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Illicit Crops and Bird Conservation Priorities in Colombia

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Over the last 5 years the amount of land in Colombia planted in illicit crops, such as coca and poppy, has grown an average of 21% per year and may account for half the total area deforested in 1998. I conducted a geographic analysis of the distribution of illicit crops relative to standing forests and areas of conservation priority for birds. Municipalities where illicit crops have been detected were overlaid on a forest-cover map of Colombia and two types of conservation priorities for birds were plotted: distributions of threatened species and minimum-area sets for conservation of all species. The sites of the highest conservation priority affected by illicit crops were in the southern Andes, the northern West Andes and adjacent Darién lowlands, the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, Serranía del Perijá, and the Serranía de San Lucas. The largest forested areas threatened by illicit crops were in Amazonia and the Amazonian foothills of the East Andes, sites of low conservation priority. Given current trends in the expansion of illicit crops and the narrow endemicity of some bird species, the conversion of forests for illicit-crop cultivation may result in the extirpation of several bird species from affected regions. To impede this, those involved in illicit-crop eradication and alternative development should give high priority to the protection of existing forest reserves and parks from the planting of illicit crops. Such efforts should also extend to areas proposed for conservation based on the diversity of threatened and endemic birds that are currently unprotected. The conservation of threatened and endemic birds in Colombian forests may hinge on successfully curbing incentives for deforestation, including the international trade in illicit drugs.
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Conservation Biology, Pages 1086–1096
Volume 16, No. 4, August 2002
Illicit Crops and Bird Conservation Priorities
in Colombia
MARIA D. ÁLVAREZ
Columbia University MC 5557, 2960 Broadway, New York, NY 10027–5557, U.S.A.,
email mda2001@columbia.edu
Abstract:
Over the last 5 years the amount of land in Colombia planted in illicit crops, such as coca and
poppy, has grown an average of 21% per year and may account for half the total area deforested in 1998. I
conducted a geographic analysis of the distribution of illicit crops relative to standing forests and areas of
conservation priority for birds. Municipalities where illicit crops have been detected were overlaid on a forest-
cover map of Colombia and two types of conservation priorities for birds were plotted: distributions of threat-
ened species and minimum-area sets for conservation of all species. The sites of the highest conservation
priority affected by illicit crops were in the southern Andes, the northern West Andes and adjacent Darién
lowlands, the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, Serranía del Perijá, and the Serranía de San Lucas. The largest
forested areas threatened by illicit crops were in Amazonia and the Amazonian foothills of the East Andes,
sites of low conservation priority. Given current trends in the expansion of illicit crops and the narrow ende-
micity of some bird species, the conversion of forests for illicit-crop cultivation may result in the extirpation of
several bird species from affected regions. To impede this, those involved in illicit-crop eradication and alter-
native development should give high priority to the protection of existing forest reserves and parks from the
planting of illicit crops. Such efforts should also extend to areas proposed for conservation based on the diver-
sity of threatened and endemic birds that are currently unprotected. The conservation of threatened and en-
demic birds in Colombian forests may hinge on successfully curbing incentives for deforestation, including
the international trade in illicit drugs.
Cultivos Ilícitos y Prioridades de Conservación de Aves en Colombia
Resumen:
En Colombia la tierra sembrada con cultivos ilícitos, como la coca y la amapola, ha crecido un
21% anual en los últimos 5 años y podría dar cuenta de la mitad del área deforestada en 1998. Realicé un
análisis geográfico de la distribución de cultivos ilícitos en relación a bosques restantes y áreas de prioridad
para la conservación de aves. Los municipios donde los cultivos ilícitos fueron detectados han sido sobrepues-
tos en un mapa de cobertura forestal de Colombia, sumados a dos tipos de prioridades de conservación de
aves: las distribuciones de aves amenazadas y los conjuntos de áreas mínimas para la conservación de todas
las especies. Los sitios de más alta prioridad para la conservación afectados por cultivos ilícitos estuvieron en
el sur de los Andes, la parte norte de la Cordillera Occidental y las tierras bajas adyacentes al Darién, la Si-
erra Nevada de Santa Marta, la Serranía del Perijá y la Serranía de San Lucas. Los bosques de mayor área
amenazada por cultivos ilícitos se encuentran en la Amazonia y en el piedemonte amazónico de la Cordil-
lera Oriental, sitios con baja prioridad de conservación. Dadas las tendencias actuales de expansión de estos
cultivos y el alto endemismo de algunas especies de aves, la conversión de bosques a cultivos ilícitos podría
provocar varias extinciones locales. Para impedir esto, los involucrados en la erradicación de cultivos ilícitos
y programas de desarrollo alternativo deberán dar alta prioridad a la protección de reservas forestales y
parques contra la siembra de cultivos ilícitos. Estos esfuerzos también deberán extenderse a a las áreas de
conservación propuestas con base en la diversidad de aves amenazadas y endémicas que actualmente no
Paper submitted December 13, 2000; revised manuscript accepted September 5, 2001.
Conservation Biology
Volume 16, No. 4, August 2002
Álvarez Illicit Crops and Bird Conservation in Colombia
1087
Introduction
Colombia currently harbors almost 49,000,000 ha of
tropical lowland, montane, and dry forests (Etter 1998),
almost 80% of which is nominally protected in natural
parks and indigenous and Afro-Colombian forest re-
serves (Rodríguez & Ponce 1999). These remaining for-
ests are priorities for conservation because they are the
last repositories of a highly diverse and endemic biota
(McNeely et al. 1990; Stattersfield et al. 1998; Myers et
al. 2000). Governmental and nongovernmental conser-
vation efforts are limited, however, by de facto adminis-
tration of many territories by guerrillas and paramilitar-
ies. Of the remaining forests, 33% are in municipalities
with medium to high activity by armed groups, and 20%
of them are in municipalities where both guerrillas and
paramilitaries are present. The obstacles to conservation
arising from the belligerence of armed groups have been
discussed by Álvarez (2002). In this paper, I focus on the
expansion of illicit cash crops, most of which is taking
place in forested areas where armed groups wield their
power.
