Good News & Bad News for the World's Troubled Forests

By Andrew Moseman | February 3, 2011 1:46 pm
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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]

Related Content:
80beats: Happy News: Indonesia Won’t Slash-and-Burn Forests for Next 2 Years
80beats: Rising Mountains & Spiking Temperatures Spurred Amazon’s Biodiversity
80beats: NASA Satellites Use Lasers to Map the World’s Tallest Forests
80beats: Truce Between Green Groups And Timber Companies Could Save Canadian Forests
80beats: Saving the Rainforest Could Make Economic Sense

Images: Conservation International

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World
  • http://fredcobio.wordpress.com Jim H

    What are you worried about? Global Warming will be a boom to forestation!

  • http://clubneko.net/ nick

    Now matter how good climate change may be for forests, I predict humanity could well outpace it if we tried. I mean, look at what the US accomplished in 400 years! http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Oldgrowth3.jpg (and most of that within the last 150 years)

  • John Lerch

    I’m not sure what Jim H is saying. His comment seems to miss the fact that the wood from tree farms is infinitely inferior to old growth wood as anyone who has ever worked with wood knows. It also misses the fact that a warming climate tends to make the weather at a given locale much more variable so that 3 years of good growing weather is followed by 3 years of tree killing drought.

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