Deforestation: facts, figures, and pictures

By Rhett A. Butler  Last updated July 23, 2020



Deforestation facts

Here are some basic facts about deforestation. These facts are explored in greater depth below.

  • Forests are cut down to clear land for agriculture, livestock grazing, and settlement; for timber; to produce charcoal; and to establish tree plantations.
  • Deforestation occurs across all forest types, but is concentrated in the tropics and boreal regions. Temperate regions are experiencing a net increase in forest cover due to natural regeneration.
  • While deforestation produces food, fiber, and fuel, it can also pose risks to climate, biodiversity, and food security by degrading the ecosystem services normally afforded by healthy and productive forests.
  • There are different ways to calculate deforestation. Using the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) estimate, the countries with the highest area of deforestation during the 2010s were Brazil (18.9 million ha of net forest conversion), the Democratic Republic of the Congo (11M ha), Indonesia (8M ha), Angola (5.6M ha), and Canada (4.5M ha).
  • Scientists estimate that 80% of the planet's terrestrial species live in forests. Deforestation is therefore one of the biggest extinction risks to many species.
Illegal deforestation for palm oil. Photo by Rhett A. Butler

Definition of deforestation

What is deforestation? Deforestation refers to the cutting, clearing, and removal of natural forest.

Deforestation includes the conversion of natural forests into tree plantations, like the clearance of tropical rainforests in Southeast Asia for oil palm and timber plantations.

Governments often exclude areas burned by fires from official deforestation statistics. However forests that are chopped down and then burned are usually counted as "deforestation."

Deforestation is defined in different ways by different institutions. For example, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (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 15 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.

Regional deforestation trends for the tropics

Chaco forest recently destroyed for soybeans. Photo by Rhett A. Butler

Causes of deforestation

What causes deforestation?

The causes of deforestation — sometimes called drivers of deforestation — vary from region to region. In tropical Latin America and Southeast Asia, most deforestation is directly caused by conversion of natural forests for industrial activities, notably cattle ranching in the Amazon and large-scale tree plantations in Southeast Asia. These industrial activities typically produce commodities for export and urban markets.

In other regions, especially parts of tropical Africa, deforestation is caused primarily by subsistence or small-scale agriculture. Subsistence agriculture is primarily to produce food for household consumption or local markets.


Pie chart showing tree cover loss by region, according to Curtis et al 2018

Chart showing tree cover loss by region, according to Curtis et al 2018

Chart showing tree cover loss by region, according to WRI 2019

 

Outside the tropics, drivers of deforestation are also varied. In countries like the United States, Canada, and Russia industrial timber operations convert natural temperate and boreal forests into industrial tree plantations. Urban expansion and agriculture can also be important causes of deforestation.

Mining also causes deforestation, but typically on a much smaller scale than agriculture. Mining however can result in other adverse environmental impacts like water and air pollution.

Types of deforestation

The "causes of deforestation" section above focuses on direct drivers of deforestation, but indirect drivers are also important to consider. For example, logging is a major indirect driver of deforestation in the tropics. Logging in tropical rainforests is typically selective, meaning only a few trees are harvested per hectare. But successive logging cycles degrade the perceived economic value of the forest, increasing pressure to convert the forest for intensive use, like agricultural or an industrial plantation (e.g. oil palm, wood pulp, or timber are the most common tropical tree plantations). Logging also usually involves road construction, which facilitates access to remote areas, greatly boosting the likelihood that an area of forest will eventually be cleared or burned.

Drivers of deforestation can be even farther removed however. For example, corruption, governance, and land rights can all be important factors in whether a forest gets destroyed. Corruption can enable companies to circumvent environmental regulations, while poor governance can allow illegal actors to clear forests with impunity since there isn't any law enforcement. Insecure land rights can spur a free-for-all where forests get cleared because no one has clear stake to maintain them for the public good. Research has shown that forests are more likely to be maintained in indigenous communities that have secure land titles.

