By Rhett Butler   |   Venezuela, one of the ten most biodiverse countries on Earth, is home to extensive rainforests ranging from cloud forests of the coastal mountain ranges to the rainforests of the Guiana shield and Amazon basin. Venezuela has more than 21,000 species of plants, 353 mammal species, 323 reptile species, 1,400 bird species, and 288 amphibians.

Forest cover and loss in Venezuela

Using a ten percent tree cover as a threshold, forests and plantations covered nearly two-thirds of Venezuela's land mass, or about 59 million hectares, in 2012, according to researchers led by Matt Hansen (2013). Dense forests — areas with more than 50 percent tree cover — amounted to just under 54 million hectares.

The largest extent of forests in Venezuela are found in Bolivar, which accounts for about a third of the country's forests. Amazonas is second with about 30 percent of Venezuela's forest cover.

Hansen's research shows that Venezuela lost 1.25 million hectares of forest cover, or 2.1 percent, between 2001-2012.

Total forest areaDense forest areaForest gainForest lossTotal land area
>10% tree cover (ha)% total land cover>50% tree cover (ha)% total land cover2001-2012 (ha)% total forest cover2001-2012 (ha)% total forest cover(ha)
Delta Amacuro342869588.3%336954686.8%332130096.9%108750.3%3882978
Distrito Capital1720552.5%1258138.4%837248.7%1851.1%32753
Nueva Esparta1770017.6%1078210.7%728341.1%1210.7%100483

Cattle ranching is the biggest driver of deforestation in Venezuela. In the 1980s and 1990s, gold mining and logging were important causes of deforestation and forest degradation, but logging has dwindled in recent years. Gold mining still causes intense damage where it occurs, but limited to southern reaches of the country. There is potential to expand coal and bauxite mining in the country, potentially putting forests at risk.

In the mid-2000s, former president Hugo Chavez proposed a controversial pipeline that would run 5,000 miles south through the heart of the Amazon rainforest. But the project failed to get off the ground.

On paper Venezuela has protected more than a third of its land mass in its system of parks and reserves. But many of these protected areas have suffered from incursion by illegal loggers and miners.

Charts showing forest cover and loss in Venezuela

Venezuela environmental news | XML | pictures

Venezuela Forest Figures

Forest Cover
Total forest area: 47,713,000 ha
% of land area: 54.1%
Primary forest cover: n/a
% of land area: n/a
% total forest area: n/a
Deforestation Rates
Annual change in forest cover: -287,600 ha
Annual deforestation rate: -0.6%
Change in rate 90-00 vs 00-05: 5.9%
Annual loss of primary forests: n/a
Annual deforestation rate: n/a
Change in rate 90-00 vs 00-05: n/a
Forest Classification
Public: n/a
Private: n/a
Other: n/a

Production: 38.1%
Protection: n/a
Conservation: 61.9%
Social services: n/a
Multiple purpose: n/a
None or unknown: n/a
Forest Area Breakdown
Total area: 47,713,000 ha
Primary: n/a
Modified natural: n/a
Semi-natural: n/a
Production plantation: n/a
Production plantation: n/a
Plantations, 2005: n/a
% of total forest cover: n/a
Annual change rate (00-05): n/a
- M t
Below-ground biomass: - M t
Area annually affected by

: 14,000 ha
Insects: n/a
Diseases: n/a
Number of tree species in IUCN red list
Number of native tree species: 1,360
Critically endangered: 3
Endangered: 6
Vulnerable: 50
Wood removal 2005
Industrial roundwood: 8121000 m3 o.b.
Wood fuel: 21000 m3 o.b.
Value of forest products, 2005
Industrial roundwood: $43,856,000
Wood fuel: n/a
Non-wood forest products (NWFPs): n/a
Total Value: $43,856,000

More forest statistics for Venezuela

New bird uncovered in South American conflict region, researchers urge protection

(05/28/2015) For many years, study skins of a bird languished in a dusty drawer in the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of Natural History, classified hurriedly (and erroneously,) as Scytalopus atratus nigricans, a songbird found in lower montane forests. Recently, scientists rediscovered the bird on the Venezuelan slopes of the Perijá Mountains, and were able to use twenty-first century techniques to describe its genetics, ecology and appearance. In doing so, they identified it as a new species: the Perijá tapaculo.

