The rio Madre de Dios headwaters region is undoubtedly a wonderful place for aquatic wildlife, but it is also a place where humans have probably lived since the times they first entered South America. Humans will continue to live in this region, and undoubtedly their populations will increase. In general the rio Madre de Dios valley is a frontier region for human settlement, and much of the local economy is still based on the extraction of primary resources, especially gold and timber, neither of which has proven sufficient to sustain long-term development. At this point in time it is unclear how the economy will unfold in the next two or three decades as gold and timber resources become diminished. One thing that does seem certain, however, is that the rio Madre de Dios region will become more internationalized as highway links to Brazil and Bolivia continue to be expanded and improved.
Despite economic problems the Peruvian government has forged ahead with audacious programs to establish some of the Amazon Basin’s most important national parks and protected areas. These conservation areas in turn have attracted scientists, ecotourists, government officials, and others who strive to find a balance between economic development and the long-term protection of biodiversity. Despite the many economic and social problems confronting conservation initiatives, the Peruvian rio Madre de Dios offers an optimistic note for headwaters protection compared to most other similar areas in the Amazon Basin. The following chapters are designed to shed light on both the challenges to and needs for Andes-Amazon headwaters conservation.