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Professor warns of more Colombia forest fires in Rutgers study

Fires in the Colombian Amazon are more likely now than in 2016 due to unforeseen impacts that the end of war and subsequent government-based land management have had. A Rutgers study found that threats to the country’s high level of biodiversity are growing.  – Photo by

Colombia’s protected tropical forest lands face a 600 percent increased likelihood of fires, according to Rutgers Today

Following Colombia’s 2016 peace deal between the government and its decades-long Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia — People's Army (FARC) guerrillas, the country’s militant groups have demobilized out of the forests, which is causing the dramatic increase in forest fires, according to the article.

Laura C. Schneider, an associate professor in the Department of Geography at Rutgers University—New Brunswick and co-author of the study, believes this increase is a result of farmers being unable to burn and convert the forests into new farmland, as the guerrillas were camped in the country’s vast tropical vegetation.

“This dramatic increase from trends in the last decade will boost the likelihood of deforestation in protected areas in the upcoming year,” Schneider said.

Since the war’s end, government and private land management has been absent, causing the increase in threats of forest fires to one of the most biodiverse areas in the world.

The Colombian government does not have the environmental nor other law enforcement capabilities to manage the forest frontier, causing enforcement to be up for grabs for small landholders, ranchers, land speculators, drug traffickers and others.

Guerrillas in the past had their own system of managing forest conservation, which they only enforced episodically and at gunpoint to avoid government detection. But conservation was integrated into their survival, according to the article. 

Despite this past management, the peace agreement includes language for sustainability development and promises a certain amount of usable land for the former guerrillas. 

Schneider, along with her co-researchers, recommends quick changes in Colombia’s ecological management. 

According to the article, the country should enact real-time forest monitoring, expand on programs to pay farmers and others to protect the forested areas, instate government integration of demobilized armed group members as staff for forest protection and establish a domestic market for frontier deforestation permits.

“The time for securing peace with the forest is now,” according to the study by scientists at Universidad Nacional de Colombia, Rutgers and Stony Brook University.

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