The Western Amazon basin is one of the most biologically diverse regions on earth (Foster et al. 1994; Terborgh et al. 1990) and is marked by great human diversity, including uncontacted indigenous peoples, legally-titled indigenous communities, second-generation colonists and mestizos, Aymara and Quechua-speaking colonists from the highlands, and international ecotourists (Chicchon 2001). It is one of the most pristine regions in the Americas, largely due to lack of transportation and access. There are over five million hectares of government protected areas, a size greater than the total land area of Costa Rica (INRENA 2005). This includes the Bahuaja-Sonene National Park and Manu National Park in southeastern Peru. However, threats from logging, gold mining, over-harvesting of game, fish and forest products, expansion of ranching, coca cultivation, and wildlife trafficking are continually increasing (Alvarez and Naughton-Treves 2003).
People are also being impacted. Indigenous and long-established communities face challenges of new settlers claiming their territories. There is little support from regional and national governments, poor access to credit and extension services, low prices and unstable markets for produce, poor infrastructures for education, health and transportation, and loss of cultural identity in the rapidly modernizing area (Coomes and Barham 1997). Recent plans for the Trans-Oceanic Highway connecting the heart of the Peruvian Amazon to markets in Lima and Brazil threaten to end the isolation that has protected this area (Naughton-Treves 2004). Similar plans exist to connect cities to the western Amazon in Bolivia, a change that will have significant ecological and social ramifications in the coming decades. In some areas this process is just beginning, and there is still time to mitigate some of the effects of road building.
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