QUITO – Ecuador has one of the highest deforestation rates in Latin America, with an annual loss of between 60,000 and 200,000 hectares (148,000 and 495,000 acres) of native woodland, the result of illegal cutting, crop expansion and pressure from oil and mining companies, experts said.
The Andean country has 9.6 million hectares (24 million acres) of virgin forest, according to the government, and is one of the countries in the region with the greatest variety of trees, due to wide climatic differences within its territory.
The ecosystems go from high Andean plateaus to the Amazon rain forest where Yasuni Park is located and which scientists consider one of the areas with the greatest biodiversity in the world.
It is still unclear how fast these riches are being lost.
A report this year by the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, or FAO, estimates that the annual loss of woodland mass amounts to almost 200,000 hectares (495,000 acres) based on satellite data from the Center for Integrated Survey of Natural Resources by Remote Sensing, or CLIRSEN, from the year 2000.
According to the FAO, Ecuador suffers a 1.8 percent annual loss of virgin forest, the highest rate in Latin America, while the region overall showed an annual loss of 0.4 percent, while worldwide it was 0.1 percent.
The Ecuadorian government, however, believes that the loss is much smaller than the FAO does, estimating it at about 62,000 hectares (153,000 acres) per year.
“We have a lack of information that will certainly make us raise that estimate, perhaps to 70,000 hectares (173,000 acres), but it’s not as much as was thought 10 years ago,” said Max Lascano, manager of the Woodland Partner program of the Environment Ministry.
For Lascano, “the main threat is from changes in land use,” followed by cattle grazing and the oil and mining industries.