 



Regional deforestation trends

Deforestation in the Amazon has been trending higher over the past decade due to growing demand for beef, soy, and land; government development policies that encourage expansion into forests; and the increasing vulnerability of the rainforest ecosystem to drought and fire. Brazil, which accounts for more than 60% of forest cover in the Amazon, is the bellwether in the region.

The deforestation trend in the world's second largest rainforest, the Congo, is also up due to rising conversion for agriculture and increased logging.

After peaking in the mid-2010s, deforestation has been trending downward in Southeast Asia. Nonetheless, the region still loses vast amounts of forest to industrial agriculture for the production of palm oil, timber, and pulp and paper.

In North America and Russia, industrial timber harvesting is a large driver of deforestation in natural forests. Every few years vast areas of forest, especially in boreal regions, burn due to fires. Many of these result from lightning strikes, while some result from human activities. While there is a natural fire cycle in northern forests, the effects of climate change — including higher temperatures, more severe droughts, and beetle infestations resulting from warmer winters — are making these ecosystems more vulnerable to unusually destructive fires.


Chart showing the state of primary forests in the tropics, according to Hansen/WRI 2020

Chart showing tree cover loss in the Amazon, according to Hansen/WRI 2020

Chart showing tree cover loss in the Atlantic Forest, according to Hansen/WRI 2020

Chart showing tree cover loss in Australiasia (Australia, New Guinea, and neighboring islands), according to Hansen/WRI 2020

Chart showing tree cover loss in the Choco, according to Hansen/WRI 2020

Chart showing tree cover loss in the Congo, according to Hansen/WRI 2020

Chart showing tree cover loss in the Indo-Burma region, according to Hansen/WRI 2020

Chart showing tree cover loss in Mesoamerica, according to Hansen/WRI 2020

Chart showing tree cover loss in Sundaland (Peninsular Malaysia, Sumatra, Java, and Borneo), according to Hansen/WRI 2020

Chart showing tree cover loss in Wallacea (Sulawesi and Halmahera), according to Hansen/WRI 2020

Chart showing tree cover loss in West Africa, according to Hansen/WRI 2020

Effects of deforestation

Forests provide many critical ecosystem services and house wildlife and people. Deforestation therefore undermines these services and deprives forest-dependent peoples of livelihoods and cultural connections to nature.

Forests:

  • help stabilize the world’s climate by sequestering carbon and affecting the reflectivity of Earth's surface;
  • provide a home to the majority of the planet's plant and animal species;
  • maintain the water cycle, including generating rainfall at local, regional, and trans-continental scales;
  • help buffer again storm damage, erosion, and drought / flood cycles;
  • are a source for food, fiber, fuel, and medicine;
  • support forest-dependent people, including indigenous tribes living in voluntary isolation from the rest of humanity; and
  • provide recreational, spiritual, and cultural value.

Forest loss therefore:

  • accelerates global warming by releasing substantial amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere;
  • increases biodiversity loss, including causing the extinction of plants and animals;
  • disrupts rainfall patterns, including increasing the incidence of drought in some areas;
  • exacerbates the risk of floods and storm damage;
  • presents a food security risk to forest-dependent populations;
  • undermines local livelihoods, potentially pushing forest people off their traditional lands; and
  • can break cultural and spiritual links between people and forests, including loss of traditional knowledge about the value of forests.

Read more Consequences of deforestation.

Deforestation and climate change

Scientists expect climate change to have wide-ranging effects for the world's forests. Changes in weather patterns, rainfall distribution, and temperature will result in the transformation of some tropical rainforests into drier forests and the shift of other types of forests into tropical forest. Forests may recede in some areas (e.g. the southern Amazon, Borneo, and the Congo Basin) and expand in others (e.g. boreal and polar regions, Africa's Sahel).

Sea level rise will inundate and kill coastal lowland forests, including mangroves. Montane forests may climb to higher elevations as temperatures rise.

