Ashland University Environmental Lecture Series to Focus on Latin America

Ashland University Environmental Lecture Series to Focus on Latin America
Kendra McSweeney interviewing the oldest living Tawahka woman, Honduras (photo credit: K. McSweeney)


9/23/13 ASHLAND, Ohio – Ashland University’s 22nd annual Environmental Lecture Series features the theme of “Environmental and Human Health in Latin America” and will kick off Thursday, Oct. 3, with a presentation by Dr. Kendra McSweeny, associate professor of geography at Ohio State University.

Dr. Kendra McSweeny will speak on the topic, “Drug-Trafficking and Deforestation in Central America” at the 7:30 p.m. event in Ronk Lecture Hall of the Schar College of Education. All events in the series are free and open to the public.

McSweeney is a geographer specializing in the relationship between people and forests. She has conducted research for 20 years in Honduras, where she has tracked the resilience of forest-dependent native communities to climate-related and other exogenous shocks, including drug trafficking. She also has studied the links between demographic change and struggles around territory in the Ecuadorian Amazon.

At Ohio State, she teaches courses on Latin America, fieldwork, research and professionalization, demography and environment. 

“There has been relatively little attention…to the ways in which narco-trafficking is transforming the Central American countryside. In fact, the flow of drugs through remote, biodiverse regions is having a profound and devastating effect on the region's forests; Guatemala and Honduras now have some of the world's highest deforestation rates,” she said. “Narco-trafficking is also contributing to the massive displacement and impoverishment of indigenous peoples and peasant smallholders across the region.”

Drawing from long-term research in eastern Honduras (a major trafficking hub), this talk will detail just how drug trafficking has this effect, and will review the ways in which these dynamics are profoundly linked to the ways in which the U.S. chooses to wage its “war on drugs.”

Dr. Patricia Saunders, associate professor of biology and director of the environmental science program, explains the reasoning behind the series theme this year.

“Our choice of topics this year is intended to complement the biennial symposium organized by our College of Arts and Sciences, that this year is titled “Against Indifference: Engaging Latin America and the Caribbean,” she said. “Together, these two series encourage immersion in this regional focus, with the Environmental Lecture Series offering perspectives from experts in human ecology, policy, and scientific study related to specific environmental issues.”

Saunders said about 589 million people live in the region that is identified as Latin America, including South America, Central America, and the Caribbean. Most populations are concentrated in coastal regions, while the interiors of South America and northern Mexico are much more sparsely populated.

“Famously diverse habitats and climates, valued natural resources, history and culture affect the way people live and make a living. How do human communities and environment interact in Latin America? How can international policies on natural resources affect life in the region and back in the U.S.? Can changing land management practices help wild nature and human communities?” she asked. “This year’s series will include real examples that provide some depth and breadth to our understanding of environmental issues in Latin America and, quite possibly, in our own backyard.”

The other events scheduled as part of the lecture series are:

Dr. Geoffrey Dabelko, director, Ohio University Voinovich School Environmental Studies program, speaking Nov. 7 on “Environment, Peace, and Security: Lessons from Latin America.”

Dr. Matt Venesky, visiting assistant professor of biology, Allegheny College in Meadville, Pa., speaking on Feb. 20 on “Emerging infectious diseases of wildlife and their conservation challenges in the Neotropics.”

Dr. Amanda Rodewald, director of Conservation Science, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, and associate professor, Dept. of Natural Resources, Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y., speaking on April 3 on “The intersection of coffee, communities and conservation in Latin America.”

The Environmental Lecture Series was established at Ashland University after the Environmental Science program was implemented in 1991-92. The lecture series was designed to support the Environmental Science program by allowing students, faculty and members of North Central Ohio communities to interact with leaders in environmental science and policy. Over the years, the lecture series has generated significant campus and community involvement and support. Recent lectures are archived for viewing at:

Current support for the lecture series is provided by a grant from the Lubrizol Foundation and additional support from Ashland University. Past series have been supported by AU and grants from the GTE Foundation and the Fran and Warren Rupp Foundation.

Ashland University, ranked in the top 200 colleges and universities in U.S. News and World Report’s National Universities category for 2013, is a mid-sized, private university conveniently located a short distance from Akron, Cleveland and Columbus, Ohio. Ashland University ( values the individual student and offers a unique educational experience that combines the challenge of strong, applied academic programs with a faculty and staff who build nurturing relationships with their students. ###