With its varied ecosystems—from montane forests to rainforests to mangrove swamps—and awakening environmental awareness, some conservation groups believe Honduras may be poised to follow in the footsteps of Costa Rica. Nevertheless, Honduras suffered the greatest percentage loss of forest cover of any country in Latin America over the past generation. Between 1990 and 2005, 37.1 percent of the forests of Honduras disappeared. Worse, since the close of the 1990s, Honduras's rate of forest loss has increased by 9 percent.
||Honduras Forest Figures
Total forest area: 4,648,000 ha
% of land area: 41.5%
Primary forest cover: 1,512,000 ha
% of land area: 13.5%
% total forest area: 32.5%
Deforestation Rates, 2000-2005
Annual change in forest cover: -156,400 ha
Annual deforestation rate: -3.1%
Change in defor. rate since '90s: 8.8%
Total forest loss since 1990: -2,737,000 ha
Total forest loss since 1990:-37.1%
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%
Social services: 0.8%
Multiple purpose: 23.3%
None or unknown: 0
Forest Area Breakdown
Total area: 4,648,000 ha
Primary: 1,512,000 ha
Modified natural: 2,261,000 ha
Semi-natural: 845,000 ha
Production plantation: n/a
Production plantation: 30,000 ha
Plantations, 2005: 30,000 ha
% of total forest cover: 0.6%
Annual change rate (00-05): 800,000 ha
Above-ground biomass: n/a M t
Below-ground biomass: n/a M t
Area annually affected by
Fire: 55,000 ha
Insects: 1,000 ha
Number of tree species in IUCN red list
Number of native tree species: 400
Critically endangered: 43
Wood removal 2005
Industrial roundwood: 1,009,000 m3 o.b.
Wood fuel: 14,567,000 m3 o.b.
Value of forest products, 2005
Industrial roundwood: $18,132,000
Wood fuel: $40,642,000
Non-wood forest products (NWFPs): $4,117,000
Total Value: $62,891,000
More forest statistics for Honduras
Honduras's high rate of deforestation stems from its poverty. Despite its natural wealth, both mineral and biological, Honduras is one of the poorest countries in Central America. Deforestation results from agricultural colonization by subsistence farmers, clearing for cattle pasture, collection of fuelwood (65 percent of the country's energy comes from fuelwood), mining activities, timber harvesting, and forest fires.
Illegal logging is a major problem in Honduras. By some estimates, as much as 85 percent of timber production in the country is illegal. The illicit timber trade feeds endemic corruption that involves politicians, bureaucrats, timber companies, mayors, police, and other officials, according to a 2005 investigation by the Center for International Policy and the Environmental Investigation Agency.
While the government has increasingly taken a pro-environment stance by establishing protected areas and generally cracking down on some illegal forest activities—corruption notwithstanding—its biggest challenge is gaining support from people who rely on forests for subsistence activities. Colonists put pressure on nature reserves while a lack of funds—some of which are being diverted to fight the country's burgeoning gang problem—means that parks are understaffed and illegal activities are hard to control.
Where the government fails or lags, a blossoming grassroots environmental movement has stepped in and is seen by many conservationists as a key to the future of the country's environment. In 1993, the Honduran government passed the country's first national environmental law after years of pressure from these local environmental organizations. That same year, pressure from local and international environmental groups helped influence the government in canceling a contract with Stone Container Corporation of Chicago to log extensive areas along the Mosquito Coast. In 2005, Father Andres Jose Tamayo, a Honduran priest who established the Movement of Olancho—a green group that has fought illegal loggers— won the prestigious Goldman prize for his environmental efforts in the country. However, the scarcity of forest resources is increasingly pitting environmentalists against developers. According to the Associated Press, in 2005 President Ricardo Maduro sent in troops to help quell conflicts between loggers and environmentalists in south-central Honduras. Earlier that year, three members of the Movement of Olancho were shot and killed.
The effects of deforestation are evident during tropical storms and hurricanes that periodically batter the country. In 1998, Hurricane Mitch killed thousands and caused widespread damage to infrastructure. Aerial surveys following the storm revealed that mudslides were worst in deforested areas. Hillsides forested with natural vegetation—which anchors soils—suffered less damage.
In June 2005, Honduras became the second country to receive aid under the Millennium Challenge Account (MCA) program when it signed a five-year $215 million funding deal. The MCA provides money for improving the productivity of farmers and upgrading roads to increase rural accessibility but requires the country to clamp down on corruption and improve its economic and legal systems. At this point it's difficult to anticipate the MCA's impact on the environment. The improvement of roads may very well stimulate more deforestation, but this may be offset by benefits from better forestry law enforcement and higher standards of living among rural residents.
