Deforestation in Central America

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Central American countries have experienced cycles of deforestation and reforestation since the decline of Maya civilization, influenced by many factors such as population growth and agriculture. From 2001 to 2010, 5,376 square kilometres (2,076 sq mi) of forest were lost in the region. In 2010 Belize had 63% of remaining forest cover, Costa Rica 46%, Panama 45%, Honduras 41%, Guatemala 37%, Nicaragua 29%, and El Salvador 21%. Most of the loss occurred in the moist forest biome, with 12,201 square kilometers. Woody vegetation loss was partially set off by a plus in the coniferous forest biome with 4,730 km2, and at 2,054 km2. Mangroves and deserts contributed only 1% to the loss in forest vegetation. The bulk of the deforestation was located at the Caribbean slopes of Nicaragua with a minus of 8,574 square kilometers of forest lost in the period from 2001 to 2010. The most significant regrowth of 3,050 km2 of forest was seen in the coniferous woody vegetation of Honduras. [1]



The history of most Central American countries involves cycles of deforestation and reforestation. For the Ancient Mayan culture at Copan, Honduras, the process of clearing large amounts of land for their agricultural-based society surpassed the forests' ability to replenish naturally. Besides the clearing of land for farmland, Mayans consumed vast quantities of wood as fuel and building materials, rapidly depleting the natural resources of this area. Eventually, the lack of firewood may have caused health problems among those who were unable to properly cook their food or warm their habitations. [2]

By the fifteenth century, intensive Mayan agriculture had significantly thinned the forests, but had not completely decimated them. Before Europeans arrived, forests covered 500,000 square kilometers – approximately 90% of the region. The arrival of the Spaniards caused a sharp decrease in population resulting from the highly contagious diseases introduced by the conquistadores. This reduction in human pressure gave much of the land that had been cleared for cultivation time to recover. Eventually, the forcing of "Europe's money economy on Latin America" created the demand for the exportation of primary products, which introduced the need for large amounts of cleared agricultural land to produce those products. [3] While the cultivation of some exports such as indigo and cochineal dye worked harmoniously with the surrounding indigenous vegetation, other crops such as sugar required clear-cutting of land and mass quantities of firewood to fuel the refining process, which spurred rapid, destructive deforestation.

From the eighteenth to the twentieth century, mahogany exports for furniture became the major cause of forest exhaustion. The region experienced economic change in the nineteenth century through a "fuller integration in the world capitalist system". [3] This, combined with conflict with Spain, put an even greater emphasis on plantation cropping. Throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, Europe and North America have become the chief importers of the region's coffee and banana crops, thus putting increasing demand on the land to produce large quantities of these cash crops and perpetuating the clearing of more forest in an attempt to acquire more exploitable farmland.

Most recently, as of the 1960s, cattle ranching has become the primary reason for land clearing. The lean grass-fed cattle produced by Central American ranches (as opposed to grain-fed cattle raised elsewhere in America) was perfectly suited for North American fast-food restaurants and this seemingly bottomless market has created the so-called "hamburger connection" which links "consumer lifestyles in North America with deforestation in Central America". [3] This demonstrates how the developed world has had an indirect influence on the environment and landscape of developing countries.


Logging is another factor that increases deforestation in multiple ways. Though regulated logging is far less detrimental to the forest, uncontrolled logging is prevalent in developing countries due to the demand for timber to house growing populations, and the poor economic situation of those making their living from and in the forest itself. Furthermore, all forms of logging necessitate the building of roads, which generates easy access to those seeking new land to clear for agriculture. The use of wood as the primary fuel for cooking and heating is compounded by developing countries inability to pay high oil prices. As a result, the demand for firewood is "one of the most commonly cited causes of deforestation". [4]


The pervasion of the illegal drug trade throughout the region decimates forestland and is primarily fueled by demand for narcotics in North America. Honduras, Guatemala, and Nicaragua have suffered from some of the highest rates of deforestation in the world since 2000 and in 2005 these rates of forest loss began to accelerate, coinciding with an influx of drug trafficking activity. Following the election of Felipe Calderón in 2006 and the ignition of the Mexican Drug War, many Mexican drug trafficking organizations (DTO) relocated their operations southward enticed by the porous borders, corruption, and weak public institutions characteristic of Guatemala and Honduras. The sparsely populated forested highlands in these countries harbor little state presence and offer perfect refuge for DTOs looking to evade interdiction.

