Primary forest, sustainable life cycle

Old growth

At Arutam, the Shuar community where I worked, the villagers are responsible for a couple thousand hectares of Amazon, allotted to them by the government. Their model, with the hands and dollars of ecotourists and paying volunteers (me), is to develop a small portion of the forest — cutting for banana plantations and fish ponds and whatnot — while keeping pressure off the remaining primary forest.

The above photo shows a tree reaching into the upper jungle canopy. The tree, by the estimates of our guides, could be 200 years old. In the present model, it’s protected because of, not in spite of, the community clearing land nearer the road and their homes for agriculture and aquaculture.

Untouched primary forest is really a self-sustaining ecosystem. There when large trees fall, they are subsumed by the forest floor (see below) which then begin struggle to fill the whole. Eventually one tree or plant wins and starts climbing toward precious sun. Until it falls again.

Fungus springs eternal

Of course, the old growth forest also acts as a major watershed, preserving ground water and collecting and managing rain. Throughout the jungle, small streams feed larger ones which feed larger ones, all sheltered from the sun and evaporation. This ultimately helps to stave off drought, which is why dry countries like Kenya now struggle to save their last remaining bits of forest.

Babbling brook

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