Day 354 - Volunteer Service - Article 4

This article appeared in the Ames Tribune Newspaper on April 25, 2008.

Panama's threatened environment

Two days ago, another truck-load of illegal wood rolled out of town. Wood harvested at the edge of a river on Earth Train's 4,000 acre Upland Rainforest Campus. It is really sad to see these massive tree trunks on a flatbed truck go by with six Panamanians and their chain saws.

What can I do? I guess the best would be try to help this family find a way to make a living that isn't illegal and damaging to the community and environment. The problem is that nothing pays like the black market.

In Panama, it is illegal to sell or buy trees without a permit. The National Environmental Authority, the agency authorized to police these matter is underfunded and understaffed and may be prone to bribery or negligence. It often happens that people get permits for certain trees in the local ANAM office and then go up into the mountains, far away from ANAM employees, cut whatever trees they want and sell them without penalty.

Panama is plagued by environmental problems such as deforestation and soil erosion, stemming in part from poor enforcement of its laws. Panama has set aside about 30 percent of its land for habitat protection.
Earth Train is an international organization that works with youth to develop the skills, experience and global network necessary to become effective leaders for environmental stewardship and positive social change. Earth Train is managing and restoring 8,000 acres of Panamanian pasture and forest land. The area is threatened by cultural and value conflicts. There's poverty, social inequity and threatened environments.

Earth Train's land borders Kuna Yala, the semi-autonomous ancestral territory of the Kuna tribe. The indigenous Kuna call it the divine Madre Tierra. Many thousands of migrants see it as the promise of tierra propria, meaning cattle, crops, increased economic security or just plain survival.

Foy and Jeff are Peace Corps volunteers in central Panama, some 40 miles northeast of Panama City. They live in a town of about 50 people that has no electricity. Their Peace Corps assignment is from May 2007 to Aug. 2009.

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