In 1998, Colombian authorities reported that approxi-
mately 101,800 ha was planted in coca (
Erythroxylum
novogranatense
and
E. coca
), from which cocaine is de-
rived, and 7466 ha was planted in opium poppy (
Pa-
paver somniferum
), from which heroin is extracted
(United Nations Office for Drug Control and Crime Pre-
vention [UN-ODCCP] 1999). An estimated 85% of poppy
cultivation takes place in newly deforested montane ar-
eas (Cavelier & Etter 1995). Similarly, coca growers in
Peru and Bolivia prefer newly deforested lands on An-
dean slopes and Amazonian lowlands (Dourojeanni
1992). Deforestation caused by illicit cultivation is not
limited to the area planted with illicit crops. Abandoned
fields, forest cleared for future illicit crops and/or subsis-
tence crops, and airstrips amplify deforestation by a fac-
tor estimated at 2.5–3 times the area of the illicit crop
alone (Cavelier & Etter 1995). So far, government-spon-
sored eradication has been futile: total illicit crop culti-
vation has multiplied 4.5 times since 1986, despite an
80-fold increase in fumigation with herbicides over the
same period (UN-ODCCP 1999).
It would then be safe to assume that at least 60% (as
opposed to 85%) of illicit crops are grown in newly de-
forested land, that growers clear at least twice the sur-
face of cultivation, and that area under illicit crops is not
cumulative thanks to eradication (UN-ODCCP 1999). If
these assumptions are correct, then 131,119 ha of forest
would have been cleared for illicit crops and activities
associated with them in 1998. Given that 262,000 ha are
deforested in Colombia annually (Food and Agriculture
Organization 1997), then illicit crops would account for
at least 50% of all deforestation. Thus, the expansion of
illicit crops is a significant cause of deforestation in Co-
lombia and an enormous threat to forest-dependent
biota even in protected areas.
My study is the first geographic analysis of the distri-
bution of illicit crop cultivation in Colombia relative to
standing forests and areas of conservation priority for
birds. This is the only taxonomic group for which de-
tailed geographic information for conservation priorities
within Colombia is available (e.g., Wege & Long 1995;
Stattersfield et al. 1998; Brooks et al. 1999). I sought to
illustrate how fragmentation from illicit crops threatens
Colombian forests and forest-dependent avian fauna. My
ultimate objective was to highlight the biological im-
portance of sites where illicit cultivation is taking place,
particularly in protected areas, to the conservation com-
munity and to those who will be undertaking crop eradi-
cation.
Methods
Forest Cover
I summarized the forest-cover data in the “Mapa General
de Ecosistemas de Colombia 1: 2,000,000” (Etter 1998)
into three categories: Andean, Chocó, and Amazonia. In
the following, numbers in parentheses refer to Etter’s
forest classification. Andean forests comprise sub-Andean
humid (14), Andean humid (16), high-Andean humid and
“cloud” (18a), high-Andean dry (18b), Andean oak (18c),
and dry and humid páramos (19–20). Tropical dry for-
ests of the middle Magdalena (1 m, 3 m) and Caribbean
forests (23) were lumped in the Andean category be-
cause these remnants amount to
1% of the total.
Chocó forests comprise tall, dense Pacific forests (2c,
3c, 7), flooded Atrato and Pacific forests (46–48a), and
hyperhumid mangrove (50). Amazonian forests com-
prise tall, dense Amazon and Orinoco basin forests (1a,
2a, 2b, 2d, 3a, 3b, 4, 5a, 5b, 6), submontane, montane,
and cloud forests of La Macarena (24–26), tall and dense
Amazonian forests (42, 43), and middle-dense Amazo-
nian (44) and gallery forests of the Orinoco basin (45).
están protegidas. La conservación de las aves amenazadas y endémicas en los bosques colombianos de-
pendería del control exitoso de los incentivos a la deforestación, incluyendo el comercio internacional en dro-
gas ilegales.
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Conservation Biology
Volume 16, No. 4, August 2002
Illicit Crops
I used the “intersect” command in the “Geoprocessing-
wizard” function of Arcview 3.2 to map the overlap be-
tween the three forest composites and the maps of mu-
nicipalities where illicit crops have been detected (Reyes
1999). Because the entire municipality was marked as af-
fected by cultivation regardless of the extent of illicit
crops it contained, and because municipalities in Chocó
and Amazonia are very large, forests highlighted in munic-
ipalities where illicit crops have been detected greatly
overestimate the extent of cultivation in these regions.
Because political divisions are much smaller in the Andes,
forests in municipalities where illicit crops have been de-
tected will overestimate the extent of illicit crops there
less than in the Chocó and Amazonia.
I obtained the exact number of hectares under illicit crop
cultivation from the
Mapa Localización de Cultivos Ilícitos
en Colombia, Censo 2000
(United Nations Drug Control
Programme [UNDCP] 2000), total illicit crop figures from
Global Illicit Trends
(UN-ODCCP 1999), and the areas un-
der official protection from the
Global Protected Areas Da-
tabase
(World Conservation Monitoring Centre 2000).