The increased trafficking of cocaine through Guatemala and Honduras is correlated with a rise in the region's rate of forest loss. In the forests of eastern Honduras, the amount of newly detected deforestation is greater than 5.29 hectares while in Guatemala's Petén, extensive amounts of forest loss was matched by an unprecedented number of cocaine flows through the area. [5] According to Dr. Kendra McSweeney from Ohio State University, the baseline rate of deforestation in the region of about 20 km2 per year has accelerated to 60 km2 per year under the narco-effect - a deforestation rate of around 10%. In 2011, the Río Plátano Biosphere Reserve in Honduras was designated as a "World Heritage in Danger" by UNESCO due to the striking degree of deforestation at the hands of narco-traffickers. [6]

Three interrelated mechanisms explain the trend of forest loss following the establishment of a drug transit hub. The first is the clearing of forestland for the construction of clandestine roads and airstrips used by vehicles transporting narcotics, pesticides, and fertilizers. Second, the influx of vast amounts of cash and weapons into areas that are already weakly governed only intensifies the preexisting pressures on forests there. The introduction of narco-capital into these frontiers encourages landowners and other actors in the region to participate in the drug trade, which often leaves indigenous communities bereft of their land and livelihoods. Finally, the large profits to drug traffickers incentivize DTOs to convert forest to agriculture in order to launder these profits. "Improving" remote land not only allows narco-traffickers to inconspicuously convert their assets into private earnings but also legitimizes the DTO's presence in the area. Though conversion of land within protected forest area and indigenous communities is illegal, traffickers have the political influence necessary to guarantee impunity. As for the indigenous communities marginalized by increased drug trafficking activity, they are powerless in the face of the narcos' violence and corruption; conservation groups in the region are threatened and state prosecutors are bribed to turn a blind eye to illegal "narco-zones." [5] According to Dr. Kendra McSweeney from Ohio State University, the baseline rate of deforestation in the region of about 20 km2 per year has accelerated to 60 km2 McSweeney cites Honduras' world's highest homicide rate, explaining that conservationists "don't breathe a word of [narco-trafficking], out of fear... they've all been silenced." [6] International environmental groups have pointed to the death of Jairo Mora Sandoval as an example of this sort of silencing of conservationists by narco-traffickers, indicating that the ecological and social effects of the drug trade have been felt throughout Central America. [7]

Population growth

As the countries of this region continue to develop, the sheer number of people, as well as trade with developed countries, puts pressure on natural resources by creating many of the situations previously discussed, such as the necessary clearing of land for agriculture and housing. [8] Another study shows that population growth and technological development in Central America (the Mesoamerican biodiversity hotspot) does in fact have a direct impact on the rate of deforestation. [9]

Global impact

Similarly to the Amazonian rainforest, the Central American forest also "adds to local humidity through transpiration". [10] Without the extra moisture from transpiration, rainfall totals are significantly decreased. Moreover, with less moisture in the air comes the increased susceptibility to fire. These local ramifications are quite serious and affect the quality of life of the surrounding populations, especially the poor, rural peoples who depend on the land for their livelihoods. In addition to the strain on the local environment, the destruction of the rainforests has "a broader impact, affecting global climate and biodiversity". [10]

Efforts to reverse the effects

Many countries have undertaken plans to conserve and replenish the forest in response to the recent upsurge in deforestation. For example, in Nicaragua, forest management consists of shifting from timber to non-timber harvesting alongside sustainable logging methods. [11] In Costa Rica, logging roads that had once added to the problem of deforestation are being researched as potential avenues of reforestation. Furthermore, in the mid-1990s, "damage-controlled logging practices" were implemented to prevent rampant illegal logging. [12]

Related Research Articles

Central America central geographic region of the Americas

Central America is a region in the southern tip of North America and is sometimes defined as a subregion of the Americas. This region is bordered by Mexico to the north, Colombia to the southeast, the Caribbean Sea to the east and the Pacific Ocean to the west and south. Central America consists of seven countries: El Salvador, Costa Rica, Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Panama. The combined population of Central America is estimated at 44.53 million (2016).

