Good news on global deforestation
The loss of forests can alter ecosystems and deprive people of the many benefits provided by trees. Deforestation is a serious ongoing problem; however, the good news is that the global deforestation rate appears to be going down.
People have been using trees and impacting forests throughout history, and concerns over deforestation have always accompanied our heavy reliance on forest products. Responses to these concerns over time have included the development of the science of forestry, the establishment of forest reserves such as the US national forests and, most recently, certified forest programs. At the same time, there are more people on earth, who are consuming more wood products. So, how are the forests faring?
The United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (UNFAO) has been regularly reporting on the extent and condition of the world’s forests over the past 15 years (http://www.fao.org/forestry/sofo/en/). Using the best available data, they have provided estimates of the loss of forest land (deforestation) for individual countries and for the whole world. The data confirm what most people would expect: we have less forest area on earth than we used to. However, looking that the reports over time reveals an encouraging trend: the rate of global deforestation is slowing. Caveat: Changing definitions of forest can also influence the data.
Deforestation is also a localized phenomenon. There are parts of the world where forest are being lost at alarmingly high rates, eg. the Amazon river basin in South America, the Congo river basin in Africa and in Indonesia. By contrast there are places on earth where there is net ‘afforestation’ or gain of forests, eg in China. In the United States, the forest area is stable but the amount of timber has been steadily increasing. The site-specific nature of deforestation suggests that solutions to the problem should be focused also.
Finally, the evidence indicates that the causes of deforestation are not excessive global wood consumption but rather poverty and a lack of law enforcement in certain forest areas. Thus, it is likely that it is ongoing efforts to alleviate poverty and to prevent illegal logging that are responsible for the deforestation rate moving in the right direction. We can hope that continued efforts will eventually stop deforestation and return forests to barren lands.