The response of forests to climate change challenged by deforestation, forest degradation, and human infrastructure. Whereas in the past forest ecological communities could respond to climate change by moving, today migration corridors across much of the world are effectively blocked. Additionally the pace of current change is much greater than with past periods of warming, like the Pleistocene and Holocene epochs

Read more Climate Change and the Amazon Rainforest.

Bulldozer at a conventional logging site in Borneo. Photo by Rhett A. Butler

Deforestation solutions

Drivers of deforestation are complex and vary from region to region depending on social, economic, political, and geographic issues. This means that solutions to deforestation are also variable — in short, there's no simple, one-stop solution to deforestation that applies worldwide. However there are some common themes that underpin efforts to combat deforestation. These include:

  • Improve governance to curb illegal conversion and degradation of forests and reduce mismanagement of resources
  • Use full-cost accounting to incorporate the real costs of externalities and perverse subsidies that drive environmental degradation, while aligning economic incentives with forest-friendly practices and policies.
  • Strengthen transparency around land use and commodity sources to improve accountability.
  • Engage stakeholders in and around forest areas to determine how conservation efforts can support local livelihoods and help make land use more sustainable.
  • Recognize the land rights of forest-dependent peoples to ensure the forests they traditionally use aren't taken away from them.
  • Educate the public on the importance of forest ecosystems, including the services they afford.
  • Take personal responsibility in how you use resources. The decisions we as consumers make have a direct impact on the fate of forests. As such, you have a powerful voice in asking companies what actions they are taking to eliminate deforestation from their supply chains.
  • Support environmental defenders who are putting their lives and well-being on the line to protect forests.
  • Communicate your concerns about forests to policymakers, companies, and your friends and family.
  • Vote for representatives who support thoughtful, forest-friendly policies.

Read more How to Save the Rainforest.

Deforestation statistics

The global deforestation rates depends on how one defines deforestation. The most frequently updated data on global tree cover is based on analysis of satellite data by the University of Maryland and Global Forest Watch (UMD/GFW). This data is released annually, typically several months after the end of the year. However, the UMD/GFW data reflects global tree cover loss, which may or may not represent actual deforestation because it includes any activity that affects tree cover, including forest loss due to fire, cyclical harvesting of trees within plantations, and large-scale forest damage from storms. UMD/GFW publishes another proxy for deforestation -- tropical primary forest loss -- but this doesn't apply to any secondary forest loss or forest loss outside the tropics.

Global tree cover loss rose from an average of 17.1 million hectares a year in the 2000s to 23.1 million in the 2010s. This increase reflects both deforestation in natural forests and activity within an expanding area of plantations, the bulk of which are in Asia, Europe, and North America.

But while global tree cover loss is increasing as is primary forest loss in the tropics, FAO says that worldwide deforestation has been on a downward trend since the 1990s.

Global deforestation trends


Chart showing annual tree cover loss by region.

Chart showing annual tree cover loss in the tropics and outside the tropics.

Chart showing total tree cover loss, 2001-2019.

Average annual global deforestation according to FAO 2020 (million ha)

Average annual global deforestation, forest gain, and net forest loss according to FAO 2020 (million ha)

Deforestation rankings for the 2010s

Deforestation numbers depend on the methodology. Below are three different sets of data: net forest conversion from the FAO, tree cover loss from Hansen / WRI 2020, and tropical primary forest loss from Hansen / WRI 2020.

