60-Second Science

Narcotics Trafficking Slashes Central American Forests

Central American forests have been razed for roads and plane strips to traffic narcotics as well as agricultural operations used to launder drug money. Cynthia Graber reports


The drug trade has devastated communities in Central and South America. Policy makers are now looking at moving away from trying to stop drug production, to trying to curb demand. If it works and narcotic producers lose power, Central America’s forests may benefit along with its people. That’s according to a new policy report in the journal Science. [Kendra McSweeney et al., Drug Policy as Conservation Policy: Narco-Deforestation]

It turns out that the growth of the cocaine business has led in Central America to what’s called narco-deforestation. The practice takes place in ecologically sensitive and even protected areas.

Poverty, weak governments, and illegal logging all affect forest use. But Central America has become an important bridge between the U.S. and South America’s cocaine. Forests have been slashed for roads and plane landings. And when local ranchers or timber sellers become rich with drug money, they expand their operations. Narcotic producers also develop habitat for legal agriculture that’s used to launder drug money. Government agents are bribed to turn away, and conservation groups fear entering these areas.

The study authors say that the ecological and conservation impacts of the drug trade are underappreciated—and that they should inform both conservation and drug policy in the future.

—Cynthia Graber

[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.] 

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