Deforestation Conversion of forest to non-forest for human use

Deforestation, clearance, clearcutting or clearing is the removal of a forest or stand of trees from land which is then converted to a non-forest use. Deforestation can involve conversion of forest land to farms, ranches, or urban use. The most concentrated deforestation occurs in tropical rainforests. About 31% of Earth's land surface is covered by forests.

Geography of Honduras geographical information on the country Honduras Jennifer Lizzeth Bonilla Bonilla

Honduras is a country in Central America. Honduras borders the Caribbean Sea and the North Pacific Ocean. Guatemala lies to the west, Nicaragua south east and El Salvador to the south west. Honduras is the second largest Central American republic, with a total area of 112,890 square kilometres (43,590 sq mi).

La Mosquitia is the easternmost part of Honduras along the Mosquito Coast, which extends into northeastern Nicaragua. It is a region of tropical rainforest, pine savannah, and marsh that is accessible primarily by water and air. Its population includes indigenous and ethnic groups such as the Miskito, Pech, Rama, Sumo, Garífuna, Ladino, and Creole peoples. La Mosquitia has the largest wilderness area in Central America, consisting of mangrove swamps, lagoons, rivers, savannas, and tropical rain forests. The Río Plátano Biosphere Reserve, a World Heritage site, is a part of La Mosquitia.

Río Plátano Biosphere Reserve biosphere reserve in Honduras

The Río Plátano Biosphere Reserve is 5,250 km² of preserved land in the La Mosquitia region on the Caribbean coast of Honduras. Most of the land runs along the Río Plátano. The reserve has a number of endangered species and some of Honduras largest sections of forest. It has been a World Heritage site and biosphere reserve since 1982. In 2011, UNESCO placed the reserve on the List of World Heritage in Danger.

Environmental issues in Colombia

Environmentally, Colombia is a mega-diverse country from its natural land terrain to its biological wildlife. Its biodiversity is a result of its geographical location and elevation. It is the fourth largest South American country and only country in South America to have coasts on the Pacific and Caribbean Sea. Colombia's terrain can be divided into six main natural zones: The Caribbean, the Pacific, The Orinoco region, The Amazonia region, the Andean region, and the Insular region. 52.2% of the environment is predominately the Andes, Amazon, and Pacific Basins, followed by the Orinoco basin 13.9%, the Andes and the Caribbean. The Tropical Andes, Choco, and the Caribbean are considered biodiversity hotspots which puts these areas at high risk of concentration of colonizing activities. Colombia hosts over 1800 species and at least one new species is detected every year. Decades of civil war and political unrest has impeded biological and environmental research in Colombia. The political unrest in Colombia catalyzes the alteration of land patterns through the cultivation of coca and opium crops, the redirection of extractive activities, and land abandonment in some areas.

Tropical Africa region of Africa

Although tropical Africa is mostly familiar to the West for its rainforests, this biogeographic realm of Africa is far more diverse. While the tropics are thought of as regions with warm to hot moist climates caused by latitude and the tropical rain belt, the geology of areas, particularly mountain chains, and geographical relation to continental and regional scale winds impact the overall parts of areas, also, making the tropics run from arid to humid in West Africa. The area has very serious overpopulation problems.

Deforestation in Brazil

Brazil once had the highest deforestation rate in the world and in 2005 still had the largest area of forest removed annually. Since 1970, over 700,000 square kilometres (270,000 sq mi) of the Amazon rainforest have been destroyed. In 2012, the Amazon was approximately 5,400,000 square kilometres (2,100,000 sq mi), which is only 87% of the Amazon's original size.

In the late nineteenth century, about 30% of Ethiopia was covered with forest. The clearing of land for agricultural use and the cutting of trees for fuel gradually changed the scene, and today forest areas have dwindled to less than 4% of Ethiopia's total land. The northern parts of the highlands are almost devoid of trees. However, about 45,000 square kilometres of dense forest exist in the southern and southwestern sections of the highlands. Some of these include coniferous forests, found at elevations above l,600 meters, but a majority of the forestland consists primarily of woodlands found in drier areas of the highlands and in the drier areas bordering the highlands.

