Visiting Intag, Not Losing Intag

Carlos Zorrilla
4 min readMar 18, 2023

Reproduction of article by Martin Zorrilla

There are places on this earth that feel too precious to lose. The richness and diversity of life is breathtaking in these places. The branches of the trees groan with universes unto themselves, with the entangled roots of epiphytes and insects unknown to science. The night is filled with the songs of so many different creatures that the sound alone can make you feel humbled by the diversity of life.

There is a place in North-West Ecuador that is like this. Humid air off the Pacific Ocean collides with Andes mountains and supports forests here like few on earth. The location, almost exactly on the equator, and the steep terrain likely encouraged the remarkable diversity and speciation on display. A single forested valley can contain numbers of bird species that rival entire North-American states.

Mondane Cloud Forest in Intag, Ecuador. Photo by Carlos Zorrilla

It seems like absolute madness that we have plans to destroy this place. Elsewhere in the world we rush to plant trees in degraded landscapes, scrambling to make up for lost time. We live in a moment when most institutions, businesses and schools speaksof protecting, rebuilding and recapturing lost carbon. Yet in the Intag Valley of North-West Ecuador we plan to obliterate forests that we can never replant. Large scale loss of montane cloud-forests is likely to lead to desertification, and we will likely never know what species we will lose because we never had the chance to study them.

I grew up in Intag. I drank from its mountain streams and bathed in small waterfalls surrounded by mossy boulders. I collected beetles and watched ants on the forest floor. At times now when I experience moments of anxiety I close my eyes and summon memories of certain places in this landscape. A waterfall tucked into the embrace of rocky walls, carved by water and by time. They are real places and I want them to be real places forever.

A waterfall in Intag Cloud Forest Reserve , Ecuador

For me as a biologist and as a person it feels intuitive that we should protect this place. I think that most people that visit and witness it share this feeling. It is likely then no coincidence that a group of judges of the Imbabura Provincial Court seem to be avoiding a visit. The judges in question are overseeing a court case on a mining concession that could decide the future of these forested valleys, in particular a region called Junin not far from where I grew up. Open-pit copper mining in the region is being pursued by the Ecuadorian state-owned company Enami EP and Chilean state-owned company Codelco. They recently asked the court to postpone the visit, which was intended to meet community members and visit the forested region. The judges agreed, this was the second time they had done so.

The conflict is 30 years old. My father is one of those who have fought these companies and the Japanese and Canadian companies that came before them. Like many who grew up in Intag the conflict shaped who I am and what I hold true about the world. The mining companies that came to Intag arrived with the support and resources of the international community. Money raised by public companies on the Toronto stock exchange, or through financial powerhouse like The Bank of America. It is easy to justify this allocation of resources from afar. Industries like the EV vehicle sector need copper.

A Cloud forest in Intag, Ecuador. Photo by Carlos Zorrilla

But for all the utility of that copper it is hard to imagine future generations looking back on a decision like this with any sympathy. Open-pit copper mines are deeply and devastatingly harmful to land, life and people. The decision to build one should be an exercise in our most critical and evidence-based analysis of needs and risks. Building a copper mine in place so preciously diverse feels like one of those things we would look back on as a society with feelings of shame and of unbearable loss.

All of this feels intuitive. It feels most intuitive if you visit Intag, if you see the forest for yourself. If you listen to the sounds of the night and remind yourself that not all is lost. That there are places on earth that burst at the seams with life, diverse, beautiful and complex life. I hope then that the Judges of the Imbabura Provincial Court find the time to visit. I hope that you too can find the time to visit. If you cannot there are ways that you can help.

Some Resources and References:

P.S a simple action we can all take is to avoid and divest from stocks of mining companies or the investment vehicles that support them. Ultimately the most powerful action is collective: institutions, industries and countries should ban open-pin mining in biodiversity hotspots.

Visiting Junin, Intag Ecuador. Photo by Jamie Johnson

https://medium.com/@cotcoleopter/visiting-intag-a26255b44084

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Carlos Zorrilla

Full time Intag resident/environmental activist,, farmer, photographer, writer