Plain Bird Data
Brooks et al. (1999) published a database of ranges of
“birds at risk” in Latin America. Birds at risk are those
listed in the World Conservation Union (IUCN) catego-
ries of threatened, near-threatened, or data-deficient on
the world list of threatened birds (Collar et al. 1994),
“conservation priority 1–3” of Parker et al. (1996), or glo-
bal ranks G1–G3/4 by The Nature Conservancy (Brooks
et al. 1999). To plot distributional ranges, Brooks et al.
(1999) digitized range maps from Ridgely and Tudor
(1989, 1994) on a 15-minute grid. These maps include
both verified observations and rough inferences of spe-
cies ranges based on vegetation maps and climatic vari-
ables. The number of at-risk species (called threatened
hereafter) present in each 15-minute cell was used to as-
sess priority areas for conservation (number of threat-
ened species/cell
indicated priority).
J. Fjeldså (personal communication) generated a map
of priorities for the conservation of bird species in 15-
minute cells corresponding to two sets of areas where
all species are represented in the smallest possible area:
one minimum set and one near-minimum set. The meth-
ods used to establish these priorities are explained in de-
tail by Fjeldså (2001) and Fjeldså and Rahbek (1998).
The J. Fjeldså database includes distributions of all
nonmarine birds resident in South America in a 1
1
grid and in the Andean region and adjacent lowlands in
a 15
15
grid. The data set most precisely defines
ranges of highland birds (above 2500 m elevation), be-
cause these are constrained by topography and local
habitat gradients, and that of rare and range-restricted
species, whose distributions are well recorded (see Col-
lar et al. 1992). These birds include most of the “en-
demic” species (sensu Stattersfield et al. 1998). The
ranges are less well defined for widespread lowland
birds. Of widespread species, only birds within the 25%
lowest range-size classes are included. The complete
data set comprises nearly all birds currently classified as
threatened (BirdLife International 2000).
I identified one “minimum set” and one “near-mini-
mum set” of target areas for conservation through a heu-
ristic search option for complementarity of areas and a
redundancy back check ( Williams 1996). Complementa-
rity explicitly describes the degree to which an area con-
tributes otherwise unrepresented taxa to a set of areas
targeted for conservation (Williams et al
.
1996). A mini-
mum set is the smallest number of cells that will cover
all taxa, by definition the most area-effective approach
for conservation planning. A near-minimum set of areas
is the smallest number of cells that will cover all taxa,
given a particular area restriction (e.g., if the areas in the
minimum set are not available). The results of such anal-
yses determine priorities with great precision in areas of
strongly aggregated endemism (i.e., the Andes), but in
regions where most species are widespread (e.g., Ama-
zonia) there will be great flexibility in choice of areas.
Hence, the method is best at identifying key areas for
conservation of endemic species.
Results
The most important forested areas for conservation of
threatened and endemic birds affected by illicit crops
were the southern Andes (all three ranges), the northern
West Andes and adjacent Darién lowlands, and the Sierra
Nevada de Santa Marta, Serranía del Perijá, and Serranía de
San Lucas (for nomenclature see Fig. 1). The highest con-
centration of threatened (110–140; Fig. 2) and endemic
(28) bird species was found along the western slopes of
the southern West Andes. The UNDCP (2000) has re-
ported 2800 ha of illicit crops in or around three pro-
tected areas in the region: Puracé, Munchique, and Ne-
vado del Huila (Table 1; Fig. 3). The total extension of the
parks is 285,000 ha, meaning that illicit crops (mostly
poppy) grow on almost 1% of their surface (Table 1).
The northern West Andes and the Darién lowlands
have 40–80 threatened species and up to 10 endemic
species. In this region there are two national parks,
Katíos and Paramillo, accounting for 532,000 ha of pro-
tected land. The UNDCP (2000) reports 2250 ha of coca
in the area, or 0.4% of the total area (Table 1; Fig. 3). The
Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta and the Serranía del Perijá
showed concentrations of 30–50 threatened species, with
a maximum of 21 and 14 endemic species respectively.
Fields planted with illicit crops were found in five pro-
tected areas in the region: two parks, Sierra Nevada and
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Volume 16, No. 4, August 2002
Álvarez Illicit Crops and Bird Conservation in Colombia
1089
Catatumbo, and three indigenous reserves, Sierra Nevada,
Barí, and Motilonia (Fig. 3). According to the UNDCP
(2000), these protected areas collectively have 9500 ha of
illicit crops, 84.3% of which are planted with coca.
Another area threatened by illicit crops, the Serranía
de San Lucas and its lowlands, had 20–50 threatened
species (Fig. 2) and up to 7 endemic species. The UN-
DCP (2000) reports 6500 ha of illicit crops (mostly coca)
in the Serranía de San Lucas and 2000 ha in the sur-
rounding lowlands (Table 1).
Threatened and endemic birds were concentrated
along the Andes. In this region the threat of deforesta-
tion from illicit crops (Figs. 2 & 4) is overestimated, but
roughly proportional to the extent of crops detected
therein. Illicit crops have not affected all Andean forests,
however. None have been reported in the northeastern
East Andes, with 30–50 threatened and up to 23 en-
demic species; parts of the Central Andes, with 20–60
threatened and 17 endemic species; and along parts of
the eastern slope of the West Andes, with 20–60 threat-
ened and 16 endemic species (Fig. 2).
The largest concentration of illicit crops was in Ama-
zonia and the Amazonian foothills of the East Andes,
with
20 and 30 threatened species, respectively (Table
1; Fig. 2), and no endemic species, as reflected by the
absence of minimum-area cells (Fig. 4). There are three
protected plots where significant areas of illicit crops
have been detected: Picachos at the foothills of the East
Andes, Nukak, and La Paya in the Amazonian lowlands,
for a total of 1,716,000 ha of combined surface. Coca
cultivation amounts to 78,800 ha, or 4.6% of the surface
of these parks (UNDCP 2000).
