Mongabay.com is considered a leading source of information on tropical forests by some of the world's top ecologists and conservationists. TROPICAL RAINFORESTS: Imperiled Riches—Threatened Rainforests
Clear-cutting in Borneo
Clear-cutting in Borneo. (Photo by R. Butler)

DEFORESTATION

A World Imperiled: Forces Behind Forest Loss
By Rhett Butler   |  Last updated July 27, 2012

As the first seven parts of the rainforest section of the site have described, tropical rainforests are incredibly rich ecosystems that play a fundamental role in the basic functioning of the planet. Rainforests are home to probably 50 percent of the world's terrestrial species, making them an extensive library of biological and genetic resources. In addition, rainforests help maintain the climate by regulating atmospheric gases and stabilizing rainfall, protect against desertification, and provide numerous other ecological functions.

However, these precious systems are among the most threatened on the planet. Although the precise area is debated, each day at least 80,000 acres (32,300 ha) of forest disappear from Earth. At least another 80,000 acres (32,300 ha) of forest are degraded. Along with them, the planet loses untold numbers of species to extinction, the vast majority of which have never been documented by science. As these forests fall, more carbon is added to the atmosphere, climatic conditions are further altered, and more topsoil is lost to erosion.

2012 data from Harris et al.
Estimates based on satellite imagery.
Forest Area 2000Gross Forest
Cover Loss
Gross loss,
2000-2005
(Million ha)(ha/yr)Total
Brazil4583,292,0003.6%
Indonesia107701,0003.3%
Argentina49437,0004.5%
Paraguay21242,0005.8%
Malaysia22233,0005.3%
India42206,0002.5%
DR Congo167203,0000.6%
Mozambique34196,0002.9%
Myanmar33186,0002.8%
Tanzania23149,0003.2%
Mexico46140,0001.5%
Colombia63137,0001.1%
Thailand17134,0003.9%
Zambia29134,0002.3%
Bolivia61129,0001.1%
Despite increased awareness of the importance of these forests, deforestation rates have not slowed. Analysis of figures from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) shows that tropical deforestation rates increased 8.5 percent from 2000-2005 when compared with the 1990s, while loss of primary forests may have expanded by 25 percent over the same period. Nigeria and Vietnam's rate of primary forest loss has doubled since the 1990s, while Peru's rate has tripled.

Overall, FAO estimates that 10.4 million hectares of tropical forest were permanently destroyed each year in the period from 2000 to 2005, an increase since the 1990-2000 period, when around 10.16 million hectares of forest were lost. Among primary forests, annual deforestation rose to 6.26 million hectares from 5.41 million hectares in the same period. On a broader scale, FAO data shows that primary forests are being replaced by less biodiverse plantations and secondary forests. Due to a significant increase in plantation forests, forest cover has generally been expanding in North America, Europe, and China while diminishing in the tropics. Industrial logging, conversion for agriculture (commercial and subsistence), and forest fires—often purposely set by people—are responsible for the bulk of global deforestation today.

But enough about the extent and some of the effects of deforestation. What is responsible for this loss? This is the question this section addresses.

Deforestation figures and charts



    Highlighted deforestation pictures >>



Deforestation and Degradation


2012 data from Harris et al.
Share of gross forest loss in tropical countries
Before expanding further on forest loss it is critical to first explain what is considered "forest" and what is meant by deforestation and forest degradation.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the leading source for information on the status of the world's forests, defines forests as land with a tree canopy cover of more than 10 percent and an area of more than half a hectare. FAO says that "forest" includes natural forests and forest plantations but specifically excludes stands of trees established primarily for agricultural production (i.e. fruit tree and oil palm plantations) and trees planted in agroforestry systems.

Other organizations use different standards for defining forests. For example, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) uses 40 percent cover as the threshold for "closed forests" and 10-40 percent cover for "open forests," while the Tropical Ecosystem Environment Observations by Satellite (TREES) project—funded in the 1990s by the European Commission—classifies areas with more than 70 percent canopy cover as "dense forests" and those with 40-70 percent cover as "fragmented forest."


Data according to the FAO. Note the differences from the chart above. FAO's data is based on self reporting from forestry departments, while Harris and colleagues used satellite imagery.
To reduce confusion, this site will generally follow FAO's convention, even though it has been criticized for its generous definition of what it considers forest.

