Despite public promises to prioritize forest protection, between 2001 and 2019, Panama lost 414,000 hectares (or 7.3%) of its tree cover, including 73,000 hectares of primary rainforest. The Darien region saw the most deforestation in that period, amounting to 104,000 ha of tree cover loss.
Indigenous land rights in Panama faces the triple threat of quickly increasing deforestation pressure, a government that is slow to recognize indigenous rights in or near protected areas and a dangerous border with neighboring Colombia – where migrants, drug traffickers and paramilitary organizations create a risky environment for indigenous communities and forests.
Main drivers of deforestation in Panama include cattle ranching and logging which are moving together as the agricultural frontier expands into primary forests. Illegal incursions by miners and ranchers onto indigenous lands are commonplace and the source of growing tensions and conflicts, which have at times turned violent and led to the loss of lives of indigenous land defenders in Panama. The expansion of commercial oil palm, the road network and mining and infrastructure are other sources of deforestation in Panama, as is the growing number of annual forest fires.