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Field Museum Rapid Inventory Teams Provide Vital Conservation Work

By Chuck Sudo in News on Aug 10, 2011 9:30PM

A view looking west from Peru's Kampankis range, with the Santiago River in the distance. (Photo Credit: A. del Campo).

Last week, a team of scientists from the Field Museum headed to the Kampankis Mountains near the Peru-Ecuador border. Over the next three weeks these researchers will study the area and present their findings to local government officials at month's end, at which point the officials may either use the findings to set up a protected conservation area or continue to allow oil companies to drill for black gold along the pass.

The field research conducted by the Field's rapid inventory teams has resulted in 13 new protected areas declared in the Andes-Amazon region since 1999, totaling 7.7 million hectares of wilderness. Corine Vriesendorp, Senior Conservation Ecologist and Director of the Field's Rapid Inventories and Conservation Tools program, told us oil companies pose the biggest threat to the Kampankis.

"More than 70 percent of the Peruvian Amazon is in oil concessions," Vriesendorp said. "But the Peruvian government views our research as a positive. "

The rapid inventory team is split into two teams. Biologists head into the field, collecting plant and animal specimens for inventory and inspection. "We normally discover an average of ten new plants during these expeditions," Vriesendorp said. "The Kampankis should be rich with new findings." Half of the specimens will stay in Peru. Some come back to the Field and are placed on display. The rest are forwarded to specialist for further inspection

The other half of the team, comprising of social scientists, head into the villages where they'll interview residents, many of whom they've developed relationships over the past couple of years during advance team visits to the area.

"The people down there are very intense, well-organized and distrustful of outsiders," Vriesendorp told us.

The Field's goal with this and other rapid inventory expeditions is to get the best possible science so local governments don't make an uneducated decision regarding protecting these areas. Vriesendorp hopes the government errs on the side of conservation. But it isn't up to the research team. "We know the locals want (a protected zone)," she said.

This particular trip to the Kampankis was delayed by tensions between the government and locals two years ago. "We were supposed to go in then," Vriesendorp said. "But a massacre happened that would have put us in danger."

The Field Museum's rapid Inventory team is blogging from the Kampankis Mountains. To read their updates, click here.