French Guiana

French Guiana is a French Oversea Department, located in Northern South America in the Guiana Shield Region, neighboured by Suriname and Brazil.

The total area is 84,000 km2 with forests accounting for 80,600 km2. Population density is very low: approximately 280,000 inhabitants located mainly along the coast (95%) in a few places (Cayenne and Rémire-Montjoly, Kourou and Saint-Laurent du Maroni). The inland is occupied only along the two main rivers, the Oyapock at the Brazilian border and the Maroni at the Suriname border, by forest communities of Amerindians and Businenge (less than 20,000 persons in all). Economic activity is dominated by the European Space Centre in Kourou, followed by gold mining and fisheries. The timber economy is slightly developed and suffers from unfavourable socio-economic and natural conditions; these include high salaries (the minimum wage in French Guiana is about ten times higher than in neighbouring countries) and the lack of a deep-water harbour. Paracou research station is situated on a concession of Guyanese Spatial Center and managed by CIRAD.

This situation results in very low pressure on the forest in general. The main concern in the coastal area is potential deforestation for agriculture settlements, not because of its importance but because of the natural habitats of high value that could be destroyed. Inland, the main threat comes from gold mining: although the area concerned is relatively small (about 5,000 hectares are concerned by legal as well as illegal exploitation), the ecological impact is quite high, including mercury pollution and muddying of rivers. The construction of a hydroelectric dam at "Petit Saut" on the Sinnamary river, in the 1990s, flooded some 30,000 hectares of forest.

The forest is mainly state-owned and managed by the Office National des Forêts. A small part, i.e. 668,045 hectares, has been granted the status of “live-lihood areas”, in favour of local communities who traditionally live from the forest. Regional land planning limits the management of the forest for industrial logging to a zone of 2 million hectares along the coast in the North. In the far South, a National Park "Parc Amazonien de Guyane" is contiguous with the 3.8 million hectare Tumucumaque National Park created in 2002 in neighbouring Brazil.

In the early 1990s, forest management gradually changed from a system of forest logging concessions allocated to timber companies, to wood sales in forests regulated by a management plan. At the same time, a particular effort was made to reduce the impact of logging and to increase the number of tree species used (about 60 species are commercialised - out of 1,600 tree species - but four of these species alone account for more than 70% of the production). Today, 1,300,000 hectares of forests varying in size from 10,000 to 300,000 hectares are regulated by a forest management plan.

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