Deforestation in Colombia

Colombia loses 2,000 km2 of forest annually to deforestation, according to the United Nations in 2003. Some suggest that this figure is as high as 3,000 km² due to illegal logging in the region. Deforestation results mainly from logging for timber, small-scale agricultural ranching, mining, development of energy resources such as hydro-electricity, infrastructure, cocaine production, and farming. Around one-third of the country's original forest has been removed as a result of deforestation.

The Amazon rainforest is the largest rainforest in the world, covering an area of 5,500,000 km2 (2,100,000 sq mi). It represents over half of the planet's rainforests, and comprises the largest and most biodiverse tract of tropical rainforest in the world. This region includes territory belonging to nine nations. The majority of the forest is contained within Brazil, with 60%, followed by Peru with 13%, Colombia with 10%, and with minor amounts in Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, Guyana, Suriname and France.

Deforestation in Costa Rica

Deforestation is a major threat to biodiversity and ecosystems in Costa Rica. The country has a rich biodiversity with some 12,000 species of plants, 1,239 species of butterflies, 838 species of birds, 440 species of reptiles and amphibians, and 232 species of mammals, which have been under threat from deforestation.

Deforestation by region

Rates and causes of deforestation vary from region to region around the world. In 2009, 2/3 of the world forests were in 10 top countries: 1) Russia, 2) Brazil, 3) Canada, 4) United States, 5) China, 6) Australia, 7) Congo, 8) Indonesia, 9) Peru and 10) India.

Deforestation in Indonesia

Deforestation in Indonesia involves the long-term loss of forests and foliage across much of the country; it has had massive environmental and social impacts. Indonesia is home to some of the most biologically diverse forests in the world and ranks third in number of species behind Brazil and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Deforestation in Madagascar

Deforestation in Madagascar is an ongoing environmental issue. Deforestation creates agricultural or pastoral land but can also result in desertification, water resource degradation, biodiversity erosion and habitat loss, and soil loss.

Deforestation in Borneo Deforestation

Deforestation in Borneo has taken place on an industrial scale since the 1960s. Borneo, the third largest island in the world, divided between Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei, was once covered by dense tropical and subtropical rainforests.

Illegal drug trade in Latin America

The illegal drug trade in Latin America concerns primarily the production and sale of cocaine and cannabis, including the export of these banned substances to the United States and Europe. The Coca cultivation is concentrated in the Andes of South America, particularly in Colombia, Peru and Bolivia; this is the world's only source region for coca.

An immense number of bird species live in the Amazon rainforest and river basin. Over 1,300 of these species are types of birds, which accounts for one-third of all bird species in the world. The diets of rainforest birds greatly differ between species, although, nuts, fruits and leaves are a common food for many birds in the Amazon. Birds migrate to the Amazon rainforest from the North or South. Amazon birds are threatened by deforestation since they primarily reside in the treetops. At its current rate of destruction, the rainforest will be gone in forty years. Human encroachment also negatively affects the habitat of many Amazonian birds. Agriculture and road clearings limits the habitable areas. Birds in the Amazon are distinguished by which layer of the rainforest they reside in. Each layer or community has unique plants, animals and ecosystems. Birds interact with other animals in their community through the food chain, competition, mating, altruism and symbiosis.

Deforestation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo Removal of Forests in the DRC

Deforestation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is a significant transnational issue. In the DRC, forests are cleared for agricultural purposes by utilizing slash and burn techniques.

Deforestation and global warming Relationship between deforestation and global warming

Deforestation is a primary contributor to climate change. Land use changes, especially in the form of deforestation, are the second largest anthropogenic source of atmospheric carbon dioxide emissions, after fossil fuel combustion. Greenhouse gases are emitted during combustion of forest biomass and decomposition of remaining plant material and soil carbon. Global models and national greenhouse gas inventories give similar results for deforestation emissions. Although deforestation and peatland degradation are only about 10% of global carbon dioxide emissions as of 2019, growing forests are also a carbon sink with additional potential to mitigate the effects of climate change. Some of the effects of climate change, such as more wildfires, may increase deforestation.


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