Overview - Causes
Affected Areas: South America
Throughout South America, large-scale
resettlement and agricultural and resource development projects claimed much of the
645,000 square kilometers of forest lost in this region between 1980 and 1990 -- the
greatest amount of forest loss in the world during these years. Brazil alone lost close to
370,000 square kilometers -- more than a fifth of all tropical forest lost worldwide
during that time.
Still, South America maintains vast areas of intact tropical and temperate forest. The
Northern Amazon Basin and the Guyana Shield
house the largest tropical frontier forests anywhere.
On the rim of the Amazon Basin, forests of the Northern Andes (Peru, Ecuador, and
Colombia) rank among Earth's biologically richest. Chile and Argentina share the largest
single block of remaining temperate frontier forest in the world.
Logging is the main threat to South America's frontier forests, endangering about 70
percent of all frontiers classified under medium or high threat. Energy exploration,
mining, and new roads are encroaching on about half the region's threatened frontiers.
Clearing for agriculture jeopardizes almost a third of all threatened frontier forests.
In recent decades, national development policies have fueled much of the region's
deforestation. During the 1960s and 1970s, the Brazilian government's
"modernization" policy prompted major forest clearing in the Amazon. The
government had hoped to solve land-tenure problems in other regions by establishing
colonies of small-holder farmers in the forests, to integrate the region into the rest of
the country with a massive road network, earn revenues by developing natural resources and
strengthen Brazil's borders by populating its frontier. Government policies triggered both
planned and spontaneous immigration of landless peasants from throughout the country, and
resulted in large-scale clearing of the forest by land speculators hoping to profit from
subsidies provided to cattle ranchers.
In Bolivia, Guyana, and Suriname, a drive to exploit natural resources over the past
decade -- partly to respond to economic crises -- has accelerated the loss of frontier
forests. Only Venezuela and Colombia have strongly restricted logging, mining, and other
extractive activities, and Venezuela may soon buckle under severe economic pressure to
exploit its rich natural resources. Chile's temperate frontier forests are increasingly
threatened, primarily by logging to provide wood chips (for export mainly to Japan) and
fuelwood. While Eucalyptus and pine plantations provide much of the timber needed for
export and industry, precious native forests are cleared to make way for new plantations.
Main Areas Threatened:
Forest type: Tropical
Geographic location: Coastal Brazil
Threats: Logging, agricultural clearing, excessive vegetation removal,
At Risk: Only 5 percent of the original Atlantic Rainforest is left, and
just a fraction of this vestige can be considered frontier. The Atlantic Rainforest is
particularly rich in biodiversity: 70 percent of its plants and most of its 20 primate
species are found nowhere else in the world, and the wild relatives of many important food
crops (including pineapple, cassava, sweet potato, and papaya) are found there.
Forest type: Tropical
Geographic location: Southeastern Venezuela
Threats: Logging, mining (gold and diamonds), and oil exploration.
At Risk: Venezuela's Bolívar State is a part of the Guyana Shield-Amazon
Basin complex, the largest tropical frontier forest. Rich in species, the area is home to
the Pemón and several other indigenous groups.
A child wearing a tribal
costume in a village festival.
Tribesmen with blowguns
Some Indians put spikes
under their chins