Forest CoverTotal forest area: 10,853,000 ha % of land area: 39.2%
Primary forest cover: 4,794,000 ha % of land area: 17.3% % total forest area: 44.2%
Deforestation Rates, 2000-2005Annual change in forest cover: -197,600 ha Annual deforestation rate: -1.7% Change in defor. rate since '90s: 16.7% Total forest loss since 1990: -2,964,000 ha Total forest loss since 1990:-21.5%
Primary or "Old-growth" forests Annual loss of primary forests: n/a Annual deforestation rate: n/a Change in deforestation rate since '90s: n/a Primary forest loss since 1990: n/a Primary forest loss since 1990:0.0%
Forest ClassificationPublic: 77.1% Private: n/a Other: 22.9% Use Production: 1.5% Protection: 21.5% Conservation: 44.2% Social services: n/a Multiple purpose: 18.9% None or unknown: 13.8
Forest Area BreakdownTotal area: 10,853,000 ha Primary: 4,794,000 ha Modified natural: 5,895,000 ha Semi-natural: n/a Production plantation: 164,000 ha Production plantation: n/a
PlantationsPlantations, 2005: 164,000 ha % of total forest cover: 1.5% Annual change rate (00-05): 560,000 ha
Carbon storageAbove-ground biomass: n/a M t Below-ground biomass: n/a M t
Area annually affected byFire: n/a Insects: n/a Diseases: n/a
Number of tree species in IUCN red listNumber of native tree species: 1,000 Critically endangered: 240 Endangered: 669 Vulnerable: 923
Despite its small area, Ecuador is the eighth most biodiverse country on Earth. Ecuador has almost 20,000 species of plants, over 1,500 species of birds, more than 840 species of reptiles and amphibians, and 341 species of mammals.
Ecuador also has the distinction of having the highest deforestation rate and worst environmental record in South America. Oil exploration, logging, and road building have had a disastrous impact on Ecuador's primary rainforests, which now cover less than 15 percent of the country's land mass.
Logging in Western Ecuador (coastal and low Andean) areas is responsible for the loss of 99 percent of the country's rainforest in this region. Historically, after an area has been selectively logged and abandoned, settlers follow logging roads and set up homesteads, slashing and burning the surrounding forest for agriculture and cattle pasture.
The impact of oil exploitation in Eastern Ecuador is now notorious as a result of a long-running $6 billion lawsuit involving 30,000 Amazon forest dwellers and Texaco, once one of the world's largest energy companies but now part of Chevron. In the 25 years that Texaco operated in the Oriente region of the Western Amazon, the oil company spilled 17 million gallons of crude oil into the local river systems (by comparison, the Exxon Valdez only spilled 11 million gallons in Alaska in 1989), dumped more than 20 billion gallons of toxic drilling by-products, and cleared forest for access roads, exploration, and production activities. As of the mid-1990s, lands once used for farming lay bare and hundreds of waste pits remained. In August 1992, a pipeline rupture caused a 275,000-gallon (1.04 million L) spill which caused the Rio Napo to run black for days and forced downstream Peru and Brazil to declare national states of emergency for the affected regions.
Originally it appeared that Texaco might pull out of the Oriente without reparations to the people whose environment was so seriously degraded, but widespread protests by indigenous peoples, environmentalists, and human-rights organizations forced Texaco into negotiations. Texaco projected its clean-up costs at a moderate US$5-10 million.
In response to the insufficient clean-up gesture, along with widespread environmental degradation and serious health problems among local peoples, a class-action lawsuit was filed against Texaco in the United States on behalf of 30,000 people affected by the oil company's operations. Previous suits against Texaco filed in Ecuador failed due to Texaco's political influence with the Ecuadorian judiciary.
By the close of 2005 the case against parent company Chevron was still being fought in U.S. courts and was beginning to become an issue for shareholders in the oil company. Facing a six- billion dollar liability, the company has also seen shareholders file three new resolutions asking Chevron's management to take various steps to protect human rights, the environment, and shareholder interests. The United Nations has also gotten involved in the case, calling on the Ecuadorian government to guarantee the safety of lawyers and leaders involved in the lawsuit after a series of threats.
According to an update by Amazon Watch, an organization tracking the suit, the case is not going particularly well for Chevron:
The escalating shareholder concern comes as Chevron's defense faces significant hurdles in the lawsuit in Ecuador. Water and soil samples submitted to the court by both the plaintiffs and Chevron from all 18 well sites inspected by the court overwhelmingly have shown illegal levels of toxic contamination, often by orders of magnitude.
The legal case is the first time a transnational oil company has been subjected to legal jurisdiction in the courts of a developing nation for massive environmental damage. A New York court has already confirmed the Ecuadorian ruling will be enforceable in the United States, where Chevron's operations are based. . .
. . . Citing a June 2004 Supreme Court ruling upholding the 1789 Alien Torts Act, the resolution also warns Chevron executives that, in "a post-Enron environment," they could be found personally liable in a U.S. court for human rights abuses committed abroad, such as those in the Ecuadorian rainforest.
Excerpt from a December Amazon Watch news release
Despite the complicit role of the Ecuadorian government in the environmental degradation from oil operations, the government has taken some steps to conserve what remains of Ecuador's wildlands. According to the ITTO, the government subsidizes the establishment of plantations of native species in danger of extinction and establishment of protection forests. This incentive could prove promising since more than 50 percent of Ecuador's land is degraded and suitable for reforestation. As of 2004, 15.6 percent of Ecuador was officially protected, though timber harvesting and other forest exploitation in protected areas is not uncommon.
