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Shared First Place Winner: 2020 ZEKE Award

Last Wildest Place

Jason Houston | Peru

Linder Miques Viquia, Sepahua Community Vigilance Committee Member patrolling the upper Sepahua River, Atalaya Province, Peru where illegal land grab schemes are leading to rapid deforestation threatening the people and nature of multiple critical protected areas. In the past year, new deforestation has been showing up in satellite imagery along remote tributaries in the Urubamba watershed in southeastern Peru. These plots, increasing in numbers almost daily, are illegal and unrecognized by officials, and mostly small farms that appear to be fronts for growing coca deeper in the forests.

[ONGOING PROJECT] The Purús/Manu region in southeastern Peru is one of the most remote, inaccessible, and important areas of the Amazon, where still-intact ecosystems provide sustenance for settled indigenous communities and home to perhaps the highest concentration of isolated “uncontacted” tribes on Earth. While still largely undeveloped, this last wildest place is increasingly threatened by many deforestation drivers including logging, mining, oil and gas development, cattle grazing, coca cultivation, agricultural expansion, and both legal and illegal road construction projects that open up previously inaccessible forests with devastating and irrevocable impacts on the ecosystems and all who depend on them.

The Amazon matters.

Covering over a billion acres, it is bigger than the next two largest tropical rainforests combined and alone accounts for half of the world’s remaining rainforest. It is home to as much as 30% of the planet’s terrestrial species, and it produces 20% of the world's fresh water and 20% of our oxygen. The Amazon provides temperature regulation and climate stability for South America and the rest of the Western Hemisphere, over 8 trillion gallons of water a day flows through the basin—20 times the United States’ daily needs for power, industry, farming, and our homes combined—and the carbon released by its deforestation affects us all.

The Purús/Manu region in southeastern Peru is one of the most remote, inaccessible, and important areas of the Amazon, where still-intact ecosystems provide sustenance for settled indigenous communities and home to the highest concentration of isolated “uncontacted” tribes on Earth. While still largely undeveloped, thislast wildest place is increasingly threatened by a number of deforestation drivers including logging, mining, oil and gas development, cattle grazing, coca cultivation, agricultural expansion, and both legal and illegal road construction projects that open up previously inaccessible forests with devastating and irrevocable impacts on the ecosystems and all who depend on them.

I first worked in Peru in 2013 and first experienced the Alto Purús in 2015. I’ve since returned to the Upper Amazon a dozen times (most of them working with Chris Fagan and Upper Amazon Conservancy) photographing various issues ranging from illegal and unofficial alluvial gold mining and road development, to indigenous rights and stewardship of protected areas, to narco-driven land grab schemes for growing coca. These situations are complicated. Local needs such as healthcare, education, and economic development are real and legitimate, and social programs are needed. But these needs are also often used to campaign against conservation—I’ve seen signs in jungle frontier towns referring to conservation as “environmental colonialism”—and as an excuse to justify deregulating extractive industries or even tacitly allow illegal activities.

While preparing for my most recent field visit for this project in late 2019, U.S. President Trump agreed to support Brazilian President Bolsonaro in opening even more of the Amazon to development. We are all culpable and this all matters now. The Alto Purús region is one of the last frontiers, and the complex and intertwined elements that make up this story are part of what we must understand if we are to ethically and effectively support and protect the people and nature of this Last Wildest Place on Earth.

[ONGOING PROJECT]

Upper Amazon Conservancy

Jason Houston

intl mobile/msg: +1 303 304 9193

jason@jasonhouston.com

www.jasonhouston.com

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