CSU faculty receives Fulbright Scholar Award to study deforestation drivers in Colombia

Analyzing the ‘big picture’ in environmental policy and economics is no unusual task for Kelly Jones, an Associate Professor in the Department of Human Dimensions of Natural Resources.

Jones’ research at CSU dives into a variety of topics ranging from wildfire and watershed resilience, payments for ecosystem services and land tenure rights. Her interdisciplinary career has led to her current research project involving communities, land tenure, economic incentives and forest conservation in Colombia.

Kelly Jones hiking in the paramo ecosystem outside of Bogota, Colombia. Photo: Kelly Jones

In fall of 2020, Jones was awarded a U.S Scholar Fulbright award to analyze changes in forest management and forest cover in the Colombian Amazon before and after the Colombian peace agreement was signed in 2016. The research proposal included taking a closer look at the individuals, communities and policies in place that impact forest use and how that use has changed since 2016.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Jones’ travels to Bogotá, Colombia were postponed. Jones is currently residing in Bogotá doing research with her colleague María Alejandra Vélez from the University of Los Andes.

“There hasn’t been a lot of research on forest conservation policy and its impacts before 2016 in Colombia,” Jones said. “Now there is a real opportunity to work in Colombia and try and influence the policies and the programs aimed at conserving the forest and protecting local people’s well-being since big events like the peace agreementand the COVID-19 pandemic took place.”

The peace agreement was signed October 2, 2016 with the goals of resolving the conflicts between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). The final ratification of the agreement included policies involving political participation, solutions to the production of illegal drugs and rural land reforms.

Jones’ career has used microeconomic theories to better understand the drivers and impacts of environmental change, conservation policy and individual uses of land. This project will highlight the otherwise understudied region of the Colombian Amazon and what social, economic and institutional factors play a role in deforestation and environmental degradation.

“Unfortunately, we’ve seen deforestation increase significantly since 2016 in the Amazon and throughout Colombia,” Jones said. “This project is to help us understand what’s driving that increase in deforestation and potential solutions. Is it the land insecurity or the lack of economic incentives for the people that live there, or is it mainly driven by illegal activities? So we are trying to understand local people’s perceptions and behaviors, how decision making has changed since 2016, and how that’s led to changes in forest cover, so that appropriate policies and programs can be developed to try and reduce forest loss.”

The study will utilize social science methods such as household surveys along with remote sensing data to adopt a clearer understanding of what specific factors and behaviors lead to forest conservation or degradation within the Colombian Amazon. Deforestation drivers are complex and dynamic, and Jones and Vélez are hoping to gain a wholistic understanding of this issue in the Colombian Amazon through these methods.  They are also hoping to provide suggestions on the types of policies that might incentivize individuals and communities to protect forest, including strengthening tenure security and payments for ecosystem services.

“Social science conservation research is a vital part of this project,” Jones said. “This is a valuable opportunity to understand people’s behaviors and apply that to our understanding of deforestation and translate that into policy actions that would benefit people and forest conservation in the region.”