- Once covering an expanse of more than 2,140 square kilometers (826 square miles) of the Colombian Amazon Rainforest, Tinigua National Natural Park has lost 29% of its forests over the past 20 years; the majority of this loss has occurred since 2018.
- Satellite data and monitoring suggest forest loss has kept a quick pace in 2022.
- Authorities say illegal cattle ranching, coca growing and land-grabbing are driving deforestation in the park, much of it reportedly done at the hands of armed groups affiliated with FARC dissident factions.
- Local communities have also reportedly been threatened by these groups.
Once covering an expanse of more than 2,140 square kilometers (826 square miles) of the Colombian Amazon Rainforest, Tinigua National Natural Park has lost 29% of its forests over the past 20 years. Much of this loss has occurred only since 2018, when the park lost nearly 6% of its tree cover in a single year.
Deforestation in Tinigua shows no sign of stopping, with 2022 marking the fifth consecutive year in which the park has topped the list of Colombian protected areas most severely affected by forest loss. Satellite data and imagery from Global Forest Watch show ever-growing clearings eating away at the increasingly fragmented rainforest, the bulk happening during the first half of the year.
“In the monitoring we did, around 8,000 hectares [19,770 acres] of land were deforested between 2021 and 2022,” said Luz Alejandra Gómez, coordinator of the Geographic Information Systems team at the Foundation of Conservation and Sustainable Development (FCDS). “This puts the integrity of the protected area at risk.”
Gómez added that FCDS found that “land-grabbing and land appropriation” are behind much of Tinigua’s forest loss.
“Vast expanses of forest have been lost in order to transform it into pasture, introduce cattle ranching, occupy the land or build roads,” Gómez said. “This is what we have seen happening inside the protected area.”
According to a recent report produced by FCDS, deforestation in Tinigua was driven by intensive livestock farming and the illegal occupation and appropriation of land. The report’s authors wrote that new clearings along the banks of the Caño Perdido and the Guayabero rivers were affecting their flows and water qualities.
The loss of Colombia’s protected forest reaches far beyond Tinigua. In their report, FCDS detailed similar deforestation trends in other national natural parks in the Colombian Amazon, including Serranía de la Macarena, Serranía de Chiribiquete, Cordillera de los Picachos and La Paya, as well as Nukak National Nature Reserve. Outside of protected areas, FCDS found that 113,572 hectares (280,643 acres) were deforested in the surrounding departments of Guaviare, Meta, Caquetá and Putumayo between April 2021 and March 2022, amounting to a 1% loss in forest cover in less than a year. FCDS found particularly high levels of deforestation in the municipality of La Macarena, which lies south of Tinigua in the department of Meta.
Tinigua is one of Colombia’s most important biogeographic and ecological corridors, connecting the Andean region of the country with the Amazon and Orinoquía regions, and harboring a rich diversity of plant and animal species.
But in addition to its wealth of forests and wildlife, the region is also home to more than 100,000 head of cattle that graze some 18,350 hectares (45,344 acres) of farmland, according to Colombia’s national parks agency.
Edgar Eduardo Lozano, director of Tinigua National Natural Park, told Mongabay Latam in an interview that the park’s high rate of deforestation threatened to destabilize its ecological integrity. He was also concerned about impacts on its water sources.
“Sedimentation is happening in the rivers, creating much wider and shallower watercourses,” Lozano said. “The riverbanks are eroding, and the health of water resources are being affected because the river is flowing faster [and] the water supply has changed.”
Lozano said battling deforestation in Tinigua was complicated by the presence of armed groups in the park, including factions of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrilla army. He said this situation has effectively halted management activities in Tinigua.
“The risky situation for the public has limited intervention in the protected area, since after 2016 peace agreement [between FARC and the Colombian state], [and] in 2018, 2019, and 2020, there have been threatening pamphlets, incidences of insecurity and violence in the territory, where national parks officials are considered ‘military targets’,” Lozano said. “Panic has set in, communication with some leaders has been suspended, and community participation in all of the protected area’s management processes has been significantly reduced.”
Local communities have also been threatened by armed groups, according to Gómez.
“We have public risk limitations due to [the presence of] armed groups,” Gómez said. “Land-grabbing is also related to the issue of armed struggle, since it is those involved in the fighting who are occupying and appropriating these lands, not only to cultivate [illegal] coca crops [from which cocaine is produced] but also for economic activities that are actually legal, such as cattle ranching, but which have become illegal because they are taking place inside a protected area.”
According to Colombia’s national parks agency, 26 agreements and action plans are in the works that aim to increase protection of Tinigua and other protected areas with the support of international organizations and agencies such as the World Wide Fund for Nature, KfW Bankengruppe and the European Union.
Gómez also pointed to the 2021 formation of CONPES 4050, a program designed to strengthen governance within Colombia’s National System of Protected Areas (SINAP) by facilitating greater participation of local communities, authorities and institutions.
“At this point, the local authorities, councils, departments must make a commitment to defend the territory, because it is not currently happening,” Lozano said. “Tinigua does not have a decision-making committee for socio-environmental conflicts in which high-level bodies such as Congress, the presidency and others participate. I believe that this is something that President [Gustavo] Petro is trying to propose.”
This is a translated and adapted version of a story that was first reported by Mongabay’s Latam team and published here on our Latam site on September 27, 2022.
Banner image: Clearings in Tinigua National Natural Park. Image courtesy of the FCDS.
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