Discussion
If the expansion of illicit crops in the Andes continues,
the effect on the forest-dependent Colombian avifauna
Figure 1. Remnant forests of Co-
lombia summarized from Etter
(1998). (a) Sierra Nevada de
Santa Marta; (b) Serranía del
Perijá and Motilones; (c) Serranía
de San Lucas (Central Andes); (d)
Darién lowlands; (e) Nudo del
Paramillo (West Andes); ( f)
Chocó lowlands; Cordilleras of the
Andes: (g) West Andes; (h) Cen-
tral Andes; (i) East Andes; and ( j)
Amazonia.
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Volume 16, No. 4, August 2002
might be devastating. The situation is particularly acute
in the higher elevations of the southern West and East
Andes, where illicit crops affected forests in one “irre-
placeable” 15-minute square cell, the one encompassing
the complete known range of
Eriocnemis mirabilis
in
the southern West Andes ( J. Fjeldså, personal communi-
cation). These and other parks affected by poppy culti-
vation (e.g., those in the Serranía del Perijá) harbor nu-
merous threatened species (Fig. 2) and are indispensable
for the conservation of endemic birds (Fig. 4).
Given the trend in poppy cultivation in the 1990s (Fig.
5), subsistence agriculture associated with illicit crop
growers, and the fact that all vegetation types in these
parks are considered suitable for poppy cultivation
(Cavelier & Etter 1995), fragmentation could affect al-
most 10% of the montane forests of these protected ar-
eas and their surroundings by the end of this decade.
This is a large fraction, because many bird species in
these protected areas have restricted ranges and as such
are listed as threatened.
An area of lesser priority affected by illicit crops was
the Serranía de San Lucas (Figs. 1, 2, & 4). The number
of bird species recorded in San Lucas could be an artifact
of sampling. The last avian collections in San Lucas took
place in the 1940s and reached 650 min elevation along
the northeastern slopes (de Schauensee 1948); based on
these expeditions, the Serranía has been included as a
key area for threatened birds in the Neotropics ( Wege &
Figure 2. Forests (gray) in Co-
lombian municipalities, where
illicit crops have been detected,
and distribution of birds at
risk, sensu Brooks et al. (1999).
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Álvarez Illicit Crops and Bird Conservation in Colombia
1091
Long 1995). The higher elevations of this range reach
beyond 2000 m elevation and have never been surveyed
for birds, although they remain forested. There are no
protected areas in San Lucas ( World Conservation Moni-
toring Centre 2000), and, except for the southwest por-
tion, the surrounding lowlands have been almost com-
pletely deforested (Fig. 1).
There was one irreplaceable 15-minute cell compris-
ing the range of
Crypturellus saltuarius
in the defor-
ested lowlands northeast of the Serranía. Illicit crops,
food crops, oil palm, and cattle ranching have frag-
mented the forests on the eastern half of the Serranía
(Dávalos 2001; T. Donegan, personal communication).
Although the region has been included in national con-
servation plans (Instituto Geográfico Agustín Codazzi
1995), the government hopes to develop mining in its
large gold deposits in the near future (Villarruel et al.
2000). Options for both conservation and development,
are currently limited, however, by the activities of at
least six belligerent armed groups (Dávalos 2001).
All the important areas for bird conservation in north-
ern Colombia are of concern because the potential for
expansion of illicit crops, especially coca, is large and
the current government eradication offensive is focused
exclusively on southern Colombia ( Tate 2000). Coca cul-
tivation has grown at an average annual rate of 21% over
the last 5 years (Fig. 5), and the optimal elevation and
rainfall for growing coca is between 1000 and 1200 m
elevation and between 1000 and 4200 mm/year
(Dourojeanni 1992). Hence, there are still large, suitable
remaining forests in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta,
Serranía del Perijá, northern West Andes, Darién, and
the Serranía de San Lucas that could be cleared for the
crop. If incentives for coca cultivation remain intact, il-
licit crops and the deforestation associated with them
might be displaced from the government’s foci of attack
in the south to other areas of Colombia, increasing local
deforestation even more sharply than at present.
Although the potential for expansion of coca in Colom-
bian Amazonia is large, this is the region of Colombia
where the government intends to eradicate illicit crops first
(Presidencia de la República 2000). Despite the overesti-
mation of threats by illicit crops implicit in Figs. 2 and 4, it
is apparent that current frontier expansion into the Amazo-
nian lowlands of Colombia is associated with illicit crop
cultivation. Ignoring the potential effects of herbicide
spraying on bird diversity (for details see American Bird
Conservancy 2001), the evidence for eradication having an
effect on deforestation is scant and predictions are not
straightforward.
Some think most areas currently planted with illicit
crops have been deforested as a result of the distorted
economic incentives these crops furnish (V. Tafur, per-
sonal communication). If this were so,
ceteris
paribus
,
deforestation caused by illicit crops would be much
greater than that caused by licit crops because coca pays
an average US$2347 annually per hectare harvested (Ál-
varez 2002), and no licit commodity pays a similar price.
This economic incentive would (1) attract individuals
who would otherwise not undertake agriculture at all,
and (2) allow farmers to plant in locales where no licit
crop would profitably grow.
