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.
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.
Big data shows tropical mammals on the decline
(12/12/2013) The world's largest remote camera trap initiative—monitoring 275 species in 17 protected areas—is getting some big data assistance from Hewlett-Packard (HP). To date, the monitoring program known as the Tropical Ecology Assessment and Monitoring (TEAM) Network has taken over 1.5 million photos of animals in 14 tropical countries, but conservationists have struggled with how to quickly evaluate the flood of data.
Ecuador's government shuts down indigenous rights organization over oil battle
(12/10/2013) Last Wednesday, the government of Ecuador shutdown the indigenous rights NGO, Fundación Pachamama, in Quito over the group's opposition to oil drilling in indigenous areas. More than a dozen government officials showed up at Pachamama's office with a resolution by the Ministry of Environment that officially dissolved the organization, the first such moved by the government which in June passed an Executive Decree that tightened governmental oversight of the country's NGOs.
Top 10 Environmental Stories of 2013
(12/10/2013) 1. Carbon concentrations hit 400ppm while the IPCC sets global carbon budget: For the first time since our appearance on Earth, carbon concentrations in the atmosphere hit 400 parts per million. The last time concentrations were this high for a sustained period was 4-5 million years ago when temperatures were 10 degrees Celsius higher. Meanwhile, in the slow-moving effort to curb carbon emissions, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) crafted a global carbon budget showing that most of the world's fossil fuel reserves must be left untouched if we are to avoid catastrophic climate change.
Satellites reveal browning mountain forests
(11/22/2013) In a dramatic response to global warming, tropical forests in the high elevation areas of five continents have been "browning" since the 1990s. They have been steadily losing foliage, and showing less photosynthetic activity. Scientists analyzed the forest cover by using satellites to measure sunlight bouncing off the surface of the earth, then determining the different surface types via reflection patterns.
Could camera trap videos galvanize the world to protect Yasuni from oil drilling?
(11/07/2013) Even ten years ago it would have been impossible to imagine: clear-as-day footage of a jaguar plodding through the impenetrable Amazon, or a bicolored-spined porcupine balancing on a branch, or a troop of spider monkeys feeding at a clay lick, or a band of little coatis racing one-by-one from the dense foliage. These are things that even researchers who have spent a lifetime in the Amazon may never see. Now anyone can: scientists at the Tiputini Biodiversity Station in Ecuador's Yasuní National Park have recently begun using camera trap videos to take movies of animals few will ever view in their lifetimes. The videos—following years of photo camera trapping—provide an intimate view of a world increasingly threatened by the oil industry.
Over 100 scientists warn Ecuadorian Congress against oil development in Yasuni
(10/03/2013) Over 100 scientists have issued a statement to the Ecuadorian Congress warning that proposed oil development and accompanying roads in Yasuni National Park will degrade its "extraordinary biodiversity." The statement by a group dubbed the Scientists Concerned for Yasuni outlines in detail how the park is not only likely the most biodiverse ecosystems in the western hemisphere, but in the entire world. Despite this, the Ecuadorian government has recently given the go-ahead to plans to drill for oil in Yasuni's Ishpingo-Tambococha-Tiputini (ITT) blocs, one of most remote areas in the Amazon rainforest.
The case against Ecuador’s claims of 'low-impact drilling' in Yasuní
(09/16/2013) Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa recently announced to the world that he was ending the 6-year initiative aimed at avoiding oil drilling in a critical piece of the Amazon, the ITT Block of Yasuní National Park. In the speech, and the accompanying Decree, the President emphasized that the exploitation will affect less than 1% of the park. In subsequent remarks, President Correa indicated that the impacted area would be less than 0.001%. Thus, the new government pitch: minimum impact, maximum reward. Here, we counter that impacts related to biodiversity, indigenous people in voluntary isolation, and climate change may be severe.
Scientists outline how to save nearly 70 percent of the world's plant species
(09/05/2013) In 2010 the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) pledged to set aside 17 percent of the world's land as protected areas in addition to protecting 60 percent of the world's plant species—through the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation (GSPC)—by 2020. Now a new study in Science finds that the world can achieve both ambitious goals at the same time—if only we protect the right places. Looking at data on over 100,000 flower plants, scientists determined that protecting 17 percent of the world's land (focusing on priority plant areas) would conserve 67 percent of the world's plants.
Featured video: 'this is day one for the olinguito'
(09/04/2013) Last month scientists unveiled a remarkable discovery: a new mammal in the order Carnivora (even though it mostly lives off fruits) in the Andean cloud forests. This was the first new mammal from that order in the Western Hemisphere since the 1970s. The olinguito had long been mistaken for its closest relatives, olingos—small tree-dwelling mammals that inhabit the lowland rainforests of South and Central America—however genetic research showed the olinguito had actually been separated by 3-4 million years from its cousins.
Deforestation surges as Ecuador kills Amazon protection plan
(09/04/2013) Data released this week by Terra-i, a collaborative mapping initiative, shows that deforestation in Ecuador for the first three months of 2013 was pacing more than 300 percent ahead of last year's rate. The report comes shortly after Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa killed off a proposed plan to prohibit oil drilling in Yasuni National Park in exchange for payments equivalent to half the value of the park's unexploited oil.
Yasuni could still be spared oil drilling
(08/26/2013) When Ecuadorean President, Rafael Correa, announced on August 15th that he was abandoning an innovative program to spare three blocs of Yasuni National Park from oil drilling, it seemed like the world had tossed away its most biodiverse ecosystem. However, environmental groups and activists quickly responded that there may be another way to keep oil companies out of Yasuni's Ishpingo-Tambococha-Tiputini (ITT) blocs: a national referendum.
Meet the BABY olinguito
(08/18/2013) Since its announcement on Thursday, the olinguito—the world's newest mammal—has taken the world by storm. Hundreds of articles have been written about the new species, while its cuddly appearance has already been made the subject of cartoons. Now, conservationists have released the first photos of a baby olinguito. The new photos come from La Mesenia Conservation Project in Colombia, an Andean cloud forest reserve that is a project area for the NGO SavingSpecies.
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