Disentangling the deforestation-environmental crime nexus in Latin America

Nicola Clerici, Christina Staudhammer, Francisco J. Escobedo

Research output: Contribution to journalResearch Articlepeer-review


Deforestation and natural resource extraction are well-known threats to biodiversity conservation, environmental justice, livelihoods, ecosystem services and can even result in crimes to, and harassment of, environmental defenders. Such punitive actions against environmental defenders can influence both economic development and forest conservation efforts. Yet, little is known about this nexus and the complex relationships between environmental impacts, such as deforestation, and environmental crimes across space and time in many regions such as Latin America. We explored these complex relationships using a database of environmental crimes, threats, and harassment (ECTH) affecting environmental defenders, as well as forest loss data, and municipal-level socioeconomic indicators for nine Latin American countries over a period of eleven years. We found that as deforestation increased, there was a large increase in ECTH episodes related to agricultural activity, while in highly populated municipalities there were more ECTH episodes related to energy production, transportation, and urbanization activities. Overall, the percentage of annual deforestation had a strong influence, which varied according to municipal wealth, population density (PD), and geographical context. Statistically significant increases in violent crimes were found with increasing deforestation, but only in Honduras, Guatemala, and Mexico, and in municipalities with lower population densities. Conversely, higher income, more populated municipalities were characterized by judicial harassment, as opposed to violent crimes, indicating a type of Environmental Crime Kuznets Curve relationship. A structural equation model where deforestation was driven by the number of ECTHs, as well as percent forest area, PD, latitude, and country showed that the number of ECTH events and country were significant drivers of deforestation. Understanding these complex social-ecological dynamics shows the profound effects that deforestation and unsustainable, and unjust, environmental impacts and conflicts can have across forests and ecosystems of the Global South in terms of social justice and conservation, and thus merits increased protection of environmental defenders in Latin America.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number100610
JournalTrees, Forests and People
StatePublished - Sep 2024

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Forestry
  • Economics, Econometrics and Finance (miscellaneous)
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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