PANAMA CITY – Panamanian Environment Minister Milciades Concepcion warned that just three of his country’s 10 provinces have good forest coverage after decades of deforestation that has destroyed at least 50 of the woodlands and jungle.
Therefore, he asked for everyone’s help in implementing plans to recover and monitor the forests, including the one-year moratorium on lumbering and the suspension on issuing lumbering permits.
In speaking with EFE, Concepcion admitted that in Panama environmental regulations are not complied with, that people need to be educated about preserving the environment starting in grade school and that urgent action is needed to halt the deforestation that threatens the rich Darien forest, a World Heritage Site and a bio-preserve.
What are Panama’s most pressing environmental problems?
Panama has many environmental problems and we’re involved in resolving them ... The first is enforcing the regulations ... they’re not being enforced. Therefore, we have much more deforestation. Fifty percent of Panama’s forests have been lost and with them the biodiversity. About 30 percent of our lands that have been deforested are sterile. We have to regenerate and recover the soil.
When you say that 50 percent of the forests have been lost, can we determine over what time period and the reason?
Since 1950, since that decade, we’ve seen that deforestation has been increasing ... Then, we had almost 90 percent forest coverage, and it was degraded so much that by 2012, which is the latest report we have, we had practically 50 percent less ... We just have good forest coverage in Darien, Colon and Bocas del Toro. In Darien, we have 80 percent forest coverage, and so we are focused on urgent tasks and with society in general to rescue the Darien forests and also those in Bocas del Toro so that that coverage that we enjoy is not destroyed and gets to alarming levels in the country.
Eighty percent of the land in Darien province is forest. How much has been lost in Darien through deforestation?
Twenty percent of Darien province has been deforested in the last seven years. About 8.2 hectares (around 20 acres) in Darien is being destroyed each day.
Is that a lot?
It’s enough, too much. There are more than 3,000 hectares (denuded) each year just in Darien province.
And that destruction, who’s doing it?
All the studies tell us that 90 percent of the lumbering in the Darien forests is from clearcutting, that is, as a result of cattle-raising and agriculture. A maximum of 10 percent is from harvesting of the wood, and there was also a lot of chaos in earlier years (with the permits), which we’re going to correct. That 80 percent of the forest coverage in Darien, above all, is ... in indigenous areas and in the forest preserve, in the protected areas. In the areas where there are no indigenous peoples and in the non-protected areas is where basically the 20 percent has been destroyed.
How are you dealing with the Darien problem?
We’ve already established a resolution for a one-year moratorium, prohibiting new (lumbering) permits and controlling the permits authorized during past administrations, so that the rules of sustainable extraction are complied with.
The ones in Darien, then, are not the only forests that are being cut down in Panama?
It’s on the national level, so this resolution declaring a moratorium is on the national level ... We’re being very vertical in the application of the environmental rules. We have the full support of the National Police, the National Aeronaval Service (Senan), the National Border Service (Senafront).
What impact do you expect this one-year prohibition on issuing lumbering permits to have when most of the cutting ... is illegal?
The resolution not only establishes control over the legal permits and the suspension (on issuing new ones), but we’re also going to fully organize and coordinate with the municipalities, with the security authorities, and in fact that’s being done. In Darien and in Bocas del Toro many people have already been nabbed “in the act” with chainsaws cutting down trees and all that equipment has been confiscated from them and they’ve been put at the disposal of the environmental prosecutors, and within the Environment Ministry administrative procedures have been started that basically include fines. But this also implies that we need to organize society so that we’re all defending our natural resources ... We at the Environment Ministry alone, with our 1,700 personnel, cannot do it. We’re leading the environmental effort ... We want to work as a team because all of us have to save the country environmentally.