Average hectares lost/yearNet forest conversion (FAO)
Source: FAO 2020
Tree cover loss
Source: Hansen / WRI 2020
Tropical primary forest loss
Source: Hansen / WRI 2020
Russia 139,406 4,164,738
Brazil 1,885,640 2,993,616 1,314,788
Canada 454,175 2,395,826
United State 145,700 2,033,577
Indonesia 800,790 1,598,176 585,230
D.R. Congo 1,101,376 1,050,115 366,635
Tanzania 420,501 158,463
Bolivia 226,472 374,628 183,894
Paraguay 357,281 360,644 53,271
Angola 555,062 199,453 9,109
Mozambique 224,801 204,690
Sweden 152,400 262,467
Myanmar 301,896 269,628 38,307
Cambodia 297,030 166,746 90,319
Peru 183,798 210,153 137,352
Colombia 171,198 243,306 96,090
Argentina 189,000 297,398 21,088
Zambia 188,197 122,413
Mexico 128,510 228,326 39,587
Venezuela 164,303 113,585 33,249

 

Deforestation pictures

Below are photos of deforestation taken from around the world. There are tens of thousands of more photos of deforestation at travel.mongabay.com. There's a search function at images.mongabay.com


Chevron's Duri oil field in Riau

Deforestation for oil palm

Newly planted oil palm plantation

Smoke rising from a forest fire in Riau

Soy and Chaco forest

Deforestation in Riau

Smallholder deforestation

Smallholder deforestation in Borneo

Illegal clearing and burning inside Tesso Nilo

Peatlands destruction in Riau

Cleared peatland with rainforest in the background

Smallholder deforestation in Borneo

Illegal sand and gold mining

Smallholder deforestation in Borneo

Deforestation for oil palm

Drained, cleared, and burned peatland and forest

Batu Hijau mine

Smallholder deforestation in Borneo

Industrial logging in Malaysian Borneo

Illegal sand and gold mining

Oil palm estate and rainforest in Malaysian Borneo

Deforestation for oil palm

Deforestation for oil palm

Chaco forest recently destroyed for soybeans

Illegal deforestation for palm oil

Burning within Tesso Nilo National Park

Smallholder deforestation in Borneo

Haze rising from an oil palm plantation and forest in Riau

Stacks of rainforest timber in Indonesia

Logging truck in Borneo

Deforestation in Riau

Deforestation in Sumatra

Industrial deforestation in Borneo

Brush fire in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area

Burned peat forest

New oil palm plantation established on peatland outside Palangkaraya

deforestation for oil palm

Smallholder deforestation in Borneo

Bulldozer at a conventional logging site in Borneo

Canal dug through degraded peat forest

Acacia plantation

Overhead view of the Rio Huaypetue gold mine the Peruvian Amazon

Rainforest timber transported in lagoon near Loango National Park in Gabon

deforestation for oil palm

Ramin trees in a deforested landscape

Sunset over a deforested area

Drained, cleared, and burned peatland and forest

Peat forest cleared for palm oil

Big picture context on deforestation

How much rainforest is being destroyed? by Rhett A. Butler on 10 June 2020

  • In December 2019, Mongabay published a review of decade in tropical forests. The analysis wasn’t fully complete because forest loss data for 2019 hadn’t yet been released.
  • Last week, the University of Maryland (UMD) and World Resources Institute (WRI) published the 2019 data, which showed that 3.75 million hectares of primary forest were cleared during the year.
  • That brings the total tropical primary forest loss since 2002 to 60 million hectares, an area larger than the combined land mass of the states of California and Missouri.
  • However the 2019 numbers may not capture the full extent of loss due to the extent of deforestation that occurred in the Amazon during the later part of the year.
Tropical forests’ lost decade: the 2010s by Rhett A. Butler on 17 December 2019
  • The 2010s opened as a moment of optimism for tropical forests. The world looked like it was on track to significantly reduce tropical deforestation by 2020.
  • By the end of the 2019 however, it was clear that progress on protecting tropical forests stalled in the 2010s. The decade closed with rising deforestation and increased incidence of fire in tropical forests.
  • According to the U.N., in 2015 global forest cover fell below four billion hectares of forest for the first time in human history.
Earth has more trees now than 35 years ago by Rhett A. Butler on 15 August 2018
  • Tree cover increased globally over the past 35 years, finds a paper published in the journal Nature.
  • The study, led by Xiao-Peng Song and Matthew Hansen of the University of Maryland, is based on analysis of satellite data from 1982 to 2016.
  • The research found that tree cover loss on the tropics was outweighed by tree cover gain in subtropical, temperate, boreal, and polar regions.
  • However all the tree cover data comes with an important caveat: tree cover is not necessarily forest cover.
10 reasons to be optimistic for forests by Rhett A. Butler on 5 June 2016
  • It’s easy to be pessimistic about the state of the world’s forests.
  • Yet all hope is not lost. There are remain good reasons for optimism when it comes to saving the world’s forests.
