The northern part of Honduras along the Caribbean coastline gets attention for its high rate of primary forest with varied plant and wildlife. Honduras, as the second largest country in Central America, has over two thousand indigenous people who still lead a traditional way of life in the mountainous landscape (CIA 2009). In 1980, the Hondurans government setup 525 thousand square km area of tropical forest in this area to be included in the Rio Platano Biosphere Reserve (RPBR) located on the watershed of the Rio Platano. This RPBR is supported by both the Honduran government and several international organizations, including the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the World Wild Fund (WWF). The current dilemma for the indigenous populations revolves around the balance between forest resources, protection, and their tribal rights to the land (Morello 1998).
Deforestation in Honduras
Between 1990 and 2005, Honduras has experienced a dramatic decline of 37 percent in its forest cover, which is the highest in Central America. Honduras has an annual forest change rate of -156 thousand square km, or -3.1 percent, which is also the highest in Caribbean Area (FAO 2009).
Being one of the largest and most diverse humid tropical forests in Central America, RPBR has more than two thousand species of endangered plants, with perhaps some yet to be discovered (UNESCO World Heritage Centre 2009). The main ecotypes in there are “estuarine and marine, mangrove swamps, coastal savanna, broadleaf gallery forest, humid subtropical forest (10-15 percent of the area), very humid tropical forest (~80 percent of the area) and on the ridge tops, elfin forest” (Arce 2009).
According to the current logging rate, the endangered mahogany in Honduras may go totally extinct within 10 to 15 years (Lobe 2005).
Agricultural demand is one of the major drivers of deforestation in Honduras like other countries in Central America (Butler 2006). Every spring farmers use fire to clear forest and turn the land into agricultural use because this scrubbing of vegetation creates land for planting as well as releases enough nutrients to support crop growth (Butler 2006).
The expansion of coffee production because of ‘the Coffee Crisis’ encouraged by government policy has triggered deforestation in both private and communal forests in Honduras (Tucker 2008).
The logging is an obstacle to the sustainable management in Honduras’s regional natural forests for wood production. According to one report, there is an “Illegal Logging Crisis” in Honduras since the government fails to provide adequate funds to enforce the logging laws, and this results in losing up to 18 million dollars annually in forest-based revenue. In effect, “Britain and Spain import Honduran timber worth 100 thousand and 1.3 million dollars, respectively, but the real sums are 1.6 million and 2.6 million dollars - another illustrative case of illegal logging and sales” (FAO 2009).
Illegal operations derived from exports of illegal wood result in deforestation and “increased poverty, fuel corruption and devastate poor communities” (UNESCO). As former president of the Center for International Policy (CIP), Ambassador Robert White points out that “as much as 80 percent of the mahogany from Honduras is illegally cut” (Lobe 2005).
Biodiversity loss is another important impact result from deforestation. Logging reduces forest cover especially on steep slopes which leads to high erosion rates on the surface soils. Consequently, large areas of intact forest are being “isolated and fragmented” (Redo, Bass, and Millington 2009).
The ongoing projects in Honduras for forest certification may largely promote sustainable management of the forests (Pfeffer et al. 2005). By closing the full cycle of legislation logging, with the support from the government, there will be no possibility for wood “laundering” (Ohnesorge, Patry, and Salas 2007, 12).
There would be capacity building within COHDEFOR (Honduras' government forestry agency) and the regional branch located in the RPBR, as well as other conservations, which would provide the opportunity for learning (Ohnesorge, Patry, and Salas 2007, 12).For example, “if COHDERFOR had not interfered in La Campa’s common property forests, the people might never have realized that forest could be utterly destroyed” (Tucker 2008).
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FAO. 2009. State of the World's Forests 2009. Rome: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nation.
Lobe, J. 2005. HONDURAS: Greasing Palms to Plunder Forests. http://www.ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=30876 (last accessed 18 October 2009).
Morello, D. 1998. HONDURAS: The Mosquitia of Honduras: Key Trade and Environment Issues, by TED Case Studies, Volume 8, Number 1, 8 (1).
Ohnesorge, B., M. Patry, and A. Salas. 2007. State of Conservation of the Rio Platano Biosphere Reserve and World Heritage Site. In Mission Report to UNESCO. Paris: United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage, World Heritage Committee.
Pfeffer, M. J., J. W. Schlelhas, S. D. DeGloria, and J. Gomez. 2005. Population, conservation, and land use change in Honduras. Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment 110 (1-2):14-28.
Redo, D., J. O. J. Bass, and A. C. Millington. 2009. Forest dynamics and the importance of place in western Honduras. Applied Geography 29 (1):91-110.
Tucker, C. M. 2008. Changing Forests: Collective Action, Common Property, and Coffee in Honduras. Netherlands: Springer.
UNESCO World Heritage Centre. 2009. http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/196/ (last accessed 18 October 2009)