Faculty Highlights - Constanza Ocampo-Raeder
Ocampo-Raeder has brought her experience from the Peruvian rainforest to the American West, where she worked on a high-end ecotourism project that aimed to balance wolf conservation with traditional ranching practices. There, she was dealing with ranchers instead of indigenous people, but the issues were remarkably similar.
In Yellowstone National Park, the reintroduction of the gray wolf is considered a victory for conservationists — and a boon for the ecotourism industry. But the wolves don’t necessarily observe park boundaries, and when they wander onto cattle ranches, it’s a threat to herds. To further complicate matters, ranchers and wealthy, conservation-minded property owners often don’t see eye to eye. And though many tourists want to see the gray wolf, it’s actually harmful to the animals to interact with humans.
Ocampo-Raeder’s work at a Montana lodge aims to create a solution by educating visitors about the ecological and socio-cultural issues at play. They learn about the cowboys. They learn about conservation. They learn that it’s better if they don’t see a wolf, even though there’s a den on the property. Instead, guests can — and do — sleep in tents outside among the cattle to keep the herd safe from predators. Even though they’re paying hundreds of dollars a night for a luxurious room.
“Ecotourism is mostly focused on mitigating environmental impacts,” Ocampo-Raeder says. “But what about the social impacts? What about the social benefits? That was the first time I put all of my theories into practice and it worked.”
Ocampo-Raeder has continued to study the impact of wildlife-human interactions, most recently among Peruvian fishing families in two locations; crawfish harvesting families (camaroneros) in an inter-Andean river valley near Lima and ocean fishing families (perscadores artesanales) in coastal villages of northern Peru.
In the valley, crawfish have been harvested since Pre-Columbian times using traditional techniques, including traps made of woven grasses. These families are so attuned to their environment that they can listen to the winds and look at rainbows to know the right time and place to harvest.
“We have these very traditional families trying to maintain their way of life and trying to make sure this resource doesn’t disappear,” Ocampo-Raeder says.
At the same time, the Peruvian government has built a large hydroelectric dam in the valley, which has affected the river’s flow. Mining operations upriver have polluted the water.
The second field site where Ocampo-Raeder does her research, in the northern coastal region, is particularly significant to climate scientists because it’s where the Humboldt Current and the tropical current meet. Here, ocean fishermen use the behavior of certain animals, which is based on the currents, as cues for prime fishing times. Their catch is half cold-water, half tropical fish.
A shift in the currents could change the region’s climate considerably, but equally important, it could also change the culture.
“Peru’s policy focused first on the Amazon, then it moved toward the Andes and with climate change, it’s now going toward the sea,” Ocampo-Raeder says. “Unfortunately, the government is not including the reality of the local people. They’re starting to feel the impact of the policy, but they’re not involved with it at all.”
Ocampo-Raeder has spent two summers in the region and is applying for a National Science Foundation grant to further research what consequences these restrictions might have for Peru’s traditions and resources.
Originally published in UMaine Today Magazine, Spring 2010