The government claims that illicit crops can be feasi-
bly replaced with other crops in all poppy-producing ar-
eas and about 33% of coca-growing lands (Presidencia
de la República 2000). This means that 67% of coca culti-
vation is taking place in land where agriculture is eco-
nomically or ecologically nonviable, perhaps indicating
that the difference between the price of coca (and
poppy) and the price of other crops does affect the
Table 1. Protected and unprotected forests in priority sites for conservation of threatened and endemic birds and extent of illicit cultivation
in Colombia.
a
Region Area Total area (ha) Illicit crop area
b
(ha)
Southern Andes Puracé and Munchique 127,000 2,500
Munchique
Nevado del Huila 158,000 300
Santa Marta Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta 383,000 750
Serranía del Perijá Catatumbo-Barí 158,125 7,800
Resguardo Motilonia 115,000 950
Northern West Andes Nudo del Paramillo 460,000 2,000
Darién Katíos 72,000 250
Northern Central Andes
c
Serranía de San Lucas c. 2,000,000 6,500
Adjacent lowlands Magdalena Medio not available 2,000
Amazonia
d
Picachos 439,000 66,800
Nukak 855,000 10,000
La Paya 422,000 2,000
a
Sources: World Conservation Monitoring Centre (2000) and United Nations Drug Control Programme (2000).
b
Includes illicit crops found inside and outside protected areas of the region. Percentages of illicit cultivation given in text are for comparison
in order of magnitude only.
c
There are no areas currently protected by the national government in this region; see Dávalos (2001) for other forms of protection.
d
Not a priority area for conservation according to this study.
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Volume 16, No. 4, August 2002
quantity of deforestation caused by the crop. Thus, erad-
ication of illicit crops from southern Colombia would re-
sult in less deforestation in Amazonia, but not necessar-
ily in montane southern Colombia, where the land
would still be suitable for agriculture.
Illicit crop eradication, however, has also been hy-
pothesized to increase deforestation in Peru and Bolivia
(Henkel 1995; Young 1996; Kaimowitz 1997) as grow-
ers relocate deeper into forests to avoid detection or
plant less profitable crops that require more area of cul-
tivation. At present, no data are available as to whether
or not eradication has increased background rates of de-
forestation in these Andean countries, although early re-
ports from Colombia suggest that growers “simply move
along”, clearing deeper into the forest (González-Posso
2000; Forero 2001). Thus, eradication would result in
more deforestation in southern Colombia, particularly in
Amazonia where most of the illicit crops are planted.
Given these two possible outcomes and the govern-
ment’s focus on eradication in Amazonia, inferences on
the future effect of illicit crops in the region are moot.
The effect of fragmentation on the biodiversity of Ama-
zonia is another contentious issue. Neither the priority-
setting exercises I used here nor other such analyses
based on different taxa and criteria (e.g., Olson & Diner-
stein 1998; Myers et al. 2000) ascribe a high conservation
priority to these forests. There are indications that this
low priority is an artifact of the misuse of the biological
species concept, the assumption that Amazonia is more
homogeneous than it really is (Bates & Demos 2001), and
the expectation that Amazonian ecosystems can persist in
a fragmented state (Laurance 1998).
Figure 3. Main protected areas in priority areas for conservation of threatened and endemic birds significantly af-
fected by illicit crops ( World Conservation Monitoring Centre 2000; United Nations Drug Control Programme
2000). Forests (gray) in municipalities where illicit crops have been detected.
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Álvarez Illicit Crops and Bird Conservation in Colombia
1093
In recognizing “polytypic” species, the biological spe-
cies concept systematically underestimates the number
of differentiated taxa, resulting in a coarse delimitation
of areas of endemism (Cracraft 1997). For neotropical
mammals, for example, the delimitation of species and
their ranges has been obscured by a great “polytypic
species concept contraction,” whereby taxa have been
synonymized with little or no explicit justification by un-
critical taxonomists since the 1940s (Voss et al. 2001).
The cumulative effect of species delimitation based on
this approach can be large (Hazevoet 1996) and may be
particularly acute for birds of Amazonia (Bates & Demos
2001). Colombian Amazonia might therefore harbor
more threatened and endemic species of birds than cur-
rently estimated. If this is the case, illicit crop deforesta-
tion along the northwest edge of Amazonia in the upper
basins of the Putumayo, Caquetá, and Guaviare rivers
may have a significant effect on endemic and threatened
birds not yet considered as such.
Conclusion
The expansion of illicit crops in Colombia is a significant
cause of deforestation in areas associated with large
numbers of threatened and endemic birds in the south-
ern Andes, the northern West Andes, Darién, Sierra Ne-
vada de Santa Marta, Serranía del Perijá, and the Serranía
de San Lucas. The extent of deforestation in protected
and unprotected areas of these regions is alarming. If
current trends of illicit crop expansion persist, fragmen-
tation of forests in some protected areas of high conser-
vation priority for birds may reach a tenth of their sur-
face over the next decade.
Illicit crops are currently concentrated in Amazonian
forests of low conservation priority for birds. The extent
of cultivation in nominally protected areas of Amazonia
makes illicit crops an unprecedented threat to this re-
gion, whose avian diversity may be underestimated. Cur-
rently, protected areas may not represent bird diversity
Figure 4. Minimum set and near-
minimum set of areas for conserva-
tion of all the birds of Colombia
(lowest number of cells whose pro-
tection would conserve all taxa in
the J. Fjeldså database) and forests
in municipalities where illicit crops
have been detected. The 15-minute
cellblocks are areas of priority for
conservation of all bird species
known or estimated, from habitat
interpolation, to live in Colombia.
