Tatiana Espinosa: fighting against deforestation
people that inspire us
31 october '22
Reading time: 6 minutes
From Madre de Dios, forestry engineer Tatiana Espinosa leads the protection of the last Shihuahuacos, which are coveted for their hardwood. With her work, she tries to prevent a thousand-year-old tree from the Amazon from becoming extinct in the form of parquet, furniture and charcoal.
Words by Lucia Peirone Torti
Picture by Arbio
A heritage to protect
The Shihuahuacos are the grandparents of the Peruvian Amazon. These majestic trees have been standing for more than a thousand years, connected from their roots with other younger ones, to whom they transmit the wisdom of their species. For centuries they have resisted the rise and fall of the Inca empire and even the brutal rubber rush. But now, indiscriminate logging and international demand for their coveted wood are driving them to the brink of extinction. Although there is no official inventory of shihuahuacos in Peru, scientists warn that, every day, 74 specimens were felled on average during the last decade, according to data to which the authors of the Madera Sucia (“Dirty Wood”) investigation had access, but were never published by the Peruvian State, despite having promised to do so. If they continue at such a rate, they calculate that this giant could disappear in less than six years.
Picture by Arbio
The call of Tatiana Espinosa
Faced with this imminent danger, Tatiana Espinosa is a forestry engineer who decided to preserve the amazon forests more than a decade ago, at the forefront of the defense of the last shihuahuacos (Dipteryx micrantha) on the banks of the Las Piedras River, in Madre de Dios, capital of Peru's biodiversity. There she heads Arbio, a non-profit organization that protects an area of forests that the Peruvian State granted her for a period of 40 years. There are 916 hectares that she has guarded for 12 years through flora and fauna research and an adoption system for other long-lived trees, such as the red quinilla (Manilkara bidendata).
When a shihuahuaco is mutilated, therefore, the Amazon not only loses a tree. When a grandfather falls due to deforestation, the entire balance of a complex ecosystem is put in check. "The forest is more than a set of trees, but by destroying the largest specimens we are destroying this great system," Espinosa detailed to EL PAIS.
Picture by Arbio
Fighting against deforestation
Known in the world market as “Iron Wood” due to its extraordinary hardiness, the Shihuahuaco is a tree of extremely slow growth, meaning the ones being cut down are over 500 years old! The Shihuahuaco have a great demand in the world wood market, mainly for the fabrication of parquet floors, which are being exported mostly to China for their growing middle class. American harpy eagles (the most powerful in the world) and colorful macaws make their nests in these majestic trees, which Arbio has been studying and protecting.
Therefore Tatiana has been fighting valiantly against illegal loggers and other threats closing in on the rainforests. Luckily, she isn’t wholly alone in her efforts and is supported by her sisters Rocío and Gianella, who work to obtain the funding and the necessary exposition needed to attract future donors and patrons of trees and forest areas. Furthermore, the group counts with the support of locals such as Emerito Ruiz, connoisseur of amazon rainforest and rivers and specialist in medicinal plants. However, in the face of the new threats of the Interoceanic, it’s necessary to increase the control and surveillance, as well as looking for new sustainable alternatives to coexist and grow in harmony with nature.
Access points and highways in the Amazon are, without a doubt, driving factors of deforestation due to facilitating migratory agriculture and, in Madre de Dios, illegal mining that destroys forests. It’s because of this that ARBIO is the Association for the Resilience of the Forest against the Interoceanic. The forests Arbio protects are located a mere 20 kilometers from the Southern Interoceanic, a recently restored highway that has allowed an incremental migration to the region, worsening the pressure put upon the forests and their natural resources.
Picture by Arbio
Tatiana Espinosa is also a member of Amazonía que beats, a network that conserves almost two million hectares of forests in Peru. From her expert point of view, the only solution is to stop destroying, as she told EL PAIS: “We don't gain anything by planting or reforesting if we continue with this level of destruction. We cannot compensate for such a loss of primary ecosystems, nor of ancestral trees, by planting nothing. The first thing is to stop destroying and the next thing is to be aware that we are living thanks to the existence of trees in the Amazon.” This demonstrates that we are totally connected and any action we take is going to have repercussions; therefore, let us act in the most coherent way possible with the crisis we are experiencing.
"We are here putting our lives at risk in order to defend the ecosystem, because the loggers are everywhere," said the defender who, in 2018, was decorated with the international award Jane Goodall Hope and Inspiration Ranger Award, handed by the International Ranger Federation (IRF), the Thin Green Line Foundation and the UICN to have developed conservation activities and inspired others despite any and all difficulties.
If you want to know more about the efforts of Tatiana Espinosa and become a forest protector with Arbio, you can enter the online conservation platform. To fund this effort, Arbio has developed an online platform with a new system of crowdfunding. In this system, anyone who accesses the net can contribute with the conservation of a hectare or Shihuahuaco for one or several years. This way one knows exactly which area or tree you are protecting.