South America’s second-largest forest has been experiencing rapid tree losses in recent decades.
The Gran Chaco is not the most well-known forest in South America. It is second in size and biodiversity to the neighboring Amazon rainforest. Unlike the moist Amazon, the Gran Chaco is located in a semi-arid climate; its vegetation is less colorful. But like the Amazon, the Gran Chaco has been facing rapid deforestation over recent years.
The Gran Chaco spans about 650,000 square kilometers (250,000 square miles) in Argentina, Paraguay, Bolivia, and Brazil—making it the largest dry forest in South America. It largely consists of shrubs and hardwood trees that provide habitat for thousands of plant species and hundreds of animal species. The native Wichí people have hunted and gathered on this land for decades.
But observations by Landsat satellites indicate that roughly 20 percent—142,000 square kilometers (55,000 square miles)—of the forest was converted into farmland or grazing land from 1985-2013. From 2010 to 2018, more than 29,000 square kilometers (11,000 square miles) of the Gran Chaco was cleared for farms and ranches, according to the non-profit Guyra Paraguay. Much of the clearing took place in Argentina.
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Image via NASA Earth Observatory