World Continues to Lose Forests, But at a Slower Rate

ROME, Italy, November 15, 2005 (ENS) - The most comprehensive assessment of the world's forests and forestry to date finds that every year about 13 million hectares (32 million acres) are lost due to deforestation. The latest report of the UN agency responsible for monitoring forest lands finds that at the same time, the rate of net forest loss is slowing down due to new planting and natural expansion of existing forests.

The UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) said Monday that forests now cover nearly four billion hectares or 30 percent of the world's land area, but 10 countries - Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, India, Indonesia, Peru, Russia, and the United States - account for two-thirds of all forest area.

Eighty-four percent of the world’s forests are publicly owned, but private ownership is on the rise. And more than 300 million hectares of forests are designated for soil and water conservation.

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A nomadic Penan elder and his grandson examine a stump in Sarawak, Malaysia on the island of Borneo. The Penan have suffered since large-scale logging began in the 1960s, much of it on Penan traditional land. (Photo courtesy Greenpeace)
These are some of the key findings of the Global Forest Resources Assessment 2005, covering forested lands, their uses and value in 229 countries and territories between 1990 and 2005.

“This assessment allows us to gauge the important role of the world's forest resources in fulfilling the Millennium Development Goals, in particular in meeting the targets set for reducing poverty and ensuring a sustainable global environment," said Hosny El-Lakany, assistant director-general of the FAO Forestry Department.

The FAO has been coordinating global forest assessments every five years since 1946.

"It provides a comprehensive update on how we manage and use our forests, and shows that while good progress is being made in many places, unfortunately forest resources are still being lost or degraded at an alarmingly high rate,” said El-Lakany.

The annual net loss of forest area between 2000 and 2005 was 7.3 million hectares per year – an area about the size of Sierra Leone or Panama.

That figure is down from an estimated 8.9 million hectares per year between 1990 and 2000. This is equivalent to a net loss of 0.18 percent of the world's forests annually.

South America suffered the largest net loss of forests between 2000 and 2005 - around 4.3 million hectares per year - followed by Africa, which lost 4.0 million hectares annually, according to FAO.

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Logging has taken half the old growth trees in Alberta, Canada's Castle Wilderness. (Photo courtesy Castle Wilderness)
Oceania had a net loss of 356,000 hectares per year in 2000-2005, while North and Central America together had a net loss of 333,000 hectares per year.

Asia moved from a net loss of around 800,000 hectares per year in the 1990s to a net gain of one million hectares per year between 2000 and 2005, primarily as a result of large-scale afforestation reported by China.

Forest areas in Europe continued to expand, although at a slower rate than in the 1990s.

The data for the report was provided to FAO by national governments and resource assessment specialists, with more than 800 people involved in the entire process, including 172 national assessment teams, according to Mette Lřyche Wilkie, who coordinated the effort.

"The outcome of this global partnership is better data, a more transparent reporting process and enhanced capacity to analyze and report on forests and forest resources,” she said, adding that the findings will support decision-making on the issue.

Primary forests with no visible signs of past or present human activities account for 36 percent of the world's total forest area, but these primary forests are being lost or modified at a rate of six million hectares a year through deforestation or selective logging.

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Logging to clear land for agriculture continues to threaten the Brazilian rainforest. (Photo courtesy NASA)
While most forests are managed for multiple uses, this year's Forest Resources Assessment found that 11 percent are designated for the conservation of biological diversity, and such areas have increased by an estimated 96 million hectares since 1990.

Around 10 million people are employed in forest management and conservation worldwide.

Selective logging is not necessarily destructive and can be done with low impact on the remaining forests, if the proper techniques are applied, FAO said November 3.

Researchers at Stanford University have been able to determine from satellite data the extent of selective logging in the Amazon forests, which had previously been missed in other assessments, said Wulf Killmann, director of the FAO's Forest Products and Economics Division.

"The approach developed by the researchers helps to monitor the impacts of logging in the Amazon and shows us where forests are harvested unsustainably," Killmann said. "However, selective logging is not in principle that destructive. Sound logging practices allows the use of the forest without losing it or risking its regenerative capacity."