Santa Cruz Forest Reserve

History and Background

The Santa Cruz Forest Reserve, located on the Mazan River, is the newest of the Project Amazonas field sites. The first property purchase at the site was finalized in April 2008, with additional plots of land added through the generosity of various donors. Currently 175 hectares of land (~432 acres) are protected at the site (as of January 2010). The most recent purchase of land occured in October 2009. Although quite close to Iquitos, the core of the reserve consists of primary rainforest that has never even been selectively logged. A narrow corridor of land gives access to the Mazan River, but the bulk of the field site is located between 1.5 km and 3 km from the river, and fronts a dirt road opened through the area in 2008 (but which is already becoming overgrown). It was because of the pristine nature of the forest in the area and the imminent threat of widespread clearing due to the presence of the road that Project Amazonas began purchasing land for the reserve area with the support of the community of Santa Cruz. The entirety of the reserve area lies within the jurisdiction of Santa Cruz, and the reserve also adjoins the communities own forest reserve area. Additional lots of primary forest land that can be added to the reserve are still available, but quick action to acquire those lots will be needed - by the end of 2010, there likely will be no additional lands for sale, or prime lands will have been logged. Fortunately, the new road is largely impassible for 3-4 days after a rain as the wet clay in the area has the consistency of grease, and consequently development of areas along the road has been slow. With the global economic downturn, funds for maintaining the road are few and the road is currenlty little used. If the road is ever surfaced, however, any unprotected lands along the road will quickly be cleared for agriculture, pasture or as a result of logging.

Location and Habitats

Located on the Mazan River, several miles upstream from its junction with the Napo River, the Santa Cruz site is only about 25 km strait-line distance from Iquitos. Access requires traveling on the Amazon River down to the community of Timicurillo or Indiana, where paved overland trails across an isthmus separating the Amazon from the Napo Rivers cut off a large loop of the Napo River. From the town of Mazan (at the mouth of the Mazan River), an hour travel by small boat up the Mazan River takes one to the reserve site - a 30 to 45 minute hike leads to the station facilities themselves.

Areas of the reserve next to the Mazan River consist largely of second-growth and abandoned farm fields and pasture, but also include an area of mature varzea forest along a creek leading away from the Mazan River. The main area of the field station, however (south of the new roadway, and away from the Mazan River) consists of primary forest that has never been cut. Local people who are long-time residents of the area state that the lands have never been used for agriculture or logged, and a high density of desireable timber trees at the site support their statements. The terrain various from about 115 masl (at the Mazan River) to about 146 masl (on ridge tops at the SW corner of the site). Low but steep hills and ravines are interspersed with swampy areas and creek bottoms, providing a wide range of habitat types. The are is particularly rich in palm species diversity, including stands of Chelyocarpus repens, and several areas dominated by mature Cecropia sciadophylla appear to be a natural phenomenon which will be of future research interest. Preliminary work at Santa Cruz has revealed a high density of small and medium mammals, a very diverse palm flora (including some very rare or locally distributed species), at least one new species of frog, and a large number of bird species that have not been recorded at the other sites operated by Project Amazonas. Bushmasters (Lachesis muta), the largest of the Neotropical vipers, are apparently relatively common in the area based on reports from local people as well as work by Peruvian students at the site.

Facilities and Resources

Thanks to funding from an anonymous donor, we were able to construct a field station in late 2008 and early 2009 to house researchers, students and visitors to the Santa Cruz site. Facilities consist of a raised wooden "station" building that is screened and has a tin roof. This is connected by a raised walkway to a kitchen/dining area (also screened) and a short distance away are shower and toilet facilities (2 each, connected to a septic system). A water tower is is filled by electric pump from a nearby creek, and a small generator provides power for several hours daily when the station is in use. A network of trails (largely following the property lot lines) provides excellent access to forest at the site.

Future "Dreams" for Santa Cruz:

  • fence the perimeter of the reserve lands along the roadway, post reserve signs along the same
  • install solar panels and battery backup to reduce fuel usage at the site
  • install a well to provide a more consistent water supply, particularly during the dry season
  • construction of an environmental educational center where students from Iquitos can come to learn about the rainforest (this will be one of the closest pristine sites to Iquitos if the roadway is ever surfaced!)
  • complete mapping and marking of the trails
  • install a canopy access system - with many steep hills and ravines at the site, as well as a high density of large trees, this would be the ideal location for a canopy walkway. Revenues from tourist use of a walkway could fund the environmental education activities at the site.
  • obtain funding for a "station director" position to be held by graduate students for one or two years while they are working on dissertation or post-graduate work
  • install several permanent tree plots in different habitats througout the site - ideally a series of 10 tree plots would give invaluable information on the biodiveristy and microhabitat distribution of tree species at the site.

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