in partnership with Brillo Nuevo, a native community of the Bora tribe found on the remote waters of the Yabasyacu River, an area formerly thick with rosewood trees.

Last week I had the honor of revisiting those rare infant seedlings, now a year and a half on, and to share stories with the farmer-stewards elected by their community to be the caretakers of those trees.  To my delight, in the sixteen intervening months many of these precocious green youngsters had surpassed the height of their human keepers – a testament to the dedication of our native partners and to the resilience of the rainforest itself. 

The growth of the trees is worth celebrating in and of itself, but our plans for their future are equally exciting.  With our allies at the Center for Amazon Community Ecology, longtime friends of the Bora of Brillo Nuevo, we are forging a sustainable future for a once-abused species that will also provide meaningful income for a proud but marginalized people.  By the end of 2015 we plan to be harvesting the first branches and leaves in a new paradigm for rosewood essential oil production – one that promotes and enhances the species' survival rather than threatening it with oblivion.

Just days after returning from the pink dolphin-rich waters of the Yabasyacu, we visited another community remarkable for its role in the rosewood story.  Just an hour by fast boat from Iquitos up the Amazon River, the town of Tamshiyacu is home to Juan Silvano Yumbato and a small group of visionary farmers who with support from the Peruvian government planted hundreds of rosewood trees in the last decade.  Juan told me how the community had learned to value and protect this highly valued tree, and after a fruitful day of visiting with farmers and applauding this village's remarkable efforts, we sat down to forge an unprecedented plan for the survival of rosewood.  

Juan and his neighbors have agreed to collect seeds from their carefully stewarded adult trees, seeds that we and our partners at the Peruvian Amazon Research Institute will propagate to seedlings and distribute to native communities and Camino Verde's reforestation center for prosperous growth and safeguarding in perpetuity.  In exchange for their efforts, in the months to come we will deliver distillation equipment to Juan and his fellow rosewood stewards, allowing them to earn an ethical income from sustainable harvest of rosewood leaves and branches that rather than harm, will in fact encourage the trees' growth.

Thanks are in order to David Crow of the aromatherapy company Floracopeia, whose commitment to plant-based medicines and sustainable practices led him to offer to distribute the entire essential oil output of Juan and the folks in Tamshiyacu.  Thanks too to the Center for Amazon Community Ecology, whose ongoing relationship with the people of Brillo Nuevo and other native communities made a successful reforestation of rosewood possible there.

And thanks also to you – without your donor support the survival of rosewood and the many other species we plant and protect would be little more than a dream.  By the way, at last count the number of rare and endangered Amazonian tree species we care for passed 300!  Back on the home front at our Tambopata reforestation center we've planted another half dozen species closely related to rosewood, trees that in 2-3 years will provide entirely new, never-before-distilled essential oils.  Now more than ever, your contribution means a viable future for so many of the organisms that provide the air we breathe and make the Earth livable.  

Please continue to support our unique biodiversity preservation programs at whatever level you're able.  The trees thank you.  I thank you.

Wishing you a wonderful solstice season and excited for the future we're creating together,

Apr 15, 2014

Times of change in the Peruvian Amazon

a scarlet macaw at Camino Verde
a scarlet macaw at Camino Verde

There are few spectacles as visibly transformative as the rainy season in the Amazon.  In our home in Tambopata, Peru, intense rains can change the course of rivers and alter landscapes literally overnight.  These last few months have brought the most potent rainy season in the last half a century to our area, and the feeling of transformation is still palpable.  The highest river rise in 50 years has changed the face of Tambopata, part of the extraordinary cycle of life and death that is ongoing in the rainforest. 

But currently there are other winds of transformation in our area as well.  Illegal gold miners in our Madre de Dios region have taken to the streets of the department's capital of Puerto Maldonado, demanding the government make laws more lenient and permissive to their mercury-heavy and ecologically heavy-handed gold mining.  The current laws are poorly enforced, and are somewhat cursory in their ecological protections.  As I write, our city is paralyzed by a miners' strike that has closed schools and access routes and shut down all commerce.  In the uncertain scales of environmental justice balance the needs of thousands of working men and women in the mining zones, and the ecological integrity of one of the most bio-diverse regions on Earth.

For us at Camino Verde, there is a remarkable feeling of calm through these storms.  Our business is planting trees and conserving forests, and happily things are business as usual at our center.  One of the most effective and efficient teams of reforestation and agroforestry workers in our region is actively restoring degraded ecosystems and helping keep the green lung of our planet green.

Even so, the river rise meant that several hundred of our trees were killed by these rare water levels.  A lesson well learned-- to replant the affected areas with water-loving trees, but we need your help to do that.  We are seeking support from our donors now in order to bounce back from our losses, small in comparison to so many of the farmers in our region who lost whole fields of crops to the river.  Please help us in this work alongside our region´s farmers, to plant trees resilient to the wildly varying conditions of our region.

Despite the intensity of this time of year for reasons ecological and social, as ever I'm filled with a sense of gratitude for the life of the forests of the Amazon.  Recently I had a chance to greet a unique visitor to our reforestation center, a scarlet macaw who came to land outside our kitchen and was even willing to grab onto my hand.  The astonishing gifts of life are with us always.

Warm greetings from Tambopata,

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