In the 1990s and 2000s, Myanmar, the country formerly called Burma, was an environmental pariah, with a high deforestation rate and widespread illegal logging. Now with the country opening up to foreign investment, there are fears that forest conversion could increase, a prospect that especially concern conservationists given climbing deforestation since 2000.
Myanmar's dense forests are found mostly in Shan (25 percent of the country's forests using a 50 percent tree cover threshold), Kachin (19 percent), and Sagaing (14 percent) in the northern parts of the country. These states and regions have also had the highest aggregate loss of forests, amounting to nearly 850,000 hectares between 2000 and 2012, according to research led by Matthew Hansen.
Overall Myanmar lost some 1.4 million ha of forest since 2000, ranking it well behind Indonesia and Malaysia, but ahead of other Mekong nations, including Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, and Thailand.
Drivers of deforestation in Myanmar include conversion for agriculture, both subsistence and industrial; legal and illegal logging, including establishment of teak plantations; and various types of mining.
Global Forest Watch image showing recent forest loss and gain in Myanmar.
Myanmar's protected area system lags behind its peers in the region, but conservation groups are stepping up programs. There is a lot to protect: Myanmar has some 1709 known species of amphibians, birds, mammals and reptiles according to figures from the World Conservation Monitoring Centre. Of these, 4.7% are endemic and 5.9% are threatened. Myanmar is home to at least 7000 species of vascular plants, of which 15.3% are endemic.
|Total forest area||Dense forest area||Forest gain||Forest loss||Total land area|
|>10% tree cover (ha)||% total land cover||>50% tree cover (ha)||% total land cover||2001-2012 (ha)||% total forest cover||2001-2012 (ha)||% total forest cover||(ha)|
Pie chart showing forest cover in Myanmar
Forest cover by state in Myanmar
Chart: aggregate forest loss by year in Myanmar/Burma
Chart: annual forest loss by state/region in Myanmar/Burma
Forest loss by state/region in Myanmar
| Burma news updates
Conservation in Myanmar: a cause for optimism?
||Myanmar Forest Figures
Total forest area: 32,222,000 ha
% of land area: 49%
Primary forest cover: n/a
% of land area: 0.0%
% total forest area: n/a
Deforestation Rates, 2000-2005
Annual change in forest cover: -466,400 ha
Annual deforestation rate: -1.4%
Change in defor. rate since '90s: 13.5%
Total forest loss since 1990: -6,997,000 ha
Total forest loss since 1990:-17.8%
Primary or "Old-growth" forests
Annual loss of primary forests: n/a
Annual deforestation rate: n/a
Change in deforestation rate since '90s: n/a
Primary forest loss since 1990: n/a
Primary forest loss since 1990:n/a
Social services: n/a
Multiple purpose: 3.2%
None or unknown: n/a
Forest Area Breakdown
Total area: 32,222,000 ha
Modified natural: 31,373,000 ha
Production plantation: 696,000 ha
Production plantation: 153,000 ha
Plantations, 2005: 849,000 ha
% of total forest cover: 2.6%
Annual change rate (00-05): 30,600,000 ha
Above-ground biomass: 5,109 M t
Below-ground biomass: 1,226 M t
Area annually affected by
Fire: 6,500,000 ha
Number of tree species in IUCN red list
Number of native tree species: 2,000
Critically endangered: 13
Wood removal 2005
Industrial roundwood: 3,880,000 m3 o.b.
Wood fuel: 39,180,000 m3 o.b.
Value of forest products, 2005
Industrial roundwood: $838,479,000
Wood fuel: $51,415,000
Non-wood forest products (NWFPs): $11,761,000
Total Value: $901,655,000
More forest statistics for Myanmar
Fifty years of relative political and economic isolation have yielded slow economic growth and contributed to the conservation of many of Myanmar’s native species. However, the dissolution of Myanmar’s military junta in 2011 marked the beginning of a new age of increasing political and economic liberalization and international engagement. Many experts fear that possible rapid development fueled by international investment, improved infrastructure and expanded transport networks, pose a grave risk to Myanmar’s biodiversity and forests.
Growing need for deforestation-free rubber as tire demand destroys native forests
Surging demand for natural rubber is decimating some of the world's most endangered forests, putting wildlife and critical ecosystem services at risk, warn scientists writing in the journal Conservation Letters
. Reviewing a large body of published research, Eleanor Warren-Thomas of the University of East Anglia and colleagues detail the crop's expansion across across Southeast Asia in recent decades.
155 Chinese nationals arrested for illegal logging in Myanmar
155 Chinese citizens have been arrested in Myanmar for illegal logging, reports Agence France-Presse
How do we save the world's vanishing old-growth forests?
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.
