|All that Glitters is not Gold - Balancing Conservation and Development in Venezuela's Frontier Forests (WRI, 1998, 60 pages)|
The forests of Venezuela's Guayana region, part of the world's largest tropical forest frontier, hold enormous opportunity for careful stewardship and long-term conservation. Until recently, Venezuela has avoided large-scale extractive activity in this region, partly because of government policy that focussed on oil development in the north of the country. However, the uncertainty of oil revenues and a series of short-term economic crises have led policy-makers to reconsider opening up the south to large-scale extractive development. This study focusses on the implications of such development for long-term conservation of the region, identifying three major challenges for the country to address if it is to develop careful stewardship of its last intact forest heritage:
1. The benefits from logging and mining are not being fully captured at the national or local levels.
· Small-scale gold miners produce an estimated $50 million to $100 million worth of gold per year, but pay no taxes.
· Royalties on logs cut by local timber companies capture only 3 percent of the total value of the wood cut.
2. Logging and mining currently cause considerable negative environmental and social impacts in the Guayana region.
Small-scale mining has resulted in increased sedimentation, mercury contamination, and conflict with indigenous communities. Logging has contributed to habitat fragmentation and declining biodiversity in some areas. Two of the primary reasons for these negative impacts are:
· Lack of government capacity to monitor extractive activities in the field. Only four Ministry of Environment personnel directly monitor logging and mining across over 3 million hectares of the Guayana region.
· Conflict among government ministries and agencies. Efforts to conserve forest resources are generally not coordinated across government institutions as long-term conservation priorities have not been clearly integrated.
3. Expansion of logging and mining activity is likely to bring fewer benefits and higher environmental and social costs than expected.
The area under logging concessions has increased significantly in the last decade. Mining has also been given priority in government development policy, and large-scale mining has been specifically targeted as the favored option. This could pose a potential problem for the region's forests and people because:
· Venezuela has no standards for reclamation of industrial mining sites, and performance bonds are not set to take into account the full range of potential post-mining environmental impacts.
· Government plans to stimulate mining and timber production are not accompanied by adequate capacity for environmental regulation and oversight.