Over the past 60 years, global forest area has decreased by 315,000 square miles, an area about twice the size of California. Combined with global population growth over that period, this has resulted in more than a 60% decline in global forest area per capita.
The continuous loss as well as degradation of forest affects the integrity of forest ecosystems and reduces their ability to generate and provide essential services and sustain biodiversity. It impacts the lives of at least 1.6 billion people worldwide – primarily in developing countries – who depend upon forests in multiple ways.
According to the new study published in the journal Environmental Research Letters, forest losses have been occurring primarily in lower-income countries in the tropics while forest gains have occurred in higher-income countries in the mid-latitudes or extratropics.
More than half of the world’s forest losses were in Brazil, home to the Amazon rainforest. In the past 60 years, that country has had a net loss of 170,000 square miles of forest. While most high-income countries had net forest gains, Canada actually had a net loss of about 11,000 square miles of forest.
Economic growth has a stronger association with net forest gain than with net forest loss. Therefore, the study highlights the need to strengthen the support given to lower income countries, especially in the tropics, to help improve their capacity to minimize or curtail their forest losses. To help address this ongoing displacement of forest losses to lower income countries, higher-income nations need to reduce their dependence on imported tropic forest products.
Photo, posted April 19, 2011, courtesy of ©2011CIAT/NeilPalmer via Flickr.