'Better late than never': Myanmar bans timber exports to save remaining forests
Myanmar contains some of Asia's largest forests, but has been losing them at a rapid pace during the last two decades as logging companies emptied woodlands to meet the demands of the lumber industry. In an effort to save its disappearing forests, Myanmar implemented a ban on raw timber exports, effective March 31, 2014. However, the ban affects only raw timber exports, not milled lumber, throwing into doubt its ability to adequately protect Myanmar's forests.
New relative of the 'penis snake' discovered in Myanmar
Scientists have discovered a new species of limbless amphibians, known as caecilians, in Myanmar. Dubbing the species, the colorful ichthyophis (Ichthyophis multicolor), the researchers describe the new amphibian in a recent paper published in Zootaxa. The world's most famous caecilian is the so-called penis snake (Atretochoana eiselti) which was rediscovered in Brazil in 2011.
Just how bad is the logging crisis in Myanmar? 72 percent of exports illegal
Just days before Myanmar, also known as Burma, implements a ban on exporting raw logs, the Environmental Investigative Agency (EIA) has released a new report that captures the sheer scale of the country's illegal logging crisis. According to the EIA, new data shows that 72 percent of logs exported from Myanmar between 2000-2013 were illegally harvested.
Plantations used as cover for destruction of old-growth forests in Myanmar
As Wild Burma: Nature's Lost Kingdom airs on the BBC, the forests documented in the series are increasingly being cut down, according to a new report by U.S. NGO Forest Trends. The report alleges that wide swathes of forest are being cleared in ethnic minority areas of Myanmar (also known as Burma), ostensibly for palm oil and rubber plantations. However after the lucrative timber is extracted, the report finds little evidence that the companies involved are serious about establishing plantations.
Mangrove ecosystems being obliterated in Myanmar
Mangrove cover in Myanmar's Ayeyarwady Delta declined by nearly two-thirds between 1978 and 2011, leaving coastal areas more vulnerable to disasters like Cyclone Nargis, which killed 138,000 people in 2008, finds a new study published in the journal Global Environmental Change
. The research, led by a team of scientists from the National University of Singapore and Mangrove and Environmental Rehabilitation Network in Yangon, is based on remote sensing and field data.
Myanmar faces new conservation challenges as it opens up to the world
For decades, one of Southeast Asia's largest countries has also been its most mysterious. Now, emerging from years of political and economic isolation, its shift towards democracy means that Myanmar is opening up to the rest of the world. Myanmar forms part of the Indo-Burma biodiversity hotspot, and some of the largest tracts of intact habitat in the hotspot can be found here.
Mekong region has lost a third of its forests in 30 years, may lose another third by 2030
The Greater Mekong region of Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar (Burma), Thailand and Vietnam will lose a third of its remaining forest cover by 2030 unless regional governments improve management of natural resources and transition toward a greener growth model, warns a new report issued by WWF.
The river of plenty: uncovering the secrets of the amazing Mekong
Home to giant catfish and stingrays, feeding over 60 million people, and with the largest abundance of freshwater fish in the world, the Mekong River, and its numerous tributaries, brings food, culture, and life to much of Southeast Asia. Despite this, little is known about the biodiversity and ecosystems of the Mekong, which is second only to the Amazon in terms of freshwater biodiversity. Meanwhile, the river is facing an existential crisis in the form of 77 proposed dams, while population growth, pollution, and development further imperil this understudied, but vast, ecosystem.
'Exporting deforestation': China is the kingpin of illegal logging
Runaway economic growth comes with costs: in the case of China's economic engine, one of them has been the world's forests. According to a new report by the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), China has become the number one importer of illegal wood products from around the world. Illegal logging—which threatens biodiversity, emits carbon, impoverishes local communities, and is often coupled with other crimes—has come under heavy pressure in recent years from the U.S., the EU, and Australia. Each of these has implemented, or will soon implement, new laws that make importing and selling illegal wood products domestic crimes. However, China's unwillingness to tackle its vast appetite for illegal timber means the trade continues to decimate forests worldwide.
Burma warns of deforestation crisis
An official warned that Myanmar is facing a deforestation crisis due to poor forest management, illegal logging, and fuelwood collection, reports Chinese state media.
Burma: slowly opening its doors
As a 'road junky', I know what you're thinking: 'Burma is reforming so quickly, let's rush off to Burma before tourists snatch up all its unspoiled beauty!' I had the same idea, and after an incredible trip to Burma, I have to say that I was right. However, I must tell you that traveling in Burma is both rewarding and challenging. In Burma, I found myself spending a day in Bagan being driven from majestic temple to majestic temple by a betel-chewing, elementary-school-aged, driver who took the horse cart right through a plowed and planted field on the way to Sule Pagoda where I watched the sunset of a lifetime. I found myself in awe of the red-brick stupas, colorful frescoes, pastoral simplicity, and peace found in off-season induced solitude amongst some of the ruins. Still, in spite of these wonderful experiences, I also found that my optimism over the country's recent transformation was sometimes tempered by evidence of its tumultuous past.
Suggested reading - Books
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