An estimated 50 percent of Ecuador (about 14 million hectares) was forested, about half of this in government-owned lands. Although officially contributing only 4 percent to Ecuador's GDP, the forest resources were important because of wood's wide use for fuel and rural construction. Erosion and deforestation from widespread cutting of timber for fuel had emerged as significant national problems in the 1980s.
The original forests in the Sierra had long ago been cleared to provide space for pastures and wood for fuel and construction. Eucalyptus trees introduced from Australia in the 1800s supplied the Sierra with fuel and construction material and helped prevent soil erosion. In the 1980s, the northern province of Esmeraldas contained most of the forests in the Costa and supplied the majority of the country's wood. The jungles of the Oriente contained several thousand known species of trees, the most valuable of which was the balsa. Isolation from population centers and lack of roads hampered exploitation of the Oriente's resources, however. Other forest products included cinchona bark for quinine, ivory palm nuts for buttons, and kapok from the ceiba tree for mattress stuffing.
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