Pictures from Honduras
Recent articles | Honduras news updates | XML
Photo: Stunning new pit-viper discovered in Honduras
(05/15/2013) A stunning new species of pit-viper has been discovered in the cloud forest of Honduras. The venomous snake is described in the journal ZooKeys.
First strike: nearly 200 illegal loggers arrested in massive sting across 12 countries
(02/20/2013) One-hundred-and-ninety-seven illegal loggers across a dozen Central and South American countries have been arrested during INTERPOL's first strike against widespread forestry crime. INTERPOL, or The International Criminal Police Organization, worked with local police forces to take a first crack at illegal logging. In all the effort, known as Operation Lead, resulted in the seizure of 50,000 cubic meters of wood worth around $8 million.
Amphibian, tapir paradise in Honduras being ravaged by illegal deforestation
(02/06/2013) Located in a mountainous area near the border with Guatemala, Cusuco National Park in Honduras is recognized by researchers as a critical refuge for endangered amphibians in a country that has suffered from widespread deforestation. But while the park largely escaped the devastation that has affected other protected areas in Honduras, the situation seems to be changing: since 2010 there has been a sharp increase in deforestation. Poachers, small farmers, and cattle ranchers are moving into the park using a network of research trails and camps established by Operation Wallacea, a British conservation science NGO.
Dry forests disappearing faster than rainforests in Latin America
(08/21/2012) Countries across Latin America lost 78,000 square kilometers of subtropical and tropical dry broadleaf forests between 2001 and 2010, according to a new satellite-based assessment published in the journal Biotropica.
Earth systems disruption: Does 2011 indicate the "new normal" of climate chaos and conflict?
(12/21/2011) The year 2011 has presented the world with a shocking increase in irregular weather and disasters linked to climate change. Just as the 2007 "big melt" of summer arctic sea ice sent scientists and environmentalists scrambling to re-evaluate the severity of climate change, so have recent events forced major revisions and updates in climate science.
Honduras protects sharks in all its waters
(06/26/2011) Endangered sharks are finding more sanctuaries. Honduras has announced that commercial shark fishing will be banned from its 92,665 square miles (240,000 square kilometers) of national waters. Honduras says the ban, which follows a moratorium on shark fishing, will bring in tourism revenue and preserve the marine environment.
Rainforests in Sumatra, Honduras added to UN's danger list
(06/23/2011) Rainforests in Honduras and on the Indonesian island of Sumatra have been added to the U.N.'s "danger" list due to illegal logging, encroachment, and road contruction, reports UNESCO.
Inga alley cropping: a sustainable alternative to slash and burn agriculture
(06/14/2010) It has been estimated that as many as 300 million farmers in tropical countries may take part in slash and burn agriculture. A practice that is environmentally destructive and ultimately unstable. However, research funded by the EEC and carried out in Costa Rica in the late 1980s and early 1990s by Mike Hands offers hope that it is possible to farm more successfully and sustainably in these tropical regions.
Felix Death Toll Washes Up on Coastline
(09/07/2007) Nicaraguan and Honduran officials have announced that upwards of 100 people are confirmed dead, and another 120 still unaccounted for after Hurricane Felix made landfall earlier this week.
Forest fires burn in Central America
(04/10/2006) Hundreds of fires are burning across Central America according to NASA satellite images and reports from the ground. Fires have been detected in Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua.
Illegal timber from Honduras reaching the United States
(11/04/2005) U.S. companies are unknowingly importing illegal Honduran wood, contributing to deforestation, corruption and poverty in the Latin American country, according to a yearlong undercover investigation by the Center for International Policy and the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA).
Honduras wins aid pact tied to human rights, anti-corruption efforts
(07/10/2005) Last month Honduras became to second country to receive aid under the controlversial Millennium Challenge Account program when it signed a five-year $215 million funding deal. The Millennium Challenge Account gives grants to countries committed to respecting the rule of law and reducing corruption.
Honduran priest recognized as environmental hero with $125,000 award
(04/22/2005) On April 18th, 2005, Father José Andrés Tamayo Cortez was awarded the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize. The Prize recognizes individuals for sustained and significant efforts to preserve and enhance the natural environment, often at great personal risk. Each winner receives an award of $125,000, the largest of its kind.
The Next Costa Rica? Environmental activism takes root in Honduras
(04/18/2005) With its biodiversity, rich history, beautiful beaches, and stunning reefs, some believe Honduras could be the ecotourism hotspot in Central America. However, between growing gang violence linked to the drug trade in the United States and conflicts between developers and local communities, the country still faces many challenges in becoming the next Costa Rica. Special correspondent Tina Butler takes a look at changing attitudes about the environment in one of Central America's poorest countries.
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Last updated: 6 Feb 2006