After completing his freshman year at the University of Richmond, George Appling of Austin, Texas, decided to spend his summer researching the environmental effects of a proposed, controversial highway through a remote area of Peru. He hoped to present his findings at the annual meeting of the Southeast Division of the Association of American Geographers – an unusual and potentially career-launching accomplishment for a college sophomore.

Appling never expected his project would lead to an invitation to address Peru’s Congress Sept. 14 in Lima.

Appling’s research assesses the pros and cons of constructing a road between Puerto Esperanza and Inapari, concluding that it would be detrimental to the environment, and especially to the homelands and migratory routes of indigenous, or “voluntary uncontacted” people who live and move about in the region.

“Building the road could lead to deforestation of a 50-kilometer radius around it, including parts of Brazil that lie close to the border with Peru,” explained Appling.

His mentor, geography and environment professor David Salisbury, noted that when roads are built in remote areas, “they bring disease to people who are extremely susceptible” because they have limited immunity. Many in Peru also fear that the road would lead to easier access to the region for drug dealers and illegal loggers of mahogany.

Salisbury has been conducting human-environment research in Peru for 10 years and will accompany Appling to the congressional presentation. Salisbury recently met with Peru’s vice minister of the environment and told him about Appling’s research, leading to the invitation.

The Congress of Peru is considering a bill that would allow construction of the road, which has been a controversial proposal for nearly a decade. Three national ministers – of environment, culture and transportation – oppose the highway because of its potential negative impact on indigenous tribes. A federation of indigenous people, along with the chiefs of many communities in the Alto Purus National Park, also oppose the road, citing potential loss of food supply, loss of their culture and violation of the rights of indigenous people to remain in voluntary isolation.

They are fighting a group led by Italian priest Miguel Piovesan, who first proposed the road in 2004. He and his followers assert that by creating the Alto Purus National Park and a territorial reserve for the uncontacted people, the country was limiting development in the region. After many years of gathering support, Piovesan now has a viable bill before Congress and the backing of many legislators.

Appling spent nine weeks this summer reviewing literature about the road and using GIS technology in the university’s Spatial Analysis Laboratory to map the 103 rivers and streams and 105 kilometers of national park land that would be bisected by the proposed road.

He created a poster summarizing his work, which Peru’s Ministry of the Environment is translating into Spanish for the presentation.

Salisbury said Richmond’s School of Arts and Sciences Undergraduate Research Council is funding the trip from a budget for student research and presentations. It will be Appling’s first trip to Peru.

The research also has attracted the attention of The Nature Conservancy in Peru, which has asked Salisbury and Appling to submit a proposal to analyze another proposed road project connecting Peru to Brazil through a national park and indigenous lands.

A double major in business administration and environmental studies, Appling is the son of Dan and Gigi Appling of Austin.

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