Drivers of Colombia’s peacetime deforestation weave a complex web

Drivers of Colombia’s peacetime deforestation weave a complex web

When the Colombian government struck its historic peace accord with the paramilitary group FARC in 2016, heralding an end to one of the world’s longest-running wars, scientists and journalists were already contemplating the potential repercussions for Colombia’s wild places.

For many, peace brought hope that environmental protection would emerge phoenix-like from the ravages of conflict. Yet others feared peace might have a sting in its tail. What if illegal actors, renegade factions, powerful economic interests — or simply smallholders searching for a better life — swooped into the post-war vacuum left by the rebels’ exit?

“Peace brought a mixture of feelings from an environmental perspective,” says Ediscon Para, an orchid conservationist from Cali, Colombia. “We had the chance to reach out to areas that had not been inventoried, but we also worried about what changing territorial control would be mean for deforestation.”

In the intervening post-conflict years, both prophecies have panned out. Many protected areas have burned, and deforestation in parts of Colombia has accelerated as the FARC’s disbandment opened up previously forested areas to often illegal economic development. This, even as Colombian scientists continue to tally new species in far-flung, formerly guerrilla-dominated regions.

Indeed, the fallout of wartime — and now peace — on Colombia’s diverse ecosystems has been far from straightforward, according to a paper recently published in the journal Frontiers in Environmental Science.

Lead Image: A common squirrel monkey in Colombian Amazon. Image by Rhett A. Butler/Mongabay.

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