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ECCo Newsletter - August 2012

Translating museum knowledge into lasting results for conservation and cultural understanding—in the midst of a great urban center and in the wildest, most remote places on Earth.

A Mighty Acorn outside
Photo: Laura Milkert

ECCo by the Numbers

  • 2,700 students participated in the Calumet Environmental Education Program (CEEP) this year. Programs include Mighty Acorns (fourth through sixth-graders), Earth Force (middle school), and Calumet Is My Backyard (high school). 
  • 100 dedicated teachers from this area were a part of the program. ECCo staff put together eight different professional development workshops for teachers.
  • 56 separate field trips took Mighty Acorns kids into the remarkable natural, historic, and cultural places of the region.
  • 50 volunteers and partners supported the work of the teachers and The Field Museum.
  • 37 schools in Chicago and northwest Indiana connected kids to nature through the CEEP program.
  • 16 natural areas in the Calumet region were adopted by school children, with 12 benefiting from extensive on-the-ground restoration from high school students of the Calumet Is My Backyard (CIMBY) program.
  • 13 school-based conservation projects built upon the energy and creativity of Earth Force students to make the Calumet region a better place.
  • 9 high schools students who graduated from the CIMBY program came to intern with ECCo at The Field Museum.
  • 3 grand year-end events for each program celebrated accomplishment, learning, and FUN!

Eré-Campuya lies on Peru’s border with Colombia
Map: Jon Markel

Andes/Amazon News: 
Rapid Inventory 25: Eré-Campuya, the Key to a 26-Million-Acre Corridor

Eré-Campuya is a 1.3-million-acre block of Amazon rainforest that sits in the region with the highest concentration of plant diversity on Earth. This forest—along the scientifically unexplored Putumayo River at the border between Peru and Colombia—also links together a dozen indigenous lands and conservation areas across international boundaries. If protected, this block would connect a corridor stretching across 26 million acres of lush forests. 

Oil exploration was recently abandoned in the region, providing a window of opportunity for conservation. ECCo scientists and local collaborators reacted quickly. ECCo is now in the throes of preparations for a rapid inventory—raising funds, poring over satellite imagery, assembling the team, coordinating with the Huitoto and Kichwa residents and their federations, and flying over the targeted forest. In July ECCo and its partners met with representatives of the 11 communities near the area, getting an enthusiastic consensus for the inventory. In October our team will be on the ground, gathering data on the geology, hydrology, plants, and animals in the forest, and the strengths and aspiration of neighboring villagers. Together with our Peruvian and Colombian collaborators, we will then use the biological and social data to develop a plan for conserving this magnificent stretch of the Peruvian Amazon.

Earth Force students in front of the camera
Photo: John Weinstein

Chicago Region News: Earth Force Students Take Action to Help the Environment and Their Community

The Earth Force program is the middle link in ECCo’s Calumet Environmental Education Program, serving 7th and 8th grade students on Chicago’s southeast side. The environmental challenges the students’ community faces are significant. And in the not-too-distant future the community will look to their generation for leadership. Will they be up to it? The students in the Earth Force program offer ample reason for us to be hopeful.  

The Calumet Environmental Education Program, now in its tenth year, has grown from a small pilot program to one that reaches into 37 schools, 13 of them with Earth Force. As a part of Earth Force, students spend the school year immersed in the Calumet region. They come to understand the specific conservation concerns of the place where they live. Their natural curiosity, creativity, and grit are then unleashed on a conservation project that they design and develop. By May they are ready to share. This year, 317 students showcased their projects for the public and their peers at The Field Museum.

Numbers tell part of their story. But in this new video the youthful energy and the sheer joy of learning displayed by our Earth Force students shines through. 

Camilo Kajekai, Shuar botanist, dwarfed by a Gyranthera
Photo: David Neill

ECCo Uncovered: Rapid Inventory Scientists Discover Giant Canopy Tree New for Peru

In August 2011 the ECCo Andes-Amazon team set out to Kampankis on the Museum’s 24th Rapid Inventory, logistically our most challenging one to date. A razor-sharp ridge in northern Peru, Cerro Kampankis has long been home to the Awajún and Wampis. We had enormous expectations for this scientifically unexplored isolated range and we were not disappointed: the craggy peaks—sacred to the Wampis and Awajún—harbor spectacular diversity.  

In our three weeks in the field we recorded more than 560 species of vertebrates—14 of them (fish, amphibians, and reptiles) apparently unknown to science. And we registered 3,500 species of plants, with at least 11 new to science. Our most interesting plant discovery was a genus of canopy tree new to Peru, a 130-foot giant. David Neill—a colleague from Ecuador and our senior botanist on this inventory—found the tree. He had just recently discovered this species across the border in Ecuador. Gyranthera (a relative of Baobab and Kapok trees) has two other known species: one in mountains of Panama and the other in coastal mountains of Venezuela. David is naming this new tree Gyranthera amphibiolepys, a nod to its local name “toad skin,” which comes from the distinctive bumps covering the tree’s trunk and prop roots. We are now using these inventory results to guide us in conversations with the Peruvian government and the Awajún and Wampis to find the best way to formalize protection for these magnificent mountains.

Mighty Acorns brings science learning outside
Photo: Álvaro del Campo

ECCo Location: Mighty Acorns Win Honors—and Funding

Mighty Acorns—ECCo’s environmental stewardship program for children—received top honors from two public agencies. The Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) selected Mighty Acorns as one of ten “Model Projects” for the Millennium Reserve: Calumet Core initiative. These model projects “will represent the scope and depth of Millennium Reserve and complement Millennium Reserve values: Improving the Environment, Improving the Economy, and Improving the Community.” Fourth- through sixth-grade students from Calumet region schools will participate in the Mighty Acorns model program and visit the William Powers State Recreation site three times during the school year. They will learn ecological concepts, participate in stewardship activities, and have fun exploring nature. Department of Natural Resources staff will be trained to support the program.

The US Fish and Wildlife Service also selected Mighty Acorns as a top program for urban youth to connect with natural areas. It will provide much-needed funding for our program to continue and grow and thrive.


Crown Publishers, New York, 2011

ECCo Reads: 
Uncontacted Indigenous Peoples in the Amazon: A Review of The Unconquered by Scott Wallace

This fascinating account features Sydney Possuelo, a pioneering Brazilian Government official who worked tirelessly to protect indigenous peoples’ cultural dignity. A veteran journalist who has reported frequently for the National Geographic, Scott Wallace chronicles the journey of Possuelo and his team into one of the most uncharted portions of Brazil’s Amazon. The Vale do Javari Indigenous Area spans 30,000 square miles (the size of South Carolina) and is home to indigenous peoples in voluntary isolation. Wallace’s account details the three-month expedition to demarcate the territory of the “arrow people” without contacting them out of respect for their decision to remain beyond reach. Possuelo’s controversial vision stands as a stark contrast to the wave of extraction and overexploitation of the Amazon’s natural riches. His approach ultimately led to his dismissal from Brazil’s Indian Agency, but as Wallace argues, it safeguarded the freedom of indigenous peoples and protected their homelands. Vale do Javari remains a healthy forest expanse in large part because of Possuelo’s efforts. 

For our ECCo team this book raises important questions. ECCo scientists worked across from Vale do Javari in Peru, in the Yavarí and Matsés rapid inventories. Three of the nine conservation areas created after our inventories include populations of uncontacted peoples. We believe The Unconquered is a must-read for those seeking knowledge of the thornier issues concerning cultural encounters and the very definition of well-being.


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