  • On the occasion of World Environment Day 2016 (June 5), the United Nations’ “day” for raising awareness and encouraging action to protect the planet, here are 10 forest-friendly trends to watch.
How does the global commodity collapse impact forest conservation? by Rhett A. Butler on 21 December 2015
  • Since early 2014, prices for most commodities produced in the tropics have plunged.
  • The market rout is wreaking havoc on the state budgets of developing countries, curbing investment, and pushing producers to scale back on output and postpone plans for expansion.
  • In isolation, these developments would seem to be good news for tropical forests. But the reality is more complex.
Rainforests could provide half global climate solution by 2050 by Rhett A. Butler on 25 November 2015
  • Protecting, restoring, and better managing tropical forests could provide as much as half the net carbon emissions required to meet a 2-degree Celsius climate target.
  • The authors cite three opportunities where tropical forests could make substantial contributions: reducing deforestation and degradation, allowing forests degraded by logging and shifting agriculture to recover, and reforesting areas that have been cleared.
  • All told, those efforts could sequester and avoid emissions of up to five billion tons per year, or just under half the current level of emissions from fossil fuels, for about 50 years. About 20 percent of that would come via reducing emissions by cutting the amount of trees that are felled and burned, while 80 percent would come from sequestration.
How many trees are cut down every year? by Rhett A. Butler on 2 September 2015
  • A new study published in Nature estimates the planet has 3.04 trillion trees.
  • The research says 15.3 billion trees are chopped down every year.
  • It also estimates that 46% of the world’s trees have been cleared over the past 12,000 years.
Industrial logging leaves a poor legacy in Borneo’s rainforests by Rhett A. Butler on 17 July 2012
  • For most people “Borneo” conjures up an image of a wild and distant land of rainforests, exotic beasts, and nomadic tribes. But that place increasingly exists only in one’s imagination, for the forests of world’s third largest island have been rapidly and relentlessly logged, burned, and bulldozed in recent decades, leaving only a sliver of its once magnificent forests intact.
Is Indonesia losing its most valuable assets? Commentary by Rhett A. Butler on 16 May 2011
  • Deep in the rainforests of Malaysian Borneo in the late 1980s, researchers made an incredible discovery: the bark of a species of peat swamp tree yielded an extract with potent anti-HIV activity.
  • An anti-HIV drug made from the compound is now nearing clinical trials. It could be worth hundreds of millions of dollars a year and help improve the lives of millions of people.
  • This story is significant for Indonesia because its forests house a similar species. In fact, Indonesia’s forests probably contain many other potentially valuable species, although our understanding of these is poor.
  • Given Indonesia’s biological richness — Indonesia has the highest number of plant and animal species of any country on the planet — shouldn’t policymakers and businesses be giving priority to protecting and understanding rainforests, peatlands, mountains, coral reefs, and mangrove ecosystems, rather than destroying them for commodities?
Does chopping down rainforests for pulp and paper help alleviate poverty in Indonesia? by Rhett A. Butler on 13 January 2011
  • Over the past several years, Asia Pulp & Paper has engaged in a marketing campaign to represent its operations in Sumatra as socially and environmentally sustainable. APP and its agents maintain that industrial pulp and paper production — as practiced in Sumatra — does not result in deforestation, is carbon neutral, helps protect wildlife, and alleviates poverty. While a series of analyses and reports have shown most of these assertions to be false, the final claim has largely not been contested. But does conversion of lowland rainforests for pulp and paper really alleviate poverty in Indonesia?.
Greening the world with palm oil? by Rhett A. Butler on 26 January 2011
  • The commercial shows a typical office setting. A worker sits drearily at a desk, shredding papers and watching minutes tick by on the clock. When his break comes, he takes out a Nestle KitKat bar. As he tears into the package, the viewer, but not the office worker, notices something is amiss—what should be chocolate has been replaced by the dark hairy finger of an orangutan. With the jarring crunch of teeth breaking through bone, the worker bites into the “bar.” Drops of blood fall on the keyboard and run down his face. His officemates stare, horrified. The advertisement cuts to a solitary tree standing amid a deforested landscape. A chainsaw whines. The message: Palm oil—an ingredient in many Nestle products—is killing orangutans by destroying their habitat, the rainforests of Borneo and Sumatra.
Corporations, conservation, and the green movement by Rhett A. Butler on 21 October 2010
  • The rise of industrial deforestation and its implications for conservation.
