August 6, 2008

Study: Deforestation Causes Are Changing

U.S. conservationists say a shift from poverty-driven to industry-driven deforestation is threatening the world's tropical forests.

But William Laurance of the Smithsonian Institution's Tropical Research Institute in Panama and Rhett Butler of, a San Francisco-based tropical-forest Web site, say the increase in deforestation by big corporations also provides environmental lobby groups with an opportunity.

"Rather than being dominated by rural farmers, tropical deforestation is increasingly driven by major industries -- especially large-scale farming, mining and logging," Laurance said. "Although this trend is pretty scary, it's also much easier to target a handful of global corporations than many millions of poor farmers."

Butler said "green groups" are learning to use public boycotts and embarrassment to target corporations. "And it works," he said. "We're already seeing the global soy, palm oil and timber industries beginning to change their approach. They're realizing they can't run roughshod over the environment. It's just too risky for them."

An article co-authored by Laurance titled "New Strategies for Conserving Tropical Forests" will appear in the September issue of the journal Trends in Ecology & Evolution.