Forest-Cover Change from Labor- and Capital-Intensive Commercial Logging in the Southern Chocó Rainforests


  • *The authors wish to acknowledge the financial support of the United States Agency for International Development Sustainable use of Biological Resources Project in Ecuador, the Wildlife Conservation Society, and EcoCiencia. Michael Kuby provided valuable comments on an earlier draft of this article. Patricio Azimbaya collaborated with fieldwork and data-processing.


This article examines two key aspects of land-cover change in the south of the Chocó region. First, it assesses and compares the local impact on forest condition of labor-intensive and capital-intensive commercial logging. Second, it assesses the regional significance and permanency of these changes. Studies of land-cover change associated with commercial logging have focused almost exclusively on capital-intensive extraction and have assumed that after logging, degraded forests are transformed into agricultural cover. This study shows that both capital- and labor-intensive logging result in similar land-cover changes (i.e., forest degradation) if the timber sought is the same. However, labor-intensive loggers also seek timber species not sought by capital-intensive loggers, and this impact is statistically different from the impact of the extraction of the first group of species. Results also show that only a small fraction (20–30 percent) of the area logged is later converted to agricultural cover types. The persistence of logged forests means that up to 20 percent of the remaining forest cover could correspond to forests with significant and lasting levels of degradation. Furthermore, the different production requirements for each group of species also mean that there is a spatial differentiation in the impact of logging in the region. Logged forests are arranged into two consecutive corridors on each side of access routes (e.g., rivers). The first corridor corresponds to a narrow (approximately 1-km) band of high-intensity degradation. The second, broader (approximately 2-km) forest band, with lower levels of degradation, extends inland along first-tier corridors. A key factor determining the permanency of this land-cover pattern is the strong control local communities have over the land in the region. This limits the spread of patterns observed in other frontier areas, especially the conversion of logged forests into agricultural cover.