Cells numbered 1–3 are “irreplace-
able” in terms of preserving the sole
locality of one endemic bird species
and cannot be moved: 1, Crypturel-
lus saltuarius; 2, Grallaria chthonia;
and 3, Eriocnemis mirabilis. The 18
thin-lined cells in Colombia are sites
whose conservation minimizes the
overall area necessary to represent
one population of each species in
the database. The conservation of
species present in these sites could be
achieved by preserving other areas
(i.e., the sites are “flexible”), but this
would increase the overall area nec-
essary for conservation. Cells
marked with an X are first alterna-
tive choices to the 18 ( flexible) cells
in the minimum set of areas for
conservation. These alternative
choices constitute one near-mini-
mum set of areas for conservation.
1094
Illicit Crops and Bird Conservation in Colombia Álvarez
Conservation Biology
Volume 16, No. 4, August 2002
in the most economical or complete manner (compare
Figs. 3 & 4). Nevertheless, if these cannot be effectively
preserved from illicit agriculture it is hard to see how as-
yet-unprotected areas such as the Serranía de San Lucas
have a better chance of remaining forested than nomi-
nally protected lands.
Although little is known about the ecological require-
ments of many species, human-induced habitat transfor-
mation is regarded as a leading cause of population de-
cline in threatened birds (BirdLife International 2000),
and conservation efforts generally aim to reduce the
scale and degree of human intervention in bird habitat.
Given the narrow endemicity and uncertain conservation
status of many birds included in the analyses, unchecked
deforestation may result in several extirpation events.
Government efforts to eradicate illicit crops might curb
or eliminate this cause of deforestation, but these are cur-
rently concentrated in southern Colombia, in the south-
ern Andes and—more imminently—Amazonia. The inef-
fectiveness of illicit crop eradication thus far and the
conservation importance of protected and unprotected
areas throughout the Andes and the Chocó should con-
vince conservationists of the necessity of proposing and
aiding forest conservation projects to minimize the effect
of deforestation on bird diversity. For example, govern-
ment plans to introduce “alternative development”
projects in regions economically dependent on illicit
crops (Presidencia de la República 2000) could be an op-
portunity for conservationists to inform development de-
cisions in forest remnants. This is particularly necessary as
roads and alternative crops are introduced to montane
and lowland forests where illicit crops currently thrive.
Efforts to protect forests in parks and indigenous and
Afro-Colombian forest reserves should be stepped up, and
support for new protected areas in sites of high conserva-
tion priority (e.g., Serranía de San Lucas and Andean for-
ests not affected by illicit crops) should rank high on the
agenda of conservationists.
Ultimately, the conservation of forests and forest-depen-
dent birds in Colombia, as elsewhere, may hinge on suc-
cessfully curbing economic incentives for deforestation,
including international trade in illegal drugs. The policies
that have been pursued to this end over the last 20 years
in Colombia and consuming countries have been envi-
ronmentally ineffectual at best and detrimental at worst.
Perhaps conservationists can also contribute to the con-
servation of Colombian forests by proposing new, cre-
ative ways to approach this complex problem.
F
igure 5. Area cultivated with coca and poppy and total illicit crop area (sum) since 1986 ( fitted curve for illicit
trend: y 755.65 x2
3 * 106x
3 * 10 9). Data from United Nations Office for Drug Control and Crime Preven-
tion (1999).
Conservation Biology
Volume 16, No. 4, August 2002
Álvarez Illicit Crops and Bird Conservation in Colombia
1095
Acknowledgments
This work was made possible by the man in the Welling-
ton boots, L. G. Baptiste at the Instituto de Investigación
de Recursos Biológicos Alejandro von Humboldt, D. Kwan
at The Nature Conservancy, L. Farley at the American
Bird Conservancy, M. Rodríguez at the Ministry of the
Environment of Colombia, and E. Sanderson and K. Wil-
lett at the Wildlife Conservation Society. J. Fjeldså kindly
made available his Colombia-scale analyses of bird ende-
mism, J. Bates his paper on the devaluation of Amazonia,
and R. Voss his bulletin on mammals of Paracou. This pa-
per has benefited from the author’s constant discussion
with M. Pinedo. An anonymous reviewer, G. Andrade, S.
Carrizosa, J. Fjeldså, E. Main, C. Padoch, R. Pressey, and
K. Redford made useful comments. M.D.A. is supported
by Columbia University.
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... We used the WofE coefficients from the spatial determinants of forest change as inputs for Dinamica EGO software in a multi-stage process to model the spatial distribution of deforestation pressure , 2002. ...
... Coca cultivation has increased substantially in recent years due to a lack of governance in several regions after the 2016 peace deal (Brodzinsky, 2017a), and these areas have also experienced an increase in deforestation (Brodzinsky, 2017b). Our findings build on other calls to develop effective measures to halt coca cultivation and its associated deforestation pressure (Alvarez, 2002;Dávalos et al., 2011;Fjeldså et al., 2005). ...
