A team of Peruvian and American scientists studied satellite imagery stretching back to 1999 to map forest disturbance and destruction. Comparing those images with national land management plans—which areas were owned by indigenous tribes, which areas were protected, and which were designated for logging—revealed that the majority of the damage was confined to unprotected areas.
"Conservation lands remained well protected and underwent relatively little (1 to 2 percent) forest change," says ecologist Gregory Asner of the Carnegie Institution's Department of Global Ecology at Stanford University. "However, we also found that forests neighboring timber concessions underwent elevated levels of forest disturbance and deforestation."
The result may be simply a reflection of the remote inaccessibility of the Peruvian Amazon compared with its Brazilian counterpart. A lack of navigable rivers and roads hinders efforts to remove timber and wherever roads do go, destruction follows. But, because government reserves and indigenous owners restrict access and road building, they, in effect, protect the forest. "As roads are built, we would expect continued forest loss," Asner says, "but, at the moment, the forest is relatively intact."
The Importance of Being Conservative
As bird biologist Donald noted, the world is undergoing an extinction crisis. The litany of death proceeds apace: Three species of plant or animal disappear every hour, according to the U.N. And many more tremble on the verge of destruction, occasionally slipping over into oblivion—like the Yangtze river dolphin, or baiji.
But as these efforts show, conservation can work, whether across international borders or on a smaller scale on the Wyoming prairie. If such stewardship continues, the world need not suffer the loss of another animal like the baiji.