photo: Sam Beebe/Ecotrust via flickr.
Reinforcing what previous studies have show, new research in the journal Conservation Letters reveals that as people start leaving the Amazon forest for urban centers, rather than as supposed, exploitation of the forest continues unchecked as commercial activities continue, supplying the cities. Mongabay quotes report author Luke Parry from Lancaster University:
You might think that as people leave the forest there would be a conservation gain, that the abandoned land and rivers would be left to nature. However, we found that wasn't the case. Although plants and animals were no longer being farmed and harvested by subsistence resource users, other more commercial activities moved in.
We found evidence that commercial activity continued on the rivers many hundreds of miles beyond the last rural household. Much of the harvesting we observed was to supply the demand for wild foods such as turtles, fish and forest animals to service growing demand from the Amazon's burgeoning urban population.
Parry said that when people leave their villages it creates a vacuum, exploited by speculators who chop down forest for cattle pasture in the hopes of making money as the land value increases.
The takeaway: An increasing body of research shows that rather than being a boon for conservation, on the presumption that forests will be able to recover with less people living in an among them, at minimum it's not that simple.
Parry suggests the way to combat this trend is to support policies encouraging sustainable low-density rural populations "though the federal or state demarcation of inhabited sustainable use reserves."