- They found that forests occupied one-third of the world’s total land area in the year 2000. Of this, 19 percent was under some form of protection, and 25 percent was intact.
- Latin America experienced respective losses of 1 percent of its PAs and IFLs, compared to a 5 percent loss outside of them. North America had the highest rate of both protected and intact forest loss between 2000 and 2012 at 6 percent each. Central America and Australia/Oceana lost 5 percent of their protected forest cover.
- In some areas, the researchers found protected status appeared to confer no actual protection when it came to deforestation.
Forests around the world are whittled away as trees are felled for lumber, land is cleared for agriculture, and fires ravage landscapes. Protected areas are established as a way to prevent ecosystem damage, but a new study released recently finds that this may not be working very well in many areas. It states that the world’s protected areas lost 3 percent of their forest cover in just over a decade. And in some places, more forest was lost from within protected areas than outside of them.
The study, published in PLOS ONE, looked at protected areas (PAs) and intact forest landscapes (IFLs), which are continuous tracts of primary forest large enough and undisturbed enough to retain their original levels of biodiversity. To investigate trends in these areas, researchers from Aalto University in Finland used satellite data to measure tree cover changes from 2000 through 2012.
They found that forests (judged as areas with tree cover) occupied one-third of the world’s total land area in the year 2000. Of this, 19 percent was under some form of protection, and 25 percent was intact. Forests that were both intact and protected comprised around 8.7 percent of the global forest extent.
The researchers then compared the data from 2000 to data collected up through 2012. In total, they found 3 percent of protected forest, 2.5 percent of intact forest, and 1.5 percent of protected intact forest was lost in those 13 years. In comparison, they pegged the total loss of the world’s forests – both protected and non – at 5 percent. The largest losses occurred in Australia, Oceana, and North America, which all exceeded 5 percent.
In some places, the researchers found comparatively positive trends, indicating that certain protected areas may be generally doing their job of safeguarding forest from damage. For instance Latin America experienced respective losses of 1 percent of its PAs and IFLs, compared to a 5 percent loss outside of them.
The study’s authors point to the Brazilian Amazon as a region having particularly low relative rates of deforestation in its protected and intact forests. Indeed, other research has found that the drop in forest loss and its consequential drop in carbon emissions over the past decade to be equivalent to taking every car of U.S. roads for three years. Researchers attribute this largely to changes in land-use policy and increased enforcement of regulations. (However, more recent data collected post-2012 indicate a deforestation uptick in region.)
On the flip side, North America had the highest rate of both protected and intact forest loss between 2000 and 2012 at 6 percent each. Central America and Australia/Oceana lost 5 percent of their protected forest cover.
In some areas, the researchers found protected status appeared to confer no actual protection when it came to deforestation.
“Protection of forests and intact forests did not reduce forest loss in approximately one quarter of the analysed countries when the occurring loss within the protected areas was compared to outside of those areas,” the authors write.
The authors acknowledge that PAs are not always designated to protect from forest loss, and can have other reasons.
Their study also examined possible drivers of deforestation around the world. Specifically, it looked at the correlation of forest loss to socioeconomic indicators. Their results indicated, unsurprisingly, that forest loss has a “strong connection” with agricultural land usage.
“However, it is worth to recognise that agriculture related forest loss involves much more complex dynamics than our regression analyses are able to capture,” the authors write. “We further found strong connection between losses in protected and/or intact forests and population density and GDP to fully support our second hypothesis.”
The researchers write that their findings highlight that protected area status for a forest may not necessarily mean a lower rate of forest loss in some areas.
Forests maintain ecological diversity, regulate climate, store carbon, protect soil and water and provide resources and livelihoods for the world’s population,” said coauthor Timo Räsänen in a press release. “It is alarming that official protection in many places does not actually protect the forests.”
- Heino, M., Kummu, M., Makkonen, M., Mulligan, M., Verburg, P. H., Jalava, M., & Räsänen, T. A. (2015). Forest Loss in Protected Areas and Intact Forest Landscapes: A Global Analysis. PloS one, 10(10), e0138918.