62M ha of Latin American forests cleared for agriculture since 2001

(05/19/2015) Over 62 million hectares (240,000 square miles) of forest across Latin America — an area roughly the size of Texas or the United Kingdom — were cleared for new croplands and pastureland between 2001 and 2013, find a study published in Environmental Research Letters.

What's the current deforestation rate in the Amazon rainforest?

(05/15/2015) Nearly two-thirds of the Amazon rainforest is located in Brazil, making it the biggest component in the region's deforestation rate. Helpfully, Brazil also has the best systems for tracking deforestation, with the government and Imazon, a national civil society organization, releasing updates on a quarterly and monthly basis using MODIS satellite data, respectively. Both the Brazilian government and Imazon release more accurate data on an annual basis using higher resolution Landsat satellite imagery.

Colombia proposes protected corridor across South America

(03/03/2015) Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos has announced plans to create the world’s largest protected area, stretching from the Atlantic Ocean to the Andes Mountains. Santos plans to propose the protected environmental corridor during the UN climate talks in Paris later this year as a means to combat global warming.

Rainforest loss increased in the 2000s, concludes new analysis

(02/25/2015) Loss of tropical forests accelerated roughly 60 percent during the 2000s, argues a paper published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters. The findings contradict previous research suggesting that deforestation slowed since the 1990s. The study is based on a map of 1990 forest cover developed last year by Do-Hyung Kim and colleagues from the University of Maryland. The map, which includes 34 countries that contain 80 percent of the world's tropical forests, enabled the researchers to establish a consistent baseline for tracking forest cover change across regions and countries over time.

Gold mining expanding rapidly along Guiana Shield, threatening forests, water, wildlife

(10/22/2014) Gold mining is on the rise in the Guiana Shield, a geographic region of South America that holds one of the world’s largest undisturbed tract of rainforest. A new mapping technology using a radar and optical imaging combination has detected a significant increase in mining since 2000, threatening the region's forests and water quality.

Outcompeted: Species competition may result in geographic isolation

(10/03/2014) Scientists have long believed that gene flow and species dispersal is only interrupted by physical barriers, like mountain ranges, rivers or even the complete disappearance of a suitable habitat. But new research into the distribution of two mouse opossum species in South America suggests that other factors may play a role as well, such as competition and predation.

Invasion of the lionfish: new research finds the situation may be worse than we thought

(08/27/2014) You may have recently read the controversial story on invasive lionfish research involving Dr. Zack Jud of Florida International University and a young girl named Lauren Arrington. While the issue of attribution in scientific research is crucial to the discipline, much of the media focus so far has sidestepped the real issue: what lionfish tolerance for brackish water really means for the environment.

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.

New report reveals human rights abuses by corporations, governments in the Amazon

(05/14/2014) Regnskogfondet (the Rainforest Foundation of Norway) recently released a 52-page report that gives an in-depth account of the conflicts activists and indigenous peoples (IPs) are having with corporations and governmental agencies. It relays a situation that does not look good.

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.

Scientists identify 137 protected areas most important for preserving biodiversity

(11/14/2013) Want to save the world's biodiversity from mass extinction? Then make certain to safeguard the 74 sites identified today in a new study in Science. Evaluating 173,000 terrestrial protected areas, scientists pulled out the most important ones for global biodiversity based on the number of threatened mammals, birds, and amphibians found in the parks. In all they identified 137 protected areas (spread over 74 sites as many protected areas were in the same region) in 34 countries as 'irreplaceable.'

Suggested reading - Books

CIA-World Factbook Profile
FAO-Forestry Profile

Last updated: 23 Jul 2014