The cloudforests of western Ecuador are considered to be among the most endangered forest types on the planet and considered the most floristically diverse in the world. They are also the focus of the country's environmental battles at the moment. Unfortunately, the battle that is raging over the development of a new pipeline, the OCP (Oleoducto Crudos Pesados or Heavy Crude Pipeline) through the cloudforest reserves of the Mindo region, is likely a diversion to detract from the anticipated impacts that increased production capacity will cause in the Amazon. While the proposed route and inevitable oil spills will certainly negatively impact the fragile and rare remnant primary cloudforest ecosystems at the high elevations, in effect it will result in a quadrupling of development in the headwaters of the Amazon. (Please see http://www.amazonwatch.org for more specific information on the OCP pipeline situation.)

In early June of 2001, an agreement was signed to construct this second pipeline (the OCP) and cut a new route over the Andes. Between the Amazon and the coast, this new pipeline is proposed to follow a new, (but not necessarily) more direct path and will cut through the last large areas of intact western-slope cloudforest. Like the redwoods of the Pacific Northwest temperate forests, Ecuador's Pacific-slope cloudforests are the southernmost extension of the Central American tropical jungles and are a unique world treasure. They contain an extremely high degree of species endemism and are known to harbor the most species of orchids found on Earth. World-famous botanist Alwyn Gentry has called them “the most biodiverse forests on Earth” and they are prioritized by the international environmental movement as one of the hottest of “hotspots” on the planet for conservation. They have suffered severe fragmentation in the past, and being at the edge of this forest range are extremely important habitat for orchid endemics. This new pipeline, though it could follow the existing alignment, has been wantonly planned to cut through the most intact remaining core primary forest areas. Large-scale campaigning has been ongoing in Ecuador and internationally to stop this ill-conceived project.

Amazonian Implications:

In an effort to intercede in this inevitable development, the Pañacocha project was initiated as a largely grassroots effort to implement an on-the-ground model and an attempt to rein in this escalating energy development activity and to reintroduce conservation policy to an area that has been abandoned by most of the large environmental actors.

The rate at which this development is intruding on the upper Amazon is alarming, and the need to fund and conduct an environmental assessment of impacts is very current if not compulsory by international law. Therefore, as the principal beneficiaries of exploration of petroleum and the principal instigators of the recent dollarization, militarization, and environmentally self-regulated petroleum development, there is a need for U.S. foreign aid (as well as independent private resources) to cover costs. These include environmental protection, the evaluation of impacts and alternatives, and planning to facilitate a regional process to minimize the impacts to biological diversity.

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