In total, between 1990 and 2005, Ecuador lost about 21.5 percent of its forest cover. The deforestation rate has increased by 17 percent since the close of the 1990s.
'A remarkable conservation achievement': Ecuador reserve expands as forest disappears
(10/09/2014) A strip of rainforest running along the northwestern Ecuadorian coast and up through Colombia is one of the most biodiverse places in the world. Yet, less than 10 percent of Ecuador’s portion remains intact, with more forest lost every year to human development. But a little more has been saved for now, with 500 hectares added to an area reserve.
Diverse, deceptive, declining: orchids threatened by deforestation in South America
(09/26/2014) Pushing past a thick fern leaf, Crain stopped short, overcome by joy. As he broke into dance, his assistant peered curiously at the tiny lentil-shaped fruit dangling from a stem, and resolutely decided Crain was mad. After more than two years studying a rare Puerto Rican endemic orchid species, Crain had finally found his first specimen bearing fruit.
How do we save the world's vanishing old-growth forests?
(08/26/2014) There's nothing in the world like a primary forest, which has never been industrially logged or cleared by humans. They are often described as cathedral-like, due to pillar-like trees and carpet-like undergrowth. Yet, the world's primary forests—also known as old-growth forests—are falling every year, and policy-makers are not doing enough to stop it.
'Hope springs eternal': the anniversary of the death of Lonesome George
(06/24/2014) Today marks the two-year anniversary of the death of Lonesome George, the world’s last Pinta Island tortoise. The occasion calls attention to the declines of many turtle and tortoise species, which together form one of the most swiftly disappearing groups of animals on the planet.
Oil company breaks agreement, builds big roads in Yasuni rainforest
(06/05/2014) When the Ecuadorian government approved permits for an oil company to drill deep in Yasuni National Park, it was on the condition that the company undertake a roadless design with helicopters doing most of the leg-work. However, a new report based on high-resolution satellite imagery has uncovered that the company, Petroamazonas, has flouted the agreement's conditions, building a massive access road.
After throwing out referendum, Ecuador approves oil drilling in Yasuni's embattled heart
(06/02/2014) By 2016, oil drilling will begin in what scientists believe is the most biodiverse place on the planet: remote Yasuni National Park. Late last month, Ecuador announced it had approved permits for oil drilling in Yasuni's Ishpingo-Tambococha-Tiputinin (ITT) block, an untouched swathe of primary rainforest covering around 100,000 hectares or about 10 percent of the park.
Olinguito, tinkerbell, and a dragon: meet the top 10 new species of 2013
(05/22/2014) Out of around 18,000 new species described and named last year, scientists have highlighted ten in an effort to raise awareness about the imperiled biodiversity around us. Each species—from a teddy-bear-like carnivore in the Andes to a microbe that survives clean rooms where spaceships are built—stands out from the crowd for one reason or another.
Stolen information may derail Yasuni drilling referendum
(04/30/2014) Environmental activists in Ecuador are accusing the country’s National Electoral Council of breaking into sealed boxes to interfere with completed petitions that call for a referendum on oil drilling in the Amazonian region of Yasuní. The environmentalists had spent six months collecting signatures to oppose Rafael Correa’s plans to extract oil in the eastern portion of the country.
Featured video: celebrities speak out for Yasuni
(04/02/2014) A group of celebrities, including recent Academy Award winner Jared Leto, Law and Order's Benjamin Bratt, and Kill Bill's Daryl Hannah, have lent their voices to a new Public Service Announcement to raise signatures to protect Ecuador's Yasuni National Park from oil drilling.
Several Amazonian tree frog species discovered, where only two existed before
(03/18/2014) We have always been intrigued by the Amazon rainforest with its abundant species richness and untraversed expanses. Despite our extended study of its wildlife, new species such as the olinguito (Bassaricyon neblina), a bear-like carnivore hiding out in the Ecuadorian rainforest, are being identified as recently as last year. In fact, the advent of efficient DNA sequencing and genomic analysis has revolutionized how we think about species diversity. Today, scientists can examine known diversity in a different way, revealing multiple 'cryptic' species that have evaded discovery by being mistakenly classified as a single species based on external appearance alone.
High-living frogs hurt by remote oil roads in the Amazon
(01/14/2014) Often touted as low-impact, remote oil roads in the Amazon are, in fact, having a large impact on frogs living in flowers in the upper canopy, according to a new paper published in PLOS ONE. In Ecuador's Yasuni National Park, massive bromeliads grow on tall tropical trees high in the canopy and may contain up to four liters of standing water. Lounging inside this micro-pools, researchers find a wide diversity of life, including various species of frogs. However, despite these frogs living as high as 50 meters above the forest floor, a new study finds that proximity to oil roads actually decreases the populations of high-living frogs.
Rainforest news review for 2013
(12/26/2013) 2013 was full of major developments in efforts to understand and protect the world's tropical rainforests. The following is a review of some of the major tropical forest-related news stories for the year. As a review, this post will not cover everything that transpired during 2013 in the world of tropical forests. Please feel free to highlight anything this post missed via the comments section at the bottom. Also please note that this review focuses only on tropical forests.
New marsupial discovered in Ecuador
(12/20/2013) Researchers working in Ecuador have identified a previously unknown species of shrew-opossum, according to a study recently published in the Journal of Mammalogy. Contrary to its mousey appearance, Caenolestes sangay, named after the national park where it was discovered, is actually a marsupial. The team from Pacific Lutheran University set up more than 100 live traps over 15 nights on the eastern slopes of Andes. In the course of their research they recovered five specimens of the new species, each measuring approximately 10 centimeters (3.9 inches) long.
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