The global timber industry is no longer content with mahogany and cedar, reduced to a trough in just two decades.
Today they have set their sights on the shihuahuaco, a tree that lives up to 900 years and that, felled in a couple of hours, is destined to be a floor. A forestry engineer has taken up the fight to save him.
Tatiana Espinoza (41) –bah, Tati– knew that setting up a business in a highly macho society like Peru was a big challenge. But that didn't give a cucumber to her, so she applied for a reforestation concession in 2009, when they were at a bargain price: they had already extracted all the cedar and mahogany. They gave it to him in 2010; Overall, she was a forestry engineer and was doing a graduate degree in Costa Rica.
To get to his brand new concession, he took three days by boat from Puerto Maldonado. That didn't scare her; she was a warrior. His fear was that there were people living inside the property, but he only found a huanganas hunter and a wonderful real forest that exceeded his expectations. It always seemed strange to him that reforestation concessions were granted in those wooded paradises. Reforest what?
He returned shortly after to put down roots, build a cabin. She stayed 33 days in the mountains, sheltered in a tent. They installed the pilings, the roof and the floor. He came back two months later and found no nails, it seemed that a tornado had ripped the structure away. He suddenly realized that the jungle was everyone's and nobody's land. He had to leave a guardian permanently.
He still received warnings that it would be better if he went the way he came. The man who was guarding the boat was shot and he has faced illegal loggers for 10 years. They have even made a road on the edge of their concession, meters from colossal shihuahuacos. "Have you ever been tempted to throw in the towel?" I asked. He did not hesitate to answer me: “Despite the obstacles, I have always had the motivation to continue. I owe it to my sisters Rocío and Gianella and to the forest itself. It's going to sound weird, but they [the trees] are the ones that drive me to keep fighting ”.
The highway of evil
Tati knew what the shihuahuaco was, but just saw it live and direct in Las Piedras. He realized that many animals used it as a refuge, such as harpy eagles, the most powerful in the world, that nest in his crown. But he understood its biological properties and the intimate relationship it had with the forest and its beings. Unfortunately, the history of exploitation and predation was repeated as with mahogany. One of her neighbors, Nurinarda, said that the loggers exchanged a mahogany tree for two kilos of sugar. And Tati observed that migrant peasants sold off their shihuahuacos for 100 soles.
“Suddenly, all the large shihuahuacos that could be seen from the river disappeared as of 2013. The shihuahuacos were transferred to ports like Lucerna, where there is a highway that connects with the Interoceanic highway near the town of Alegría. The sawmills are there and the wood is whitewashed, with papers that say it has come from an authorized area, ”says Tati.
The truth is that the Interoceanic is the mother of all conflicts (forestry, illegal mining, coca fields). This is confirmed by Ronald Taboada, ARBIO assistant: "Logging has intensified with the Interoceanic, especially since 2017." Precisely the acronym ARBIO is the Association for the Resilience of the Forest against the Interoceanic. Tati had it clear from the beginning.
Honor and pride
The shihuahuaco is commercially attractive for its extreme toughness and for being resistant to pests and humidity. In China, a square meter of parquet is sold for $ 20. “Of the total wood that leaves Madre de Dios, 25% is shihuahuaco,” says Augusto Mulanovich, consultant forestry engineer at Serfor de Madre de Dios. Even in Peru, through the Mercado Libre portal, cribs and beds made with shihuahuaco are offered.
“The first thing they should change is the minimum cut size, which is 51 centimeters and corresponds to a 300-year-old tree. This diameter should be increased to at least one meter, which are specimens that are over 700 years old. And it would not affect trade because 50% of the shihuahuacos are more than one meter in diameter ”.
As things are, there seems to be little hope. But Tati does not give up. To finance his project, he developed an online platform (crowdfunding), where anyone can enter the website (arbioperu.com) and contribute to conserve a hectare of the concession or a shihuahuaco tree for one or more years. You can make the terrain visible on a map, and you know what areas and trees it protects.
“I remember that years ago they made a campaign not to consume grilled chicken made with carob charcoal. Well, now the shihuahuaco is replacing the carob tree, because behind the loggers come the chickadees who use all the parts of the tree that may have a defect. They sell them in bags of 100 kilos and for now they supply local customers and those in Arequipa and Tacna, but the demand is growing ”, Tati is indignant.
This November 12, in Nepal, Tatiana will be awarded the Jane Goodall Hope and Inspiration Ranger Award, for her conservation work in Madre de Dios. It is one of the most prestigious environmental awards on the planet. "It will be a surprise for many in the auditorium to learn that in the Peruvian Amazon there are trees over a thousand years old that are being cut down to turn them into flats."
By Flor Ruiz