The ‘Family of 5’ Primary Forests: A Snapshot of What Remains

Boreal forest and wetlands in the Northwest Territories, Canada. Photo © Chad Delany
Boreal forest and wetlands in the Northwest Territories, Canada. Photo © Chad Delany

Here’s a fact that should be disturbing to anyone concerned about our imperiled forests:

The pace of deforestation has accelerated so rapidly over the past 200 years that today our planet harbors only one-quarter of its original old-growth forest—i.e., forest that has never been logged or cleared.

Using detailed satellite imagery and geographic information system technology, scientists have produced moment-in-time snapshots of these remaining forested regions.

The pictures are not pretty.

Clearing of Amazon rainforest in Brazil for agriculture. Photo © Sam Beebe via Flickr

A World Wildlife Fund study in April 2015 reported that Borneo lost 25 percent of its forest cover over the past 30 years and that 51 million acres of forest in Papua New Guinea are planned or proposed for logging. Global Forest Watch estimates that 16.5 million acres of forest in the Democratic Republic of Congo have been lost since 2001.

In the Amazon Basin, the World Wildlife Fund reports that 43.7 million acres were deforested from 2001 to 2012.

Russia, according to the forest conservation group Global Forest Watch, is estimated to have lost 91.4 million acres of tree cover from 2001 to 2013—the bulk of it in that country’s boreal region, where much of the loss was due to human-caused forest fires.

North America’s boreal forest has also experienced major changes.

Global Forest Watch Canada’s most recent estimate indicates that the total area affected over the past 200 years by industrial activities—including forestry, mining, oil and gas, agriculture, hydropower, roads, and other infrastructure—is a staggering 274 million acres, or about 20 percent of Canada’s boreal forest biome.

But all is not yet lost.

While many primary forests—in places such as Madagascar, Tasmania, and the Atlantic coast of Brazil—are critically endangered, a handful of exceedingly large regions remain mostly —> Read More