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What Hath Gold Wrought (Part 2)

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In Part 1 of this series (which you really should read first, no – really, it’s worth it), I discussed the La Plata region of Peru, and how it has been devastated by illegal and environmentally-unsound mining for gold.

In this post I will review some of the project management-related aspects of the rescue program.

For a little history on this you can visit this article regarding the Peruvian government’s approach to halting the mining.  And here, from The University of Maryland’s Public Policy Peru website is a description of Operación Mercurio 2019:

The Vizcarra administration and the Council of Ministries adopted a plan for intervention that entered its first phase in February of 2019. It is intended to end gold mining in La Pampa in the near term and invest in sustainable alternatives in the longer term. The formal name of the plan can be loosely translated as the “Integral Plan Against Illegal Mining in Madre de Dios.” It’s known more commonly as “Operación Mercurio 2019.”

The plan has four priorities:

  1. Eviction of illegal mining operations.
  2. Formalization of legal mining in limited areas with cleaner practices.
  3. Addressing social problems like human trafficking and child labor.
  4. Investment and development in sustainable alternative livelihoods.

“Priority 1” is done. The Guardian article summarizes this:

By air, land and river, hundreds of army commandos and more than 1,200 police officers swooped on La Pampa.

Peruvians had grown rather used to seeing images of commandos helicoptered into the jungle, driving out miners and blowing up machines in what many suspected was a show for the cameras. But this time, the scale of the operation and the tone of the rhetoric was different.

“We’re not leaving until we see this place green, as it always was,” said Peru’s defence minister, José Huerta. Security forces say they expelled some 6,000 miners, captured dozens of suspected criminals and rescued more than 50 trafficked women in the raid, the result of months of meticulous planning and intelligence gathering.

Photos from


Note the planning element – we can appreciate that as project managers!  There is more project management intrigue here as well.

Agile prototyping

Silman’s team (if you remember, this refers to Miles Silman, the conservation biologist at Wake Forest University who uttered the bad word that gave Part 1 its PG-13 rating) has been growing test plots of more than 75 plant species to guide the reforestation push. The scientists are tracking how the plants perform in a variety of conditions; some prefer flat terrain with direct sun, whereas others need shade or very moist soil. The team’s results suggest that adding charcoal — or a similar substance called biochar — to the soil bolsters plant growth and survival. “We want to give people options, so that we aren’t just planting trees that are going to die,” Silman says.


Done is better than perfect

Stuart Pimm is an ecologist at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina.

But rather than worrying too much about trying to recreate what was there before, Pimm says that scientists and the government should get some plants in the ground and let nature take its course. “Just getting some forest cover is something they can probably do,” he says, “and it’s going to be a hell of a lot better than a barren landscape with some toxic puddles in the middle.”


The reversal of an expletive and a transition to the (very) long term

As you recall, in part one, when Miles Silman saw the devastation, his first words were (appropriately) nasty ones.  I close this post with the way the story in Nature closes – hopeful and thoughtful, focused on the future, not the past or present. 

You can see some of this project work in this rather beautiful article (and photos and videos) from APNews.

Here is how the article in Nature ends:

As Silman and his colleagues wrapped up their day of field work in June, the sun was setting — and La Pampa was coming alive. Ducks were on the move, and fish in ponds began rising to feed on insects. Silman has little doubt that plants and animals will recolonize this largely empty space over hundreds or thousands of years. The question, he says, is whether scientists can help to accelerate that recovery, or whether La Pampa will remain little more than a monument to human stupidity over the coming decades.

There is a lesson here also for PMs – focus not just on the project, but past its results and years, even decades – or in this case, even centuries – into the future.

Posted by Richard Maltzman on: February 24, 2020 09:48 PM | Permalink

Comments (3)

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Dear Richard
Interesting your perspective on the topic: "What Hath Gold Wrought (Part 2)"

Thanks for sharing

Important point to remember:
"There is a lesson here for PMs too - focus not only on the project, but beyond its results and years, even decades - or, in this case, centuries - in the future"

Do Project Managers have the power, aurority and influence to reverse some decisions by organizations and / or companies?

Dear Richard
It is worth reading the article and see the photos and videos

Thanks for sharing

The most universal answer is, of course, "it depends".

However, the more meaningful answer is, "As project managers, we are agents of change. Sometimes we have to step up and be that change."

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