Thesis
Full-text available
Pressure on Earth’s biodiversity is increasing worldwide, with at least one million species threatened with extinction and a 67% decline in vertebrate species populations over the last half century. Practical conservation actions that are able to generate the greatest conservation benefit in the most efficient way are needed. Colombia, a mega-diverse country, has the potential to preserve a considerable portion of the world’s biodiversity, making conservation in the country both regionally and globally relevant. However, human activities are transforming the country’s natural landscapes at an extremely high rate, making urgent the generation of effective conservation actions. Colombia, after decades of civil unrest, is now entering a post-conflict era. But the peace agreement signed in 2016 between the Colombian government and the strongest illegal armed group, FARC-EP is impacting the country’s biodiversity. New pressures are being imposed on areas of high biodiversity that previously were off-limits for development because of the conflict. This makes the generation of conservation plans particularly urgent. Post-conflict planning initiatives have the potential to limit environmental damage and increase formal protection of the most irreplaceable natural areas of Colombia. These plans need to be informed by an understanding of changes in risks to areas of high biodiversity importance, and the effectiveness of conservation efforts such as protected areas. The aim of this thesis was to contribute knowledge to improve the effectiveness of conservation decisions in Colombia through a better understanding of the threats to forest ecosystems and the species that inhabit them, and an evaluation of the effectiveness of land protection for biodiversity conservation in the country. I first reviewed the effect of armed conflict on biodiversity in other countries in order to explore what may change with the peace agreement in Colombia. Post-conflict periods in other regions have often had negative impacts on biodiversity. Based on this, I recommended that the Colombian conservation science community engage actively in the development of environmental zoning plans on territories that were under the control of illegal armed groups to ensure positive and durable outcomes for the nation’s globally significant biodiversity. Second, in order to understand the effect of armed conflict on deforestation in Colombia I analysed the spatial association between deforestation drivers and forest cover change in the country, with a particular focus on the effect of armed conflict and coca plantations (Erythroxylum coca). I generated spatial predictions of deforestation pressure based on the period 2000-2015 and then explored how armed conflict and coca cultivation were associated with spatial patterns of deforestation. My results showed that proximity to coca plantation and armed conflict intensity both increased deforestation pressure, as did proximity to roads, mining concessions and oil exploitation wells. In some regions of Colombia, lack of stable governance after the peace accords is actually increasing armed conflict at a local level, and my results suggest that those increases in conflict may increase deforestation in those areas. Third, I aimed to understand the impact of deforestation on biodiversity in Colombia, by assessing the loss of habitat for forest dependent birds in the country up to 2015, and explored the projected loss to 2040. A total of 550 forest-dependent species were individually analysed, including 69 regional endemics. I assessed the extent of deforestation impacts on entire forest bird assemblages at different scales and for different bird groups. I found that the vast majority of forest dependent birds (536; 96.5%) had been affected by loss of potential habitat and that 35% of the forest dependent bird species in Colombia had lost at least 35% of their potential habitat by 2015. If deforestation trajectories remain the same, 43% of forest dependent species will lose 43% or more of their suitable habitat by 2040. The Amazon foothills was highlighted as an area where habitat for particularly diverse assemblages of forest-dependent species was projected to be lost, while the north-east of the Antioquia department was highlighted as an area where projected deforestation will affect bird assemblages that have a particularly high concentration of endemic species. My analysis shows the far-reaching impact of deforestation not only on endangered species, but also on common and widely distributed ones as well as on entire assemblages. The main tool the Colombian government has used to avoid biodiversity loss and prevent land conversion has been the creation of nationally designated protected areas. However, the effectiveness of these areas in preventing deforestation is not known. I evaluated the effectiveness of protected areas in Colombia at reducing forest loss between 2000 and 2015. I used statistical matching to account for confounding factors in park location and accounted for spatial autocorrelation to determine statistical significance. The performance of different matching procedures - ways of generating matching pairs at different scales - were compared, as there is no standard procedure for applying this technique at multiple scales (such as nationally versus within departments). Differences in matching procedures affected substantially the performance of matching, resulting in different estimates of the effectiveness of protected areas. Independent matching performed best, and these estimates suggested that average forest loss inside protected areas in Colombia was 40% lower than average forest loss in matched unprotected sites. Protection significantly reduced deforestation but its effect differed among regions; protected areas in Caribe were the most effective, but this region had the smallest percentage of protected area coverage. Protected areas in the Amazon were moderately effective but had the highest net forest loss, and protected areas in Orinoco and Pacific regions were least effective. Overall, this thesis improves understanding of how armed conflict increases deforestation, including how its effect can be indirect, such as through the expansion of illegal crops such as coca; and of the extent to which deforestation continues to threaten forest-dependent birds in the country that is home to more bird species than any other. Losses of habitat for common and widespread forest-dependent species are as great as for endangered ones, and due to their crucial roles in ecosystem functioning common species need safeguarding as well. While protected areas do reduce deforestation in Colombia, statistical comparison with similar areas is needed to understand the magnitude of the effect, and some protected areas particularly in the Pacific and Orinoco regions are less effective when this comparison is done. As Colombia continues to move towards a post-conflict scenario the increased understanding of forest dynamics, their causes and consequences, are fundamental to helping improve conservation decisions to safeguard Colombia’s biodiversity.
... Illicit crops were also frequently mentioned as a proximate cause of deforestation (Cavelier and Etter, 1995;Á lvarez, 2002;Armenteras et al., 2006;Dávalos et al., 2011;Rincón-Ruiz et al., 2016;Suarez et al., 2018;Landholm et al., 2019). In this regard, it is important to note that the officially reported deforestation rate for Colombiamore than 300, 000 ha/yr between 1990 and 2005 and around 120,000 ha/yr between 2005 and 2015 (González et al., 2018) -far exceeded the area planted with coca, which was approximately 169,000 ha in 2018 (UNODC and Gobierno Nacional de Colombia, 2019). ...
