Forests Growing Back in Asia, Europe, North America

ROME, Italy, March 14, 2007 (ENS) - The world’s forests are shrinking yearly overall, yet a United Nations report released Tuesday shows that in some regions of the world, centuries of deforestation are being reversed due to effective forest management and economic prosperity.

Asia and the Pacific are now showing an increase in forest area, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization's State of the World’s Forests report, issued at the opening of the 18th Session of the FAO's Committee on Forestry meeting in Rome.

"Many countries have shown the political will to improve forest management by revising policies and legislation and strengthening forestry institutions," said FAO Deputy Director-General David Harcharik.

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Forest in China's Wanglang Nature Reserve, Sichuan Province (Photo by Michael Gunther courtesy WWF-Canon)
"Increasing attention is being paid to the conservation of soil, water, biological diversity and other environmental values," he said, noting that over 100 countries have established national forest programs.

In Asia and the Pacific, forest area increased from 2000 and 2005, reversing the trend of previous decades.

Although deforestation accelerated in Southeast Asia, this was offset by new large forest plantations in China.

Europe and North America also demonstrated gains in forest area.

The United States reported an annual increase of forest area of 0.12 percent in the 1990s and 0.05 percentfrom 2000 to 2005.

Canada reported no change in forest cover over the 15 year period from 1990 to 2005, and Mexico reported a decrease of 0.52 percent per year from 1990 to 2000 which slowed to a decrease of 0.40 percent per year from 2000 to 2005.

Evidence is mounting that forests will be profoundly affected by climate change, such as increasing damage to forest health caused by the greater incidence of fire, pests and diseases.

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Fire engulfs a forest and homes in British Columbia, Canada. (Photo courtesy B.C. Forest Service)
At the same time, the FAO reports, new investments in forests to mitigate climate change lag behind the optimistic expectations of many following the entry into force of the Kyoto Protocol in 2005.

Ten countries account for 80 percent of the world’s primary forests, of which Indonesia, Mexico, Papua New Guinea and Brazil saw the highest losses in primary forest in the five years running from 2000 to 2005.

Harcharik pointed out that countries facing the most serious challenges in achieving sustainable forest management are those with the highest rates of poverty and civil conflict.

Forests cover roughly four billion hectares, or 30 percent, of the planet's land.

The FAO reports that in the 15 year period between 1990 and 2005, the world lost three percent of its forests, an average of 0.2 percent each year.

In the five years between 2000 and 2005, 57 countries reported an increase in forest area while 83 claimeda decrease.

Africa and Latin America and the Caribbean faced the highest losses in forest area.

African forests, accounting for 16 percent of the world’s total, lost nine percent between 1990 and 2005.

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Logging of hardwood in the West African country of Cameroon (Photo by J.C. Vincent/Still Pictures courtesy UNEP)
Latin America and the Caribbean, with 47 percent of the world’s forests, saw an increase in the annual net loss between 2000 and 2005, from 0.46 percent to 0.51 percent.

The FAO expects that forest management will improve in both regions, due to political support and commitment to stemming deforestation in Africa and newly formed Latin American networks to fight fires and improve current management mechanisms.

Economic growth contributes to curbing deforestation by improving conditions for sustainable forest management, the report says. Strengthened forest institutions and increased participatory decision-making will also help to protect forests.

However, illegal logging is growing in some areas, and forests are also threatened by insects and diseases. The spread of pests, to which forests are vulnerable, is facilitated by transport, travel and trade.

The State of the World's Forest 2007 Report is online at: http://www.fao.org/docrep/009/a0773e/a0773e00.htm