TROPICO Ecological Restoration Project

In Focus, May 2003

Destructive gold mining is taking a serious toll on habitats across the Tropical Andes hotspot, eliminating native vegetation and filling rivers with sediment and pollutants. This month, a local organization will launch a community project to begin reversing the damage in Bolivia's Rio Tipuani Valley and, ultimately, create a model for other communities.

The CEPF-funded project is the first of its kind to address restoration following small-scale mining in the Vilcabamba-Amboró Conservation Corridor, which spans the Peru-Bolivia border.

"It is a first small but very important step to address a major threat to biodiversity in the corridor," says Michele Zador, CEPF grant director for Latin America.

Small-scale mining has long been the most important source of income for many communities in Bolivia and Peru.

In the Rio Tipuani Valley, which is surrounded by lower montane rain forests and adjacent to Apolobamba Biosphere Reserve, community members are organized into gold-mining cooperatives ranging from 50-500 people.

The cooperatives are extracting gold from underground and open mines. The construction and maintenance of pitches for underground mines requires a constant supply of wood, causing serious deforestation. Open mining affects smaller areas but causes extensive degradation.

The project, undertaken by the Bolivian Conservation Association (known as TROPICO), will focus on ecological restoration and reforestation in one select community. It will develop a model of how best to implement Bolivia's existing but largely ignored laws that require ecological restoration as part of closing mines. Reforestation with native species will rebuild natural habitats and protect against erosion and flooding, leading to improved management in Apolobamba Reserve's buffer zone.

The sustainable use of reforested areas, mainly for future mining, will help alleviate pressure from remaining pristine forests and also provide an important long-term benefit for both the community and the reserve.