  • The image of rainforests being torn down by giant bulldozers, felled by chainsaw-wielding loggers, and torched by large-scale developers has never been more poignant. Corporations have today replaced small-scale farmers as the prime drivers of deforestation, a shift that has critical implications for conservation.
  • Until recently deforestation has been driven mostly by poverty—poor people in developing countries clearing forests or depleting other natural resources as they struggle to feed their families. Government policies in the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s had a multiplier effect, subsidizing agricultural expansion through low-interest loans, infrastructure projects, and ambitious colonization schemes, especially in the Amazon and Indonesia. But over the past two decades, this has changed in many countries due to rural depopulation, a decline in state-sponsored development projects, the rise of globalized financial markets, and a worldwide commodity boom.
  • Deforestation, overfishing, and other forms of environmental degradation are now primarily the result of corporations feeding demand from international consumers. While industrial actors exploit resources more efficiently and cause widespread environmental damage, they also are more sensitive to pressure from consumers and environmental groups. Thus in recent years, it has become easier—and more ethical—for green groups to go after corporations than after poor farmers.
How Greenpeace changes big business by Rhett A. Butler on 22 July 2010
  • Tropical deforestation claimed roughly 13 million hectares of forest per year during the first half of this decade, about the same rate of loss as the 1990s.
  • But while the overall numbers have remained relatively constant, they mask a transition of great significance: a shift from poverty-driven to industry-driven deforestation and geographic consolidation of where deforestation occurs.
  • These changes have important implications for efforts to protect the world’s remaining tropical forests in that environmental groups now have identifiable targets that may be more responsive to pressure on environmental concerns than tens of millions of impoverished rural farmers. In other words, activists have more leverage than ever to impact corporate behavior as it relates to deforestation.
Changing drivers of deforestation provide new opportunities for conservation by Rhett A. Butler on 9 December 2009
  • Tropical deforestation claimed roughly 13 million hectares of forest per year during the first half of this decade, about the same rate of loss as the 1990s.
  • But while the overall numbers have remained relatively constant, they mask a transition of great significance: a shift from poverty-driven to industry-driven deforestation and geographic consolidation of where deforestation occurs.
  • These changes have important implications for efforts to protect the world’s remaining tropical forests in that environmental lobby groups now have identifiable targets that may be more responsive to pressure on environmental concerns than tens of millions of impoverished rural farmers.
  • In other words, activists have more leverage than ever to impact corporate behavior as it relates to deforestation.
Concerns over deforestation may drive new approach to cattle ranching in the Amazon by Rhett A. Butler on 8 September 2009
  • While you’re browsing the mall for running shoes, the Amazon rainforest is probably the farthest thing from your mind. Perhaps it shouldn’t be.
  • The globalization of commodity supply chains has created links between consumer products and distant ecosystems like the Amazon. Shoes sold in downtown Manhattan may have been assembled in Vietnam using leather supplied from a Brazilian processor that subcontracted to a rancher in the Amazon. But while demand for these products is currently driving environmental degradation, this connection may also hold the key to slowing the destruction of Earth’s largest rainforest.
Are we on the brink of saving rainforests? by Rhett A. Butler on 22 July 2009
  • Until now saving rainforests seemed like an impossible mission. But the world is now warming to the idea that a proposed solution to help address climate change could offer a new way to unlock the value of forest without cutting it down.
How to save the Amazon rainforest by Rhett A. Butler on 4 January 2009
  • Environmentalists have long voiced concern over the vanishing Amazon rainforest, but they haven’t been particularly effective at slowing forest loss. In fact, despite the hundreds of millions of dollars in donor funds that have flowed into the region since 2000 and the establishment of more than 100 million hectares of protected areas since 2002, average annual deforestation rates have increased since the 1990s, peaking at 73,785 square kilometers (28,488 square miles) of forest loss between 2002 and 2004. With land prices fast appreciating, cattle ranching and industrial soy farms expanding, and billions of dollars’ worth of new infrastructure projects in the works, development pressure on the Amazon is expected to accelerate.

