ANAM Steps Up to the Deforestation Challenge

Logging of an espave tree in the Darien province

Logging of an espave tree in the Darien province

We were heartened to recently read that under the new leader of the Ministry of Environment (ANAM), there will be an intensive new effort to control illegal logging in the Darien this dry season. The plan was announced last week.

During the last years of the Martinelli (previous) administration, there were a significant number of conflicts, and some deaths, in the Darien/East Panama region related to logging. ANAM as an institution saw its minimal resources cut further, which made it virtually impossible for them to regulate the logging in the region.

With the new plan, the ANAM regional team is being reinforced with 30 staffers from other regions. They will be stationed at the various checkpoints in the eastern side of Panama, helping to verify that wood leaving the region is legal and certified to be transported. The checkpoints will run 24-hours.

According to ANAM, they did significant public outreach to the logging community to consult with them about the new plan, while also educating them about the actual regulations. While the status quo was probably preferable to many of the loggers, this new enforcement will hopefully crimp the illegal cutting and extraction of timber in Darien, a province considered a biodiversity hotspot by Conservation International.

We spoke with the director of ANAM for the region and he mentioned that probably more than 50% of the timber harvested in years past was done illegally. That was not only bad for the forests in Darien, but bad for ANAM itself because of the lost revenues. Their goal now is to reduce the amount of illegal logging to 25% of the timber harvested. We wish them luck.

A Rosier Year for Rosewood?

Photo of Cocobolo (rosewood) logs on their way to be milled into timber.

Photo of Cocobolo (rosewood) logs on their way to be milled into timber.

Cocobolo (rosewood) logs on their way to be milled into timberLast year, we wrote a couple of blog posts about the surge in rosewood (cocobolo) logging that has gripped Panama, and the resulting problems. It unfortunately led to conflict that left two people dead, and finally made the Panamanian government take measures to control the violence.

With the dry season in February in Panama comes increased logging thanks to easier access to primary forests. Will the Panamanian government be proactive to stop the loss of lives and primary forests that will inevitably occur if the rosewood fever continues?

We hope so. Belize set an example last month by torching and donating illegally harvested rosewood. In the Darien, where much of the cocobolo harvesting takes place, there are Ministry of Environment and police checkpoints on all of the roads leading to Panama City, so controlling the movement of illegally harvested wood shouldn’t be difficult in theory. However, with the Ministry of Environment’s budget being cut, there are not sufficient “boots on the ground” to do the necessary field inspections.

One way the Panamanian government could address the problem is by accelerating the land titling of Indigenous territories. This would give Indigenous communities more legal clout to expel illegal loggers. Last year, it titled two Wounaan communities, the first Indigenous communities since 2000 to receive titles. It’s a good start, but there are still 39 communities left.

From an industry perspective, we also hope that more forestry companies will recognize both the environmental and financial benefits of growing this valuable tropical timber.

Illegal Rosewood Logging Continues

Planting Empowerment employee demonstrating cocobolo heartwood from a tree in PanamaPlanting Empowerment employee demonstrating cocobolo heartwood from a tree in Panama

Earlier this year, we wrote about the tragic death of an Indigenous leader who was killed trying to stop illegal cocobolo (rosewood) harvesting in Panama. Rosewood is one of the world’s most sought-after tropical hardwoods, and loggers have been encroaching on indigenous lands to access the dwindling stocks.

Unfortunately, the illegal harvesting of rosewood is not slowing down, but actually increasing throughout the world according to a report issued by the non-profit organization Environmental Investigation Agency.

Their report was covered by stories both in the New York Times and the Huffington Post. While there is little logging happening in Panama at the moment because it is the rainy season, logging will resume around February when the roads start to dry out. Will the Panamanian government effectively deal with illegal cocobolo harvesting in 2013? Doubtful after the Ministry of Environment’s budget was cut by 25% year-over-year.

The illegal harvesting of cocobolo in Panama hasn’t reached the point of the loggers battling authorities with high powered weapons, but they’ve definitely robbed trees and even dug dug up the roots of cocobolo trees. The easily accessed trees have already been poached, but there are still stocks remaining in primary forest.

Planting Empowerment is trying to do our small part by producing rosewood in our sustainable forestry projects. Hopefully our sustainably produced supply will eventually ease some of the pressure on those remaining trees left in the primary forest.

Growing Demand for Cocobolo Wood

A Cocobolo tree on the side of the Inter-American Highway in Darien, PanamaA Cocobolo tree on the side of the Inter-American Highway in Darien, PanamaCocobolo, (Dalbergia retusa) or Rosewood as it is commonly known, is one of the world’s most desired tropical hardwoods. Demand for the timber has reached record levels as of late, particularly in Asia, where it is so valuable that it’s sold in weight instead of the normal board feet measurement. This increasing demand is fueling illegal logging of virgin stands of Cocobolo in Central America, and even as far away as Madagascar.

Logging of Cocobolo has reached a feverish pitch in Panama, where loggers are encroaching illegally onto Indigenous Peoples’ land to extract the wood. As with most logging, the “poachers” are not discriminate when they harvest the Rosewood - they destroy significant amounts of forest to reach the one tree they want to harvest. The wood is culturally important to the indigenous, who use it medicinally and to create artisanry.

Read More

Land Conflicts and Indigenous Lands

Photo of Leaders of Arimae point out deforestation in the community's reservationLeaders of Arimae point out deforestation in the community's reservationThe Panamanian newspaper La Prensa recently ran an article about the Embera/Wounaan closing the Pan-American highway in the Darien. The block was a reaction to the Panamananian government’s failure to evict squatters from the reservation of our indigenous partner community Arimae.
Read More