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Contrasting colonist and indigenous impacts on Amazonian forests

Flora Lu, University of California, Santa Cruz
Clark L. Gray, Duke University
Carlos Mena, Universidad San Francisco de Quito
Christine M. Erlien, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Jason Bremner, Population Reference Bureau (PRB)
Stephen J. Walsh, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

In the most common narrative of tropical deforestation, agricultural clearing by migrant colonists is assigned much of the blame and the activities of indigenous peoples are assumed to be ecologically sustainable. We test this hypothesis using regional-scale survey and spatial datasets from colonist and indigenous territories in the Northern Ecuadorian Amazon. We compare measures of land use derived from surveys and satellite imagery for colonist and indigenous households, and discuss regression models of the influences on land use for each of these populations. The results confirm that forest impacts by colonists are greater than those of indigenous peoples in terms of area cleared, rates of deforestation, and measures of forest fragmentation. Nevertheless, substantial variation in land use patterns exists among five indigenous groups. The results indicate that stereotypes of rapacious colonists and sustainable indigenous peoples should be set aside as part of a more nuanced understanding of frontier land use.

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Presented in Session 74: Population impact on deforestation in developing countries