Recent deforestation articles

Net-zero commitments must include more anti-deforestation policies, UN tells private sector
- Many companies with net-zero commitments have made little, tangible progress against tropical deforestation, according to a recent report from a U.N. climate change task force.
- Approximately a third of carbon emissions released each year are absorbed by forests, making tackling deforestation a key part of the fight to keep global temperatures below 1.5°C (2.7°F).
- Many companies, even ones that have implemented other effective net-zero commitments, have fallen short on deforestation, meaning their carbon footprint may end up being larger than they hope.

Construction begins on controversial water project inside Lake Malawi National Park
- The government of Malawi has initiated construction works for a water project inside Lake Malawi National Park, despite court challenges and sustained protests from conservationists who say the project threatens the park’s UNESCO-recognized biodiversity and archaeological sites.
- Eyewitness reports say construction vehicles are currently blasting rocks, bulldozing boulders and uprooting trees, ripping through a pristine forest.
- The project is expected to bring potable water to around 93,000 people in the lakeshore district of Mangochi, and enjoys political support both locally and nationally.
- Conservationists say they don’t object to the project itself, but call on the government to locate it outside of the park’s boundaries.

Habitat loss, climate change send hyacinth macaw reeling back into endangered status
- The hyacinth macaw, the world’s largest flying parrot, is closer to return to Brazil’s endangered species list, less than a decade after intensive conservation efforts succeeded in getting it off the list.
- The latest assessment still needs to be made official by the Ministry of the Environment, which is likely to publish the updated endangered species list next year.
- Conservation experts attribute the bird’s decline to the loss of its habitat due to fires in the Pantanal wetlands and ongoing deforestation in the Amazon and Cerrado biomes.
- Climate change also poses a serious threat, subjecting the birds to temperature swings that can kill eggs and hatchlings, and driving heavy rainfall that floods their preferred nesting sites.

Peru’s Amazon rainforest is threatened by an ecosystem of environment crime (commentary)
- While Brazil attracts more attention, deforestation is also substantial in the Peruvian Amazon, where forest clearing is on the rise.
- Carolina Andrade and Robert Muggah of Igarapé Institute, a Brazil-based think tank, write that “the scale and breadth of the assault” currently underway in Peru’s rainforest is “unprecedented”. They chalk up much of the damage to “resource pirates”.
- But while challenging, the situation isn’t without hope, argue Andrade and Muggah. “Resource pirates can be confronted,” they write. “Fostering closer cooperation between the many-layered and often competing oversight institutions could help focus government policy and action.”
- This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily of Mongabay.

