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Assessing the effectiveness of a land zoning policy in the Dry Chaco. The Case of Santiago del Estero, Argentina

Camba Sans, Gonzalo Hernán, Aguiar, Sebastián, Vallejos, María, Paruelo, José María
Land use policy 2018 v.70 pp. 313-321
decision making, deforestation, dry forests, forestry law, issues and policy, land use change, national forests, spatial data, sustainable land management, zoning, Argentina
Land use zoning has been proposed as an instrument to steer sustainable land use and reduce deforestation. Its effectiveness is a growing concern among researchers and decision makers. Nowadays, the dry forests of the Argentine Chaco are a global hotspot of deforestation, where a zoning policy has been established through the enactment of a National Forest Law. The law imposed on the provinces the obligation to define land use zones in their native forests. Ten years after the enforcement of the National Forest Law, we assessed the effectiveness of the zoning policy of Santiago del Estero, one of Argentina’s provinces with higher deforestation rates. For this, we combined the provincial forest zoning with the extent of forest cover and a plot level land transformation geodatabase. The deforested area halved during the five-year period after the enactment of the law, decreasing from 910 103ha in 2003–2008 (i.e. before the law) to 450 103ha in 2009–2014. Most of this forest cover loss (257 103ha) occurred in areas classified under categories where deforestation was forbidden. After the enactment of the Law, annual deforestation rates decreased mostly in areas that allowed deforestation, slightly decreased in areas where deforestation was forbidden and increased in areas where a certain level of deforestation was allowed, although above that level. Despite the reductions in deforestation rates, our results suggest that the zoning policy in Santiago del Estero was not effective enough, since deforestation occurred in forbidden areas and generally surpassed the level of deforestation permitted. Alternative coercive mechanisms (e.g. more severe penalties for offenders) and greater efforts to detect illegal clearings are needed to enhance the effectiveness of the Forest Law.