A group of researchers focused on sustainable practices, geography and earth sciences found something unexpected during their work in Central America: the effects of drug trafficking are leaving deep scars on a sensitive landscape.
They call the phenomenon "narco-deforestation," and the result is every bit as dark as it sounds.
"Not only are societies being ripped apart, but forests are being ripped apart," said Erik Nielsen, assistant professor in the School of Earth Sciences and Environmental Sustainability at Northern Arizona University.
As Nielsen and his colleagues point out in a policy paper published in Science, drug traffickers are slashing down forests, often within protected areas, to carve clandestine landing strips and roads, and to establish cattle ranches through which drug money can be laundered.
The researchers hope the United States and other countries in the region will "rethink drug policy with a bright light on the unintended consequences on conservation," Nielsen said. As they state in the paper, drug policy should be seen as conservation policy.
Nielsen said these conclusions resulted from numerous individual lines of inquiry that converged "serendipitously" when he and his colleagues began noticing the same disturbing trend at multiple sites in Guatemala and Honduras. Nielsen and his team were working to understand the effects of forest carbon offset programs on community-based conservation and the feasibility of reducing deforestation at the local level.
"Around 2007, we started to see this pretty amazing uptick in deforestation in communities where I've been doing research for a long time," Nielsen said. "We started asking, 'What's going on here?' The presence of narco-traffickers was the response."
Nielsen explained that the "cat-and-mouse" game of interdiction and evasion has been pushing traffickers into more remote areas. At a higher policy level, as traf
|Contact: Eric Dieterle|
Northern Arizona University