Colombia forest fires fall 70% in first 30 days of 2023 vs 2022 -NGO

BOGOTA, Feb 3 (Reuters) - Incidents of forest fires in Colombia fell by almost 70% during the first 30 days of 2023 versus the year-earlier period, local advocacy group the Foundation for Conservation and Sustainable Development (FCDS) said on Friday.

Illegal loggers typically burn felled forest in Colombia at the start of the year, during the drier months, as they clear land to make way for cattle rearing and illicit industries such as illegal mining and cultivation of coca, the chief ingredient in cocaine.

The FCDS recorded 13,123 fire alerts in forests across the country in the first 30 days of the year, down sharply from over 41,960 alerts in the year-earlier period, the organization said in a statement.

"There has been a very significant reduction in clearing forest and undergrowth in many of the Amazonian regions where there was a lot of deforestation in the past," FCDS director general Rodrigo Botero told journalists in a voice message.

However, the good news should be taken with caution, the FCDS said. The La Nina weather phenomena, which caused cooler and wetter weather across the country last year, could have pushed loggers to wait for drier weather, which could come in the next few weeks, the statement said.

Other reasons could include success of government and advocacy-group efforts to promote sustainable practices, as well as steps taken by dissident members of the now-demobilized FARC guerrillas to control logging, FCDS added.

As in neighboring Brazil, deforestation is a huge challenge for Colombia, one of the world's most biodiverse countries.

Last year, from January through Sept. 30, Colombia lost 86,985 hectares (214,944 acres) of its Amazon rainforest, the preservation of which scientists say is crucial for combating climate change, according to the FCDS.

In 2021, national deforestation rose 1.5% versus 2020 levels to 174,103 hectares.

A paper published on Friday in scientific journal Nature found that cattle ranching, rather than coca cultivation, is the largest driver of deforestation in the South American country.

The "vast majority" of deforestation is attributed to cattle ranching, the report said, calling the expansion of cattle-led deforestation since the signing of the 2016 peace deal with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) "unprecedented."

(This story has been corrected to change the source to FCDS, and not the government, in paragraph 8)

Reporting by Oliver Griffin; Editing by David Gregorio

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