Article
Tackling deforestation remains a significant challenge in tropical countries and even more so in those affected by armed conflicts. This is partly because of the limited local understanding of the causes of forest cover changes (FCC) and how these causes relate to development. In this study, we use Colombia as a model to contribute to the understanding of the links between the causes of FCC in conflict-affected countries and policies aimed at achieving sustainable development by targeting the agriculture, forestry and other land use (AFOLU) sectors. Specifically, we reviewed studies reporting on causes of FCC from 1995 to 2019 to build a state-of-the-art review. We then identified relevant public policies targeting AFOLU sectors and used them as a proxy for development. Finally, we discussed the links between these public policies and FCC. From the reviewed literature, it is clear that research on FCC in Colombia has focused on understanding the causes of forest cover losses while disregarding forest cover gains. Although cattle ranching and agriculture dominate the literature as proximate causes of deforestation and policy and institutional factors as underlying causes of deforestation, the relative importance of proximate and underlying causes of FCC in Colombia has changed over time. The main categories of policies that have been linked to FCC deal with conflict and post-conflict issues, coca eradication and, more recently, the implementation of the peace agreement. Another set of policies frequently mentioned are those related to productive activities. In Colombia, these policies' effects on forests will depend on how the state will regulate extractive activities in a post-conflict scenario. Therefore, it is imperative to review and update policies to tackle FCC, mainly deforestation, to successfully achieve sustainability targets in Colombia.
... A particular version of the immiseration model has shaped deforestation analyses in Colombia and other Amazon-Andes countries. Coca cultivation, grown by migrant farmers for the global cocaine market, has featured prominently as a driver of land use change in Colombia, Peru, and Bolivia (Álvarez 2002;Bradley and Millington 2008b;Young 1996). Since coca growers are, on average, poorer than other farmers in subnational analyses (Davalos 2016;Dávalos & Dávalos 2020), poverty and immiseration seem to be logical explanations for coca deforestation. ...
Article
Full-text available
Population growth with weak economic development can promote tropical deforestation, but government infrastructure investment can also open new frontiers and thus increase deforestation. In the Andean region of South America, population growth has been a leading explanation for both deforestation and coca cultivation, but coca generates armed conflict and attracts counter-drug measures, obscuring the differences between population-driven and frontier-opening models of deforestation. Using a 15-year panel from Colombia, we model deforestation, coca cultivation, and conflict victims as interrelated responses with a suite of covariates encompassing land cover, land cover changes, population, population changes, counter-drug measures, and government infrastructure spending. Infrastructure spending suppresses coca, coca and eradication by aerial fumigation both increase conflict, and conflict promotes deforestation and is associated with depopulation. But the strongest predictor of deforestation is pasture growth, which covaries with coca. While these models show that infrastructure spending can help reduce coca, and coca’s influence on deforestation is indirect and mediated by conflict, the models also reveal the most important challenge to forest conservation is neither coca nor conflict, but an insatiable appetite for land that expresses itself through pasture growth.
... El uso de técnicas de mapeo de individuos para modelos espacialmente explícitos y de sistemas de información geográfica ha ido creciendo con el aumento de las escalas de estudio (Álvarez 2002(Álvarez , Cockle et al. 2005. ...
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Forest remnants in the Colombian Amazon, Andes, and Choco are the last repositories of a highly diverse and endemic biota. Historical changes in the Colombian landscape have been dramatic, but the magnitude and rate of change has increased over the last half century, while conflict has consumed the capacity of Colombian society to respond to environmental threats. Academic experts in the study of the Colombian conflict have explored the social, political, and economic implications of the war. However, the environmental consequences of conflict are documented only when groups in conflict target salient economic resources. This paper presents the first analysis of the geographic distribution of forest remnants in relation to armed conflict in Colombia. Results show that guerrillas and/or paramilitaries range throughout areas of human encroachment into remnant forests. The policies promoted by Colombia's irregular armed forces range from "gunpoint conservation" rarely applied by guerrillas, to the rapid conversion of forests and crops to cattle ranches and coca (Erythroxylum sp.) plantations, following paramilitary occupation. Because the rates and extent of fragmentation are linked to such land use practices, armed groups may play a crucial role in determining the fate of Colombia's forests and their endemic biota.
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The volume is broadly split into two main sections. The firsts consists of seven introductory chapters: biodiversity and priority setting; identifying endemic bird areas; global analyses; the prioritization of endemic brid areas; the conservation relevance of endemic bird areas; endemic bird areas as targets for conservation action; and regional introductions. The second, and larger part of the text looks at the endemic bird areas in detail. The section is split into six subsections, by region: North and Central America; Africa, Europe and the Middle East; continental Asia; SE Asian Islands, New Guinea and Australia; and the Pacific Islands. Within each regional subsection the endemic areas are detailed, providing information on : general characteristics; restricted-range species; threats and conservation; and location maps.
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Biodiversity conservation requires efficient methods for choosing priority areas for in situ conservation management. We compared three quantitative methods for choosing 5% (an arbitrary figure) of all the 10 × 10 km grid cells in Britain to represent the diversity of breeding birds: (1) hotspots of richness, which selects the areas richest in species; (2) hotspots of range-size rarity (narrow endemism), which selects areas richest in those species with the most restricted ranges; and (3) sets of complementary areas, which selects areas with the greatest combined species richness. Our results show that richness hotspots contained the highest number of species-in-grid-cell records (with many representations of the more widespread species), whereas the method of complementary areas obtained the lowest number. However, whereas richness hotspots included representation of 89% of British species of breeding birds, and rarity hotspots included 98%, the areas chosen using complementarity represented all the species, where possible, at least six times over. The method of complementary areas was also well suited to supplementing the existing conservation network. For example, starting with grid cells with over 50% area cover by existing “Sites of Special Scientific Interest,” we searched for a set of areas that could complete the representation of all the most threatened birds in Britain, the Red Data species. The method of complementary areas distinguishes between irreplaceable and flexible areas, which helps planners by providing alternatives for negotiation. This method can also show which particular species justify the choice of each area. Yet the complementary areas method will not be fully able to select the best areas for conservation management until we achieve integration of some of the more important factors affecting viability, threat, and cost.