FAO defines deforestation as "the conversion of forest to another land use or the long-term reduction of the tree canopy cover below the minimum 10 percent threshold." Depletion of forest to tree crown cover greater than 10 percent (say from 90 percent to 12 percent) is considered forest degradation. Logging most often falls under the category of forest degradation and thus is not included in FAO deforestation statistics. For this reason, forest degradation rates are considerably higher than deforestation rates.

Digging a little deeper, FAO says that "deforestation includes areas of forest converted to agriculture, pasture, water reservoirs and urban areas," but the term "specifically excludes areas where the trees have been removed as a result of harvesting or logging and where the forest is expected to regenerate naturally or with the aid of silvicultural measures."


Deforestation vs. Degradation



Causes of Deforestation Causes of Degradation


Other versions of this page

spanish | french | portuguese | chinese | japanese]




Review questions:

  • What is the difference between deforestation and forest degradation?
  • What are some examples of activities that cause deforestation?
  • What are some causes of forest degradation?


Continued / Next:

Natural forces behind deforestation




Recent deforestation news articles

How do we save the world's vanishing old-growth forests?
(08/26/2014) There's nothing in the world like a primary forest, which has never been industrially logged or cleared by humans. They are often described as cathedral-like, due to pillar-like trees and carpet-like undergrowth. Yet, the world's primary forests—also known as old-growth forests—are falling every year, and policy-makers are not doing enough to stop it.


What lies within, we may never know: deforestation threatening Sulawesi’s unique wildlife
(08/26/2014) For 10 million years the Indonesian island of Sulawesi has been disconnected from other landforms, almost inviting evolution to color outside the lines. Despite a growing population and limited space, Sulawesi has managed to provide a safe haven to hundreds of unique species as they evolved over millennia. But that haven may soon be lost to uncontrolled extraction of forest products from Sulawesi’s many pristine ecosystems.


Can it be stopped? Ghana's forests 'could completely disappear in less than 25 years'
(08/25/2014) Ghana contains forests that are biologically unique and important both for the wildlife they contain and the human communities that depend on them. However, the country is experiencing one of the greatest rates of deforestation in West Africa. At its current rate of forest loss, a study estimates that Ghana could be devoid of major forest cover in less than a quarter-century.


Greenpeace alleges SLAPP suit tactic by logging company
(08/22/2014) Greenpeace Canada has filed a Statement of Defense in response to a $7 million lawsuit by Resolute Forest Products (NYSE:RFP) over allegations that the logging company destroyed forests in Quebec and Ontario.


Have scientists discovered a new primate in the Philippines?
(08/21/2014) Despite some media reports, scientists have not yet discovered a new species of big-eyed, nocturnal primate—known as tarsiers—in the Philippines. Instead what they have discovered is an intriguing population that is genetically-distinct even from nearby relatives, according to a new open-access paper in PLOS ONE.


Running to reforest: communities, NGOs work to save Ugandan reserve in the midst of massive deforestation
(08/21/2014) Stung by massive loss of forest cover in Bugoma central forest reserve, part of a vast chimpanzee habitat in the western part of Uganda, seven private local and international organizations in the east African country have joined hands to raise awareness of forest issues and money for reforestation efforts -- by launching a conservation-themed quarter-marathon.


Indonesia's forests so damaged they burn whether or not there's drought
(08/21/2014) Air pollution caused by fires set for land-clearing on Sumatra has become a regularly occurrence in Southeast Asia. While these fires are often termed forest fires, the reality is much of the area that burns each year has already been deforested and today mostly consists of grass, scrub, and remnants of what was once forest. But the impacts are nonetheless very substantial, finds a new study published in the journal Scientific Reports.


Looming mining ‘tsunami’ set to take Africa by storm
(08/20/2014) Africa remains something of an untapped mineral resource, as the vast majority of extraction occurs elsewhere. However, a new report documents a surging tide of foreign interest in mining in Africa and cautions that the sector’s unchecked development and expansion could devastate the environment.


