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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Tuesday, February 15, 2005                                                                                 

CONTACT:  Matt Finer, Save America’s Forests




The renowned Yasuní National Park and Biosphere Reserve, located in the heart of the Ecuadorian Amazon, is seriously threatened by a proposed new oil road, according to two letters from premier U.S. biologists released today. The letters address an urgent situation in which the Brazilian national oil company Petrobras is preparing to build a new access road into the heart of one of the most biodiverse Parks in the world.


In a letter written to the President and Environment Ministry of Ecuador, some of the world’s most preeminent biologists, including Jane Goodall, E.O. Wilson, Stuart Pimm, Paul Ehrlich, Peter Raven, Gary Meffe, and Tom Lovejoy, called on the Ecuadorian government to prohibit the construction of the proposed Petrobras road. And in a separate letter, seven leading researchers from the Smithsonian Institution called on Petrobras to reconsider its plans to build the new access road into the Park.


“Yasuni may well be the single most biodiverse forest on earth,” said Stuart Pimm of Duke University. “We call on the Ecuadorian government to protect the park’s extraordinary biodiversity by requiring international oil companies to utilize roadless development methods.”


“Based on Smithsonian research conducted around the world on trees, mammals, and insects, we can demonstrate that Yasuni is one of the most diverse forests on Earth,” said Elizabeth Losos of the Smithsonian. “We strongly recommend that Petrobras consider a no-road policy to protect the remarkable biodiversity of the area.”


Given its unique location at the intersection of the Andes, the Amazon, and the equator, Yasuní National Park is home to a large stretch of the world’s most diverse tree community, contains the world’s highest known insect diversity, and is among the world’s richest sites for birds, amphibians, and mammals.


 The biologists emphasize that the no-road option would not limit oil development, but would greatly minimize the environmental impact to the primary rainforest.

These letters join two other scientific responses issued in recent months in regards to the impacts of the proposed Petrobras road. In January, the Association for Tropical Biology and Conservation (ATBC), the world’s largest scientific organization dedicated to the study and conservation of tropical ecosystems, unanimously passed a resolution calling on the Ecuadorian government to prohibit the construction of the proposed Petrobras road.


“Building a new road in the Amazonian frontier is like opening Pandora’s Box,” said William Laurance of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institution in Panama, who is President-Elect of the ATBC.  “Once a new road goes in, it’s nearly impossible to stop subsequent colonization, over-hunting, and deforestation along the road.”


Last November, 59 leading neotropical researchers from institutions in 10 different countries (dubbing themselves the Scientists Concerned for Yasuni) wrote a letter to the Presidents of Ecuador, Brazil and Petrobras strongly recommending the proposed road be stopped.


One of them, Dr. Anthony Di Fiore, a researcher from NYU who has been studying primates in Yasuni for 11 years, said “New roads provide hunters with easy access to previously untouched areas. Populations of large monkeys, such as woolly monkeys and spider monkeys, are especially vulnerable to this added pressure.”


“We concluded that the negative impacts caused by new access roads in primary rainforest environments can not be effectively controlled,” said Margot Bass, Executive Director of Finding Species and lead editor of the Scientists Concerned for Yasuni report. “Thus, we strongly recommend that all planned and future oil extraction in Yasuni utilize a roadless “off-shore” model.”


Elaborating on the “off-shore” model, Save America’s Forests staff ecologist Dr. Matt Finer explained, “We are advocating for a new policy that treats the primary rainforests of Yasuni National Park as an ocean and requires the use of helicopters to transport all necessary equipment and personnel to the drilling sites. This would greatly minimize the impact on the area’s biodiversity and indigenous communities.”


The Petrobras road would transect the territory of an indigenous Quichua community and would enter the ancestral territory of the Huaorani, the native inhabitants of the Ecuadorian Amazon.


All four letters were delivered this week to the Ecuadorian Embassy in Washington D.C., the Ecuadorian Environment Ministry in Quito, Ecuador, and the Petrobras headquarters in Brazil.


The Wilson, Goodall, Pimm, et al. letter was also submitted to the Chairman and CEO of the Los Angeles based Occidental Petroleum Corporation. The biologists of this letter expressed that they were “deeply disturbed” about Occidental’s activities in the buffer zone of the National Park and Biosphere Reserve. The letter points out that in Occidental’s 2003 Health, Safety, and Environment report, the company states that in order to protect indigenous lands and the biodiversity of the Yasuni area, it is not building an access road in the area. However, satellite images obtained by the scientists clearly reveal that Occidental has been building an oil access road deeper and deeper into the primary rainforests of an indigenous Quichua community located in the Park’s critical buffer zone.


In 1989, in recognition of the Yasuní National Park’s extraordinary biodiversity, the Park was formally designated as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, in response to an official request by the Government of Ecuador to the United Nations Environmental, Scientific, and Cultural Organization.