War can have devastating effects on nature, but what happens in times of peace? In a first-of-a-kind study published in Nature Ecology & Evolution, scientists provide evidence that the Colombian peace process coincided with a spike of fires and deforestation in protected areas.
According to co-author Liliana Dávalos, a professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolution in the College of Arts and Sciences at Stony Brook University, the findings are a wake-up call to ecologists and officials in countries affected by war and guerrilla warfare because it will take more than achieving peace to protect forests.
Using satellite imagery and models, Professor Dávalos and co-authors Dolors Armenteras and Laura Schneider found a six-fold increase in fires in protected areas across biodiversity hotspots in Colombia, and an increase of 52 percent in the probability of deforestation from 2017 to 2018 within national parks formerly controlled by guerrillas. The reasons for the increase in fires and deforestation are not clear, although deliberate clearing to establish pastures and similar forms of agriculture is a likely explanation.
Professor Dávalos emphasizes that the findings suggest it is not enough to declare an area protected in countries rich with forests and natural resources. Urgent shifts by government must include real-time forest monitoring, expanding programs to pay for ecosystem services, and engaging local communities (including former combatants) in conservation.
The research is supported in part by the National Science Foundation and NASA.