LCI researchers find silent victim in drug wars

Forests in Central America are diminishing at alarming rates for reasons you might never suspect.

Since the mid-2000s, crackdown on drug smuggling, officials in Mexico and the Caribbean have seen a rise in drug trafficking—specifically cocaine—in remote parts of Central America, and with it increasing deforestation. A paper recently published by LCI Adjunct faculty member Steve Sesnie and collaborators researchers describes a phenomenon called narco-deforestation, a problem every bit as troubling as it sounds. (Find the paper here.)

“The problem we focused on is not the deforestation related to the cultivation of the coca plant—which is processed into cocaine—but instead from the illicit trafficking profits used to purchase enormous amounts of land to launder their illegal profits,” said co-author Erik Nielsen, associate professor with Northern Arizona University’s School of Earth Sciences and Environmental Sustainability. “By estimating the degree to which narcotics trafficking may contribute to forest loss and comparing annual anomalous forest loss with the number and volumes of cocaine shipments and our ethnographic knowledge of the landscapes, in most cases, we were able to validate this correlation.”

The paper, published in the May issue of the journal Environment Research Letters, details the analysis that established the relationship between anomalous forest loss and the timing of increased drug trafficking. Ophelia Wang, formerly a post-doc with LCI, was a co-author, along with personnel from Arizona State, Ohio State and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, where Sesnie is currently employed.

NAU News Article, Guardian Article, Publisher Press Release,

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