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The state of our forests is troubled, but maybe on the mend.
The United Nations, as part of its effort to brand 2011 the International Year of Forests, released an assessment this week about forest extent, and quality, all around the world. First, the good news: Forest destruction is slowing down, according to assistant director general Eduardo Rojas-Briales of the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization.
The 4.032 billion hectares (9.9 billion acres) of forests in the world in 2010 is down from an estimated 4.085 billion in 2000, said the FAO. But the speed at which which trees are being cut down is slowing from 8.3 million hectares a year in 1990-2000 to 5.2 million in the past decade. “There are evident signs that we could arrive at a balance in a few years,” said Rojas-Briales, adding that the deforestation rate was 50 million hectares a year 30 years ago. [AFP]
Asian countries have achieved particularly impressive results, with many adding to their total of forested territory.
“China has increased its forest by three million hectares (30,000 sq km) per year – no country has ever done anything like this before, it’s an enormous contribution,” said … Rojas-Briales. “But we can also highlight the case of Vietnam, a small and densely populated country that’s implemented very smart and comprehensive forest reform – or India, which has not controlled its population as China has and where standards of living are even lower. Nevertheless India has achieved a modest growth of its forest area.” [BBC News]
But the world is not out of the woods, so to speak, in bringing back the forest health of old.
Conservation International, which works in nearly 40 countries around the world, on Wednesday released a list of the 10 most endangered forested areas around the world. All have lost 90 percent or more of their original habitat. If they were to vanish completely, 1,500 plant species found nowhere else would also disappear. [The New York Times]
Forest losses continue in Africa and in South America, with the need for firewood and agricultural land driving deforestation. Though Asia is doing well overall, CI’s list (seen above in slideshow form) includes several troubled forest ecosystems on that continent.
And even where forest is coming back, it’s often coming back in an altered (and inferior) form—as replanted forests with less value for sequestering carbon or for biodiversity. Says Olivier Langrand of CI:
“Forests must be seen as more than just a group of trees. Forests already play an enormous economic role in the development of many countries as a source of timber, food, shelter and recreation, and have an even greater potential that needs to be realised in terms of water provision, erosion prevention and carbon sequestration.” [BBC News]
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Images: Conservation International