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Colombia Forest Figures

Forest Cover
Total forest area: 60,728,000 ha
% of land area: 58.5%

Primary forest cover: 53,062,000 ha
% of land area: 51.1%
% total forest area: 87.4%

Deforestation Rates, 2000-2005
Annual change in forest cover: -47,000 ha
Annual deforestation rate: -0.1%
Change in defor. rate since '90s: -0.5%
Total forest loss since 1990: -711,000 ha
Total forest loss since 1990:-1.2%

Primary or "Old-growth" forests
Annual loss of primary forests: -56200 ha
Annual deforestation rate: -0.1%
Change in deforestation rate since '90s: 11.0%
Primary forest loss since 1990: -281,000 ha
Primary forest loss since 1990:-1.5%

Forest Classification
Public: n/a
Private: n/a
Other: n/a
Production: 12.7%
Protection: 1%
Conservation: 14.1%
Social services: 0%
Multiple purpose: n/a
None or unknown: 72.2

Forest Area Breakdown
Total area: 60,728,000 ha
Primary: 53,062,000 ha
Modified natural: 7,337,000 ha
Semi-natural: n/a
Production plantation: 312,000 ha
Production plantation: 16,000 ha

Plantations, 2005: 328,000 ha
% of total forest cover: 0.5%
Annual change rate (00-05): 14,880,000 ha

Carbon storage
Above-ground biomass: 11,945 M t
Below-ground biomass: 4,180 M t

Area annually affected by
Fire: 23,000 ha
Insects: n/a
Diseases: n/a

Number of tree species in IUCN red list
Number of native tree species: 5,000
Critically endangered: 31
Endangered: 50
Vulnerable: 108

Wood removal 2005
Industrial roundwood: 3,246,000 m3 o.b.
Wood fuel: 7,029,000 m3 o.b.

Value of forest products, 2005
Industrial roundwood: n/a
Wood fuel: n/a
Non-wood forest products (NWFPs): n/a
Total Value: n/a

More forest statistics for Colombia

Despite its relatively small size, Colombia is the second most biologically diverse country on Earth, home to about 10 percent of the world's species. This biodiversity results from Colombia's varied ecosystems—from the rich tropical rainforest to the coastal cloud forests to the open savannas. More than 1,821 species of birds, 623 species of amphibians, 467 species of mammals, 518 species of reptiles, and 3,200 species of fish reside in Colombia. About 18 percent of these are endemic to the country. Colombia has a mind-boggling 51,220 species of plants, of which nearly 30 percent are endemic. While on paper nearly 10 percent of Colombia is under some form of protection, its rich biodiversity is increasingly threatened.

Each year Colombia loses nearly 200,000 hectares of natural forest, according to figures released by the United Nations in 2003—though the true figure may be higher since an estimated 100,000 hectares of native forest are illegally cleared every year. The vast majority of this loss is primary forest, which covers more than 80 percent of the country. Deforestation in Colombia results primarily from small-scale agricultural activities, logging, mining, energy development, infrastructure construction, large-scale agriculture, and the cocaine trade. Animal collection and pollution are also environmental issues in the country.

Colombia's Pacific Coast rainforests are rapidly disappearing due to gold mining and palm-oil plantations. By one estimate, in the mid-1990s, industrial gold mining alone cleared 80,000 hectares of forest per year, while contaminating local rivers with mercury and siltation. Coca production is also expanding in this region (see below)

The coca trade

In the highlands, the ongoing battle over coca cultivation has had a significant impact on forest cover. Colombia is a leading producer of coca, the plant that provides the main ingredient of cocaine. Much of Colombia's coca is grown by poor farmers because it generates more income than any other crop. Typically farmers convert the plant into coca paste and sell it to groups—including paramilitaries and Colombian rebels—who refine it into cocaine and export it to markets like the United States, which is the world's largest consumer of the narcotic.

Drug eradication efforts have focused on aerial fumigation programs where herbicides (a mixture that includes Monsanto Corporation's Roundup and Cosmo-Flux 411F) are dropped by crop-duster planes on suspect vegetation. Since the concoction is a non-selective herbicide, surrounding vegetation—including subsistence crops and native plants—are killed as well. Local reports suggest that farmers often replant coca seedlings soon after spraying, making the whole exercise somewhat futile.

Aerial spraying may also be causing coca cultivation to shift to new regions. In March 2005, the Associated Press reported that large-scale coca production was moving into the extensive rainforests of the Choc— state, a biodiversity hotspot in northwest Colombia. Poor farmers are clearing forest to plant coca seedlings while hunting local wildlife for food.

The ecological impacts of coca production are significant as well. Each acre requires clearing of roughly four acres of forest while the dumping of chemicals used to process coca leaves (including kerosene, sulfuric acid, acetone, and carbide) pollutes local waterways.

Additionally, critics of U.S. efforts in Colombia note that the eradication program has done little to slow the supply of cocaine that enters the United States. Despite increased worldwide demand, prices of cocaine have been steadily dropping over the years on American streets, indicating that availability of the drug has not diminished.

A 2005 report from the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy shows that a massive U.S.-backed aerial spraying offensive last year failed to reduce the area of coca under cultivation in Colombia. Figures show that 281,694 acres of coca remained in Colombia at the end of 2004, an increase from the 281,323 acres remaining after 2003's campaign. Despite billions of dollars in eradication spending, the amount of land under cultivation for coca has more than doubled since the mid-1990s: in 1996 there were 69,100 hectares of the crop, while in 1995, 51,400 hectares of coca were growing.

Wildlife trafficking

Drugs are not the only thing trafficked from the forests of Colombia. Endangered wildlife—especially rare birds and reptiles—are smuggled to markets in the United States and Europe. The government estimates that in 1997 more than seven million animals worth $40 million were illegally exported from Colombia.

Logs, too, are an illicit trade in the country—illegal logging is widespread. Forestry enforcement is a low priority given the violence and disarray in much of Colombia.


Colombia has oil and gas deposits but ongoing instability has somewhat limited potential development. Attacks on oil pipelines and installations by guerrillas in Eastern Colombia have resulted in oil spills and pollution.

When peace returns to Colombia, the country could be well-served to emphasis its biological diversity as a draw for eco-tourists; however, it seems likely that stability will bring further exploitation of the country's forest resources.

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Unless otherwise specified, this article was written by Rhett A. Butler [Bibliographic citation for this page]

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Last updated: 6 Feb 2006