United States has 7th highest rate of primary forest loss
Rhett A. Butler, mongabay.com
November 16, 2005
Primary forests are being replaced by “modified natural,” “seminatural,” and plantation forests in the United States according to new deforestation figures from the United Nations.
Monday, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) released its 2005 Global Forest Resources Assessment, a regular report on the status world’s forest resources. FAO found that the United States has the seventh largest annual loss of primary forests in the world, ranking it the worst among wealthy countries in that department.
Between 2000 and 2005, the United States lost an average of 831 square miles (215,200 hectares, 2,152 square kilometers or 531,771 acres) of “primary forest” — defined by FAO as forests with no visible signs of past or present human activities. These forests, often termed “old-growth forests,” have the highest number of plant and animal species and are generally considered a top priority for conservation by environmentalists and government agencies.
Despite the drop in primary forest cover, America still managed to post a gain in total forest cover due to the regeneration of previously cut forests and new forest plantations. These forests are generally considered ecologically inferior to primary forests for their reduced biodiversity but now make up major of American — and world — forests. Overall the United States ranks fourth in the world in terms of total forest cover.
The Human Footprint in North America. The dark green indicates roadless areas, roads are generally in red. Picture courtesy of the Wildlife Conservation Society and the Center for International Earth Science Information Network (CIESIN) at Columbia University
Scientists have warned that repeal a Clinton-era policy that banned road construction in nearly 60 million acres of wilderness will likely increase the ‘human footprint’ on pristine wildlands in the United States. Dr. Eric Sanderson, a scientist with the Wildlife Conservation Society, has developed a scientific mapping exercise called the Human Footpint that specifically looked at roadless areas in both the U.S. and overseas. Sanderson found that the most important contributor to human influence at the global scale is roads.
In 2005, the US had some 1.17 million square miles (303 million hectares) of forest, placing it behind only Russia, Brazil, and Canada. The United States also ranks fourth in primary forest cover at 402,250 square miles (104 million hectares). Thus its rate of old growth forest loss is lower than that found in most tropical countries.
The FAO report comes after the Bush administration revoked President Clinton’s 2001 Roadless Area Conservation Rule that protected 58.5 million acres of undeveloped national forest. The decision effectively opened more than 90,000 square miles of forests to road construction, logging and industrial development.
Last month, a coalition of environmentalists filed suit against the U.S. Forest Service in an effort to block the repeal of the “roadless rule.”
Note: Canada, recently vilified for its environmental record, did not report “primary forest” figures to the FAO.
More data available at Cambodia has worst deforestation rate, US ranks #7 in global forest loss
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Avoided deforestation will be a hot point of discussion at next week’s climate meeting in Nairobi, Kenya. Already a coalition of 15 rainforest nations have proposed a plan whereby industrialized nations would pay them to protect their forests to offset greenhouse gas emissionsm. Meanwhile, last month Brazil — which has the world’s largest extent of tropical rainforests and the world’s highest rate of forest loss — said it promote a similar initiative at the talks. At stake: potentially billions of dollars for developing countries. When trees are cut greenhouse gases are released into the atmosphere — roughly 20 percent of annual emissions of such heat-trapping gases result from deforestation and forest degradation. Avoided deforestation is the concept where countries are paid to prevent deforestation that would otherwise occur. Policymakers and environmentalists alike find the idea attractive because it could help fight climate change at a low cost while improving living standards for some of the world’s poorest people and preserving biodiversity and other ecosystem services. A number of prominent conservation biologists and development agencies including the World Bank and the U.N. have already endorsed the idea.
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World Bank says carbon trading will save rainforests — 10/23/2006
Monday the World Bank endorsed carbon trading as a way to save tropical rainforests which are increasingly threatened by logging, agricultural development, subsistence agriculture, and climate change itself. The World Bank report comes on the heels of a proposal by a coalition of developing countries to seek compensation from industrialized countries for conserving their rainforests to fight global warming. Brazil is expected to announce a similar plan at upcoming climate talks in Nairobi.
Highest deforestation of natural forests, 2000-2005. All countries
|5||Papua New Guinea||-250,200|
|7||United States of America||-215,200|
Most primary forest cover, 2005. All countries
|4||United States of America||104,182|
|10||Papua New Guinea||25,211|
Total forest cover, 2005. All countries
|4||United States of America||303,089,000|
|7||Democratic Republic of the Congo||133,610,000|
|16||Venezuela (Bolivarian Republic of)||47,713,000|
|18||United Republic of Tanzania||35,257,000|
Includes plantations, non-natural and degraded forests