The incense trees of humid montane forests of Bolivia have traditionally been highly appreciated for their ritual value, particularly the species Clusia pachamamae of the Apolo region, endemic to the north of La Paz, and with a high quality resin. There are several communities of Apolo, both Quechua and Leco that harvest this resource: Pata, Santa Cruz del Valle Ameno, Suturi, Virgen del Rosario, Mohima, Pucasucho, Curiza, Aten, Huaratumo, Sarayoj and Santo Domingo.
The first activity undertaken by WCS between 2001 and 2002 was the assessment of incense forest structure, tree density, performance, extraction systems and threats to their conservation. Data from the variety of resins of incense (Clusia lechleri) and copal (Protium puncticulatum and Dacryoides sp.) was obtained, and in 2008, the National Herbarium Bolivia presented a new incense species to science: Clusia pacahamamae. These species grow in the mid montane forest, between 1,500 and 2,800 masl.
In relation to threats to the species, the intensification of extraction by increased cuts in the trees to extract resin and the reduction of forest to give way to agriculture and livestock were identified as major threats to incense forest conservation. In order to respond to these problems, between 2004 and 2006 participatory community plans for sustainable use were developed (extraction areas, management techniques, sustainable harvesting volumes, monitoring, organization systems and community regulations) in Virgen del Rosario, Pata and Santa Cruz del Valle Ameno over an area of 434 ha. In addition, silvicultural work was performed to repopulate incense forests by transplanting seedlings from areas with high density into areas with insufficient regeneration of them.
Because of the importance of incense forest use in the Leco Apolo Indigenous Territory, in 2011 a study was conducted on the sustainable management of incense Clusia pachamamae as a strategy for forest conservation in the communities of Sarayoj, Aten, and Pucasucho whose harvesting areas are within Madidi, and the community of Santo Domingo. This study was carried out by experts from the Leco Apolo Indigenous People Council (CIPLA) and Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), with financial support from the Strategic Research Program in Bolivia (PIEB).
The use of incense was registered through community workshops, creating a database of all the harvesting families and a spatial inventory of the distribution, abundance and harvesting areas: sixty-eight of the 161 families of the four communities engaged in this activity manage approximately 856 hectares of forest. Traditional incense management techniques rely on 7cm long incisions in the bark to extract the resin. Usually, two or three cuts on each tree are made two or three times a year. In some cases, too many, too deep or too frequent cuts in very young trees can kill the tree.
Biological studies of incense trees, made in Santo Domingo and Sarayoj, provided information on the phenology, density and population structure of Clusia pachamamae.
The economic analysis demonstrated the importance of collecting and commercializing incense to the communities of the Leco Apolo Indigenous Territory. On average, each incense harvesting family makes eight thousand bolivianos (approximately 1150$us.) annually from the sale of 112 pounds of incense.
As a result of research conducted in the incense forests, CIPLA in 2012 obtained support from the Flemish Fund for Tropical Forests (FFBT) for the implementation of the project "Incense, a strategic resource for the conservation and sustainable use of forest in the Lecos Apolo Indigenous Territory and Madidi National Park", allowing the development of the management plan of Clusia pachamamae, with technical support from WCS. The plan establishes a harvesting quota, the number of annual entrances to the stands, harvesting periods in the year, reforestation practices and the monitoring plan. In addition it enabled the development of a proposed regulation for the sustainable use of incense (regulation of cutting cycles and harvesting, tree care, forest conservation, recovery of traditional knowledge and generation of benefits for communities), currently in the process of review and approval.
In 2013, WCS and CIPLA gave continuity to the activities of sustainable use and conservation of incense forest by implementing the project "Sustainable and Endogenous Management with Added Value and Biocultural Trade of Incense (Clusia pachamamae) and Copal (Protium montanum) in the Leco Apolo Indigenous Territory ", with financial support from the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (COSUDE), within the framework of the National Program Biocultura. The project aims to strengthen local organization and business capabilities of incense collectors to improve commercializing processes and marketing, regulate access and use of incense and the overall added value with a biocultural approach, under the management plan and business plan for the species. Moreover, it aims to evaluate the productive potential of copal, by assessing the characteristics of the collection and commercialization of the resin in 13 Leco communities: Aten, Ilipana Yuyo, Muhiri, Pata Salinas, Pucasucho, Puchahui, San Juan, Sarayoj, Santo Domingo, Tanampaya, Trinidad and Tupili.
With this project, we implemented incense silvicultural treatments; built or improved collection infrastructure in Aten, Sarayoj and Pucasucho, identified opportunities for processing and commercializing copal and incense; analyzed the biocultural ecotourism potential of their use; and generated entrepreneurial skills among incense collectors.