Despite scientific concern about Amazon deforestation and the impacts of the Amazon gold rush, few researchers have assessed the long-term impacts of small-scale gold mining on forest cover. This study estimates deforestation from gold mining and analyses the regeneration of abandoned mining areas in the Suriname Amazon. Fieldwork in December 1998 included observations and ecological measurements, as well as qualitative interviews with local miners about mining history and technology. Vegetation cover of abandoned mining sites of different ages was compared with that in old-growth forest. By present estimates, gold miners clear 48–96 km2 of old-growth forest in Suriname annually. Based on different assumptions about changes in technology and the amount of mining that takes place on previously mined sites, cumulative deforestation is expected to reach 750–2280 km2 by 2010. Furthermore, the analysis of abandoned mining sites suggests that forest recovery following mining is slow and qualitatively inferior compared to regeneration following other land uses. Unlike areas in nearby old-growth forest, large parts of mined areas remain bare ground, grass, and standing water. The area deforested by mining may seem relatively small, but given the slow forest recovery and the concentration of mining in selected areas, small-scale gold mining is expected to reduce local forest cover and ecosystem services in regions where mining takes place.
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