Land and Resources, Environmental Issues
canal open, ecological threats, Darien jungle, selective logging, intensive agriculture
Serious deforestation began with the arrival of the Spaniards in the 16th century. European settlers preferred the coastal lands in the south, because once cleared they did not quickly return to jungle. Today the southern watershed has been mostly stripped of trees for agriculture and cattle. This has not been seen as a problem until recently, and modest efforts have begun to reforest endangered hillsides. Environmental experts also point out dangers from growing settlement in the Darien jungle, which cannot support intensive agriculture, and from selective logging of the most valuable trees in that region. A number of organizations actively seek to reduce these ecological threats, and public awareness is growing.
Soil erosion in the Chagres River Basin constitutes a more immediate ecological threat in Panama. Penetrated by the Transistmica Highway, this area has been occupied by about 25,000 families. Clearing and planting has led to soil runoff into the rivers and eventually into the Panama Canal. Stepped-up dredging operations have kept the canal open, but continued clearing could jeopardize its operations. The Chagres National Park was established to protect the fragile lands near the headwaters of the river. Another conservation effort, Soberania National Park, encompasses 22,000 hectares (54,000 acres) of forested land along the east bank of the Panama Canal.
Long-term environmental hazards are expected from disposal of hazardous materials and unexploded ammunition on U.S. military bases in areas the United States controlled as part of the Panama Canal Zone.
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