World Bank approves $200 million IFC loan for industrial agriculture in Brazil’s Cerrado
- A $200 million loan was granted to Louis Dreyfus Company (LDC), an industrial soy and corn producer, for monoculture work in Brazil’s Cerrado, a grassland biome that has lost nearly 80% of its habitat cover.
- The loan was granted by the International Finance Corporation (IFC), a sister organization of the World Bank that’s tasked with private sector finance in developing countries.
- Corn, soy and cattle ranching have been connected to a long list of human rights violations, as well as the acceleration of deforestation and greenhouse gas emissions.

Andean eagles have managed to adapt to fragmenting habitats — for now
- A new study looked at black-and-chestnut eagles’ (Spizaetus isidori) ability to survive in fragmented forests in the Andean regions of Colombia and Argentina.
- Researchers found that the eagles were able to fly between fragmented forests on different mountain ranges and survive better than terrestrial predators
- However, juvenile eagles had higher mortality rates than their adult counterparts, suggesting that conservation efforts should be focused on ensuring young eagles survive into adulthood.

Amazon rainforest activist under threat in Brazil plans to flee his home
- Erasmo Theofilo, an agroecologist, founded a farmers’ cooperative in one of the most hostile corners of the Amazon to defend landless and poor rural workers and promote sustainable farming practices.
- He has been the target of death threats, ambushes and attempts on his life for his work in the municipality of Anapu, in Pará state, where U.S.-born nun Dorothy Stang was killed for her activism in 2005.
- Since President Jair Bolsonaro took office at the start of 2019, land conflicts and deforestation in the Amazon have surged, with a recent report showing that Pará is the most dangerous for land rights defenders.
- Theofilo told Mongabay he believes he will never be safe in Anapu again, even if the land conflicts are resolved, and is planning to leave for good with his family.

African court rules in favor of Indigenous land titles, reparations from the Kenyan government
- The African Court of Human and Peoples’ Rights has ruled that the Kenyan government must pay reparations for repeatedly evicting Indigenous Ogiek people from ancestral lands in the Mau Forest in western Kenya, ending a 13-year court battle. The state must also grant collective land titles to the Ogiek.
- The reparation judgment follows a 2017 court finding that the state violated seven articles of the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights due to its evictions.
- Daniel Kobei, the executive director of the Ogiek Peoples’ Development Program (OPDP), says the Ogiek community is hoping that the government will comply with the court’s ruling.
- Rights groups such as the Minority Rights Group International (MRG) and a lawyer representing the Ogiek in court remain apprehensive over the Kenyan government’s intention to follow through with the court’s ruling.

Mongabay’s new-look Reforestation.app makes finding the right tree-planting project easier
- Mongabay has launched an upgrade to Reforestation.app, our global directory of tree-planting projects, aimed at improving transparency in the sector.
- Reforestation.app is a free online tool for people to support reforestation by providing a means to identify projects that align with their interests and motivations.
- The update features an improved project search functionality, a step-by-step guide for filtering projects, and the ability to update and add new projects. 

Mennonite colony builds bridge, clears forest in Bolivian protected areas
- In 2018, a Mennonite colony purchased 14,400 hectares (35,500 acres) of land in the Bolivian department of Santa Cruz. Colonists have since built a bridge and developed a network of roads, and are in the process of clearing vast swaths of forest.
- The construction of the bridge appears to have been done without authorization from the government, and without an environmental impact assessment.
- Portions of the property lie within two protected areas: Kaa-Iya del Gran Chaco National Park and Integrated Management Natural Area, and the Bañados de Izozogy el río Parapetí wetland of international importance.
- Members of a local Indigenous community voiced support for the clearing activities, saying that the new roads and bridge will help connect them to medical facilities. However, scientists and conservationists are concerned about the impact of deforestation on water sources, wildlife and isolated Indigenous groups.

In Brazil, an Indigenous land defender’s unsolved killing is the deadly norm
- Two years after the death of Indigenous land defender Ari Uru-Eu-Wau-Wau in Brazil’s Amazonian state of Rondônia, questions about who killed him and why remain unanswered.
- Perpetrators of crimes against environmