PANAMA CITY – Panama has managed to reduce the amount of forest destroyed every year from more than 10,000 hectares (27,000 acres) to roughly 8,000 hectares, Environment Minister Melciades Concepcion said Thursday.
He mentioned the figure while presenting the Forest Cover Diagnostic, which shows a reduction in the rate of deforestation starting in 2012.
Panama’s nearly 5 million hectares of forest and woodland represent 65 percent of the national territory, down slightly from just over 67 percent in 2012.
“In the period 2000-2012, more than 10,000 hectares a year were lost, and in 2012-2019 roughly 8,000 (hectares) were lost annually. It has been reduced by many factors ... but the tools of environmental management are effective,” Concepcion said.
The provinces that have experienced the highest levels of deforestation are Veraguas, Panama - which includes Panama City - and Darien, bordering Colombia.
Darien, designated by the United Nations as a Natural World Heritage Site, holds more than a quarter of Panama’s forests.
Concepcion said that the government wants to conduct the Forest Cover Diagnostic every year in order to gauge more precisely the effect of new conservation strategies, such as the suspension last September of logging permits.
The Environment Ministry also introduced on Thursday the National Environmental Information System, known by the Spanish acronym SINIA.
Members of the public can use SINIA to view “all environmental information, including the (forest cover) map,” Concepcion said.
He defended the environmental policies implemented under President Laurentino Cortizo, who took office last year, and pointed to his ministry’s efforts at enforcement.
Every week, Concepcion said, authorities arrest illegal loggers caught in the act, adding that the administration plans to ask congress to “increase penalties for environmental offenses.”
In October, the Environment Ministry plans to begin implanting QR-coded chips in trees in Darien and the Panama Este zone as a way to combat illegal cutting.
“Environmental offenders should go to prison,” Concepcion said on a previous occasion, citing a 10 percent increase in illegal fires - a common method to clear land for agriculture - in 2019 and the growing threat to Panama from climate change.