Challenging the 'tragedy of the commons': new documentary explores how humans and nature can coexist (VIDEO)
(08/20/2014) In Guatemala, a vast community forest has prospered for centuries despite an ever-growing population, challenging the idea that human inhabitation of an area will inevitably lead to its ecological degradation.


When forests aren't really forests: the high cost of Chile’s tree plantations
(08/18/2014) At first glance, the statistics tell a hopeful story: Chile’s forests are expanding. On the ground, however, a different scene plays out: monocultures have replaced diverse natural forests while Mapuche native protesters burn pine plantations, blockade roads and destroy logging equipment. At the crux of these two starkly contrasting narratives is the definition of a single word: “forest.”


Indonesian govt reiterates plan to clear 14M ha of forest by 2020
(08/16/2014) The Indonesian government is pressing forward with plans to clear 14 million hectares of forest between 2010 and 2020 despite a commitment to curb greenhouse gas emissions.


Nothing else left to log: are eco-certified timber companies stripping Russia of its last old growth forests?
(08/15/2014) Among Russia’s forested lands lie intact forest landscapes (or IFLs). These IFLs are large swaths of unbroken, old growth forests that encompass at least 50,000 hectares, harbor high biodiversity, and have remained mostly undisturbed by development. However, less than 10 percent of the world’s IFLs are currently protected. Now, a new report reveals Russia's IFLs may be threatened by certified sustainable logging companies.


Elephant poaching soars as Sumatran forests turn into plantations
(08/14/2014) There has been a spike in elephant deaths in Sumatra this year, and conversion of rainforest to plantations is one of the main causes. The number of Sumatran elephants poached in the province of Riau so far this year is staggering, with 22 reported kills in the first six months of 2014 compared to 14 for the entirety of 2013.


China and Europe's outsourcing of soy production impacts the Amazon
(08/14/2014) Soy consumption in China and Europe is having significant ecological impacts in the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso, finds a study published in Environmental Research Letters.


Indonesia cracks down on illegal burning, investigates more suspect companies
(08/14/2014) Every year, thousands of hectares of Indonesian forest are illegally burned by development companies. However, Indonesia’s Minister of Environment, Balthasar Kambuaya, is optimistic that legal charges over such fires can be completed – even though he has just three months left in office.


'Natural Reserves' no more: illegal colonists deforest huge portions of Nicaraguan protected areas
(08/13/2014) In southeastern Nicaragua, abutting the coastal Caribbean town of Bluefields, lie two nature reserves - Cerro Silva and Punta Gorda - that are embroiled in a bitter battle for survival against the speedily encroaching agricultural frontier. The forest is all but decimated here, with disconnected patches whose very existence rests precariously in the hands of its occupiers - both legal and illegal.


Aceh backtracking on mining moratorium, continues to issue permits
(08/13/2014) The Governor of Aceh Province, Indonesia appears unwilling to implement a mining moratorium, despite repeated statements he intends to do so. Governor Zaini Abdullah, a co-founder of the separatist Free Aceh Movement (GAM), has said on several occasions that he believes there should be a moratorium on mining licenses, however watch-groups claim no official policy has been enacted.


Forgotten species: the exotic squirrel with a super tail
(08/13/2014) With among the world's largest tails compared to body-size, the tufted ground squirrel just might be the most exotic squirrel species on the planet. Found only on the island of Borneo, this threatened species is also surrounded by wild tales, including the tenacity to take down a deer for dinner. New research explores the squirrel's monster tail and whether other tales about it may be true.


A paradise being lost: Peru's most important forests felled for timber, crops, roads, mining
(08/12/2014) In 1988, when British environmentalist Norman Myers first described the concept of a “biodiversity hotspot," he could have been painting a picture of the highly threatened Peruvian Andes mountain range. Today, the Andes are an immediate and looming portent of the fate of the Peruvian Amazon rainforest.


China failing to take effective action against timber smugglers
(08/12/2014) Voluntary guidelines established by the Chinese government won't be enough to curb rampant timber smuggling by Chinese companies, putting 'responsible' actors at risk of having their reputations tarnished, argues a new campaign by the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA).


Half of Riau's oil palm plantations are illegal
(08/12/2014) Half of the oil palm plantations in Sumatra's Riau Province are illegal, said Indonesia's top forestry official.


Indonesia's children see ravaged environment in their future
(08/11/2014) A generation ago, Borneo was one of the wildest places on the planet. But decades of logging and oil palm plantations has changed the landscape of Borneo forever: in fact a recent study found that the island has lost 30 percent of its total forest cover since 1973. In the face of this large-scale environmental destruction, a new study finds that Indonesian Borneo's children have a pessimistic view of their future.


Aceh's largest peat swamp at risk from palm oil
(08/11/2014) Oil palm plantations and other developments are threatening Rawa Singkil Wildlife Preserve—Aceh's largest peat swamp, and home to the densest population of Sumatran orangutan in the Leuser Ecosystem. The lack of clear boundaries, and construction of roads bisecting the area has fostered encroachment by local and outside entrepreneurs, including some former local officials, reports Abu Hanifah Lubis, Program Manager of Yayasan Leuser Internasional (YLI).


NASA: Forest loss leaps in Bolivia, Mekong region
(08/08/2014) New satellite data from NASA suggests that deforestation is sharply increasing in Bolivia and Mekong countries during the second quarter of 2014.


The 90 Percent Diet: reducing our environmental impact by eating less meat
(08/07/2014) In Brian Machovina’s life, a serendipitous influence of people and places have all contributed to his current passion for inspiring people to eat less meat. With fewer grazing animals, Machovina’s studies show that we could make better conservation and production choices with land that would otherwise be used to raise or feed livestock.


The latest deforestation news



Other pages in this section:

A World Imperilled
Threats from Humankind
Economic Restructuring
Logging
Fires
Commercial Agriculture
Hydro, Pollution, Hunting
Debt
Consumption, Conclusion
- - - - -
References
References
References
References
References
Natural forces
Subsistence Activities
Oil Extraction
Mining
War
Cattle Pasture
Fuelwood, Roads, Climate
Population & Poverty

- - - - -
Kids version of this section
- Why are rainforests disappearing?
- Logging
- Agriculture
- Cattle
- Roads
- Poverty


Selection of information sources






For kids

Tour: the Amazon

Rainforest news

Tour: Indonesia's rainforests

 Home
 What's New
 About
 Rainforests
   Mission
   Introduction
   Characteristics
   Biodiversity
   The Canopy
   Forest Floor
   Forest Waters
   Indigenous People
   Deforestation
   Consequences
   Saving Rainforests
   Amazon
   Borneo
   Congo
   New Guinea
   Sulawesi
   REDD
   Country Profiles
   Statistics
   Works Cited
   For Kids
   For Teachers
   Photos/Images
   Expert Interviews
   Rainforest News
  Forest data
   Global deforestation
   Tropical deforestation
   By country
   Deforestation charts
   Regional forest data
   Deforestation drivers
 XML Feeds
 Pictures
 Books
 Education
 Newsletter
 Contact

Nature Blog Network



 CONTENTS
Rainforests
Tropical Fish
News
Madagascar
Pictures
Kids' Site
Languages
TCS Journal
About
Archives
Topics | RSS
Newsletter




 Other languages
Arabic
Bengali
Chinese (CN) (expanded)
Chinese (TW)
Croatian
Danish
Dutch
Farsi
French (expanded)
German (expanded)
Greek
Hindi
Hungarian
Indonesian
Italian
Japanese (expanded)
Javanese
Korean
Malagasy
Malay
Marathi
Norwegian
Polish
Portuguese (expanded)
Russian
Slovak
Spanish (expanded)
Swahili
Swedish
Ukrainian



 WEEKLY NEWSLETTER
 Email:


 INTERACT
Facebook
Twitter
Contact
Help
Photo store
Mongabay gear




Recent news




More rainforest news



what's new | rainforests home | for kids | help | madagascar | search | about | languages | contact

Copyright Rhett Butler 1994-2013

Carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions generated from mongabay.com operations (server, data transfer, travel) are mitigated through an association with Anthrotect,
an organization working with Afro-indigenous and Embera communities to protect forests in Colombia's Darien region.
Anthrotect is protecting the habitat of mongabay's mascot: the scale-crested pygmy tyrant.

"Rainforest" is used interchangeably with "rain forest" on this site. "Jungle" is generally not used.