Rate of Forest Loss Has Decreased, But We're Not Out of the Woods Yet

replanting forest in china photo
Photo via Katabatic

After years of raising awareness about the importance of preserving the planet's forests, the last decade saw an overall drop in the rate of forest loss around the globe--though some regions of the world are still clearing forests with troubling speed. But, with the efforts taken to plant trees and reforest clear-cut sites, the net loss is considerably reduced across Asia and Europe, while Brazil has shown added emphasis on preserving the Amazon by cracking-down on illegal lumber operations and the expansion of plantations into protected area. By no means are we out of the woods yet when it comes to combating forest loss, but clearly global efforts have been making progress--so there still might be woods to get out of one day.Good Progress, But Still Not Enough
According to a report from the BBC, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) found in its Global Forest Resources Assessment 2010 that, while worldwide forest loss may be slowing, it is still a major problem in parts of Africa and South America. Overall, the first ten years of this century saw a drop of nearly 3 million hectares (7.5 million acres) of forest loss per year compared to the decade prior--though with the yearly average now being 13 million hectares (32 million acres) lost, there's still plenty of room for improvement.

Mette Loyche Wilkie, from the FAO, is pleased with the figures, but recognizes that it's still an uphill battle in some places:

This is the first time we've been able to say that the deforestation rate is going down across the world, and certainly when you look at the net rate that is certainly down. But the situation in some countries is still alarming.

trends in forest cover graphic

Replanting Trees Means Less is Lost
When determining the net loss of forests, factoring in efforts to replant, the overall picture improves. During each of the last ten years, more than 7 million hectares (17.3 million acres) were planted, a significant improvement over the replanting in the 1990s.

The FAO report points out that leading the charge to reforest is China with 3 Million Hectares (7.4 Million Acres) planted in the last decade. Much of the country's efforts have been in response to desertification, and the project will conclude in 2020--at which point the net loss of forests will once again increase.

Challenges Remain Amid Strong Commitments
Forests in Australia are among the most threatened, though not from deforestation. In recent years, droughts in the nation have been devastating to plant life--considered by some to be related to climate change.

While Australia may not be in a position to improve its rates of forest loss, the custodians of two of the world's major rainforests in Indonesia and Brazil can. Wilkie notes, for example, that political will in Brazil is responsible for a reduction in Amazon rainforest depletion.

In Brazil it's spectacular, and that's largely because there is a political goal to reduce deforestation by 80% by 2020 and that's supported by the president.

Seeing the Forest Through the Trees
The effectiveness of programs worldwide aimed at curbing the loss of the planet's forests, which presently cover about 31% of the Earth's land surface, are encouraging early efforts--and more comprehensive plans will likely be even more powerful. Initiatives like Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD), if implemented, could profoundly improve upon the previous decades trends and preserve the remaining forests that play such a critical role in combating climate change, not to mention the countless organisms that call the forests 'home'.

More on Protecting the World's Forests
Protecting And Restoring Forests To Save Civilization
Nuclear Waste Can Protect Tropical Forests
Why Ancient Forests are Important to the Ecosystem and Why We Need to Protect Them

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