Defending the Darien Indigenous forest conservation in Panama's Darien

The Darien is one of the most intact and biodiverse forest regions in Mesoamerica. It is home to three indigenous peoples, Panama's most diverse living systems and the only gap in the 30,000 miles of Pan-American highway between Alaska and Tierra del Fuego.

The forests of the Darien are under intense pressure from loggers and ranchers who have exhausted resources and lands elsewhere in the country.

14 years of satellite imagery and spatial analysis reveal that indigenous communities are among the most effective protectors of topical forests and the culture, biodiversity, and carbon that they contain. Recent research shows that indigenous stewardship is just as effective at stopping deforestation as establishing and managing national parks, and they do so facing even more pressure from development than protected areas.

Recognized indigenous territories are a critical and efficient piece of forest conservation and climate change mitigation strategies in under-resourced developing countries.















Titled (formally recognized) indigenous territories have the lowest rate of deforestation. They are more effective at forest conservation than protected areas such as national parks. Untitled indigenous lands fared only slightly worse than protected areas, though they are still nearly an order of magnitude more effective than unprotected land.

Despite comprising more than 50% of the area of Eastern Panama, they account for only 17% of the deforestation in the region, while 14% occurred in protected areas. Other (non-indigenous / non-protected) lands account for 76% of the deforestation, even though they constitute only 32% of the overall land mass.

Another way to look at it: If indigenous lands had been deforested at the same rate as non-indigenous / non-protected lands, an additional 176,683 hectares (682 square miles) of forest would've been lost between 2000 and 2014. An area equal to half the state of Rhode Island and about 47,500,000 metric tons of atmospheric carbon. That's about 3% of the United States annual transportation emissions!

The Panamanian government should do a better job of recognizing how indigenous communities contribute to a healthy environment by granting formal land titles to the 500,000 hectares of unrecognized indigenous territory in Panama.

Watch the film below to learn more about how indigenous communities are protecting their forests and stopping deforestation.

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