Panama City, Lima, November 15th 2022
Peruvian scientists have been warning for years about the need to protect the country’s threatened Shihuahuaco trees. But the government is dragging its feet over concerns from the timber industry. There is a proposal to regulate trade in the precious tree species up for debate at the 19th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES CoP19) this week. A final decision will be taken on November 25.
Colombia, Panama, and the European Union, on behalf of its 27 Member States, have submitted a proposal to include Shihuahuaco or Cumarú (Dipteryx) in Appendix II of the Convention, which would require countries to ensure legality and sustainability prior to authorizing exports of this species. Shihuahuaco plays a key role in Peru’s forest ecosystem by providing nesting sites for threatened birds, as well as food for numerous mammal, bird, and insect species.
Peru has not publicly disclosed its position on the proposal, but the government has delayed action by continuing to state that the species is under review, despite numerous threat assessments of Shihuahuaco and increasingly dire conclusions about the survival of the species. Since 2016, Peruvian scientists have provided data showing the explosion of logging and the subsequent decline of Shihuahuaco. Beginning in 2014, 99 scientists convened by SERFOR (the Peruvian Forestry Agency) assessed threatened species. In 2016, the Ministry of Agriculture pre-published the list, including Shihuahuaco, in a draft supreme decree, but never adopted it into law. In 2017, a new assessment of threatened species in Peru, which included data from SERFOR and OSINFOR, confirmed that Shihuahuaco was endangered.
The most recent assessments, submitted to SERFOR in 2022, conclude that if business as usual continues, Shihuahuaco will be critically endangered in southern Peru by 2025, and in most of the country by 2036. Peruvian authorities have rejected repeated access to information requests submitted by the Environmental Investigation Agency for the most recent scientific documents that reveal the critical situation of Shihuahuaco in Peru, but continue to allege that there is insufficient data to show the species is or could be threatened in the future.
Peruvian authorities have, however, consulted with timber concessionaires, industry, and exporters who fear new international regulation would restrict the Shihuahuaco trade. The apparent prioritization of commercial interests in a decision that CITES requires be based on science is of utmost concern and not in line with the listing criteria of the Convention.
The decision to list a species on Appendix II of CITES is based on a scientific assessment of whether the regulation of trade is necessary to avoid the need to include the species in Appendix I in the near future, or “to ensure that the harvest of specimens from the wild is not reducing the wild population to a level at which its survival might be threatened by continued harvesting or other influences.” Analyses of the Dipteryx listing proposal by both the CITES Secretariat and TRAFFIC conclude that at least one and perhaps additional Dipteryx species meet the latter listing criteria. Species can also be included for “lookalike” reasons, if the traded form of the species cannot be readily distinguished from other listed species, which is the case for the remaining Dipteryx species.
Paradoxically, industry representatives claim that an inclusion of Shihuahuaco in Appendix II would negatively affect legal and certified producers. The opposite is true: If harvest is indeed legal and certified, internationally approved verification of legality will benefit responsible producers and protect them from unfair competition by illegal actors. The adoption of the proposal could help reduce the continued high levels of illegal logging in Peru, which is facilitated by persistent corruption and forgery in the sector.
Over the past decade, numerous scientific assessments have repeatedly concluded that Shihuahuaco in Peru is threatened with extinction. This is the information required to support the listing of a species on Appendix II. Concerns expressed by Peruvian officials about the need for complete inventories to be carried out or budget to protect the species to be secured prior to a listing decision in the face of such consistent and compelling evidence is not a requirement of the Convention, nor should it delay this critical process from moving forward to protect the species.
“Letting important tree species go extinct because protecting them is ‘not in the budget’ is a sad excuse for inaction at a time when we desperately need solutions to fight the double crisis of climate change and dramatic biodiversity loss,” said Susanne Breitkopf, Deputy Director of Forest Campaigns at EIA.
Julia Urrunaga, Director of EIA’s Peru program said: “It’s unacceptable that our government has been keeping the scientific evidence from the public, which clearly shows that urgent action is needed. Regulating the trade in Shihuahuaco under CITES will help our country in the fight against illegal logging and corruption. Those in the industry who are already operating legally and sustainably will benefit and have nothing to fear and should support the proposal.”
Shihuahuaco is incredibly slow-growing: After 700 years it will only reach one meter in diameter. Reaching Peru’s legally required minimum diameter for cutting — 51 centimeters — takes over 250 years, according to scientists.
“Shihuahuaco trees that take hundreds of years to reach maturity are regularly harvested and exported from Peru without regard to their likely commercial extinction in the next 15 years. Including the species in CITES Appendix II is essential to avoid extinction and ensure only legal and sustainable harvest and trade,” Melissa Blue Sky, Senior Attorney at the Center for International Environmental Law said.
In Lima: Julia Urrunaga: EIA [email protected] +51 980 731 328
In Panama City: Susanne Breitkopf, EIA: [email protected] +1 202 390 5586
Melissa Blue Sky, CIEL: [email protected] +1 518 420 8879