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Cocaine, Cattle & Conservation: Drivers of Deforestation in Honduras
MRIC 2015/16

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Cocaine, Cattle & Conservation: Drivers of Deforestation in Honduras

Cocaine, Cattle and Conservation: Drivers of Deforestation in Honduras

Presented by Spencer Plumb, Department of Natural Resources and Society

Spencer Plumb

Department of Natural Resources & Society

Presented with support of the Provost’s Office and University Honors Program


Within the last ten years, frontier forests of Central America have become a strategic distribution center for drug traffickers transporting cocaine from South America into the United States. While drug trafficking is known to have deleterious societal effects, the relationship between drug trafficking and deforestation in Central America is not well understood.

This research investigates the connection between drug trafficking and deforestation in the Rio Platano Biosphere Reserve (RPBR) of Honduras. Remote sensing analyses of Landsat and SPOT images show that deforestation rates have accelerated and the size of deforestation patches have increased in the RPBR in the last ten  years.

Results from secondary data, key informant interviews and community surveys conducted, indicate that the direct and indirect effects of drug money laundering through cattle ranching are a major driver of tropical deforestation. Under these circumstances, market-based payments from REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) for forest conservation are neither politically tenable nor economically powerful enough to stop forest conversion.

These results reveal new proximate and underlying drivers of deforestation in the Mesoamerican Biological Corridor. Recommendations for REDD+ include project designs that support local governance and provide development opportunities to stem land-use change driven by lucrative, albeit illegal activities.


Spencer Plumb is a program associate for the Southern Rockies with the National Forest Foundation and a Ph.D. candidate in the Natural Resources and Society department in the UI’s College of Natural Resources. His research focuses on the institutional designs and programmatic tools that encourage effective management of ecosystem services. His research has spanned a variety of contexts, including: deforestation in Honduras, freshwater flows in the Columbia Basin and forest restoration on Federal. Plumb holds a bachelor's degree in organization communication from the University of Portland and a master's in environmental science and policy from Northern Arizona University. He is a former Doris Duke Conservation Fellow and National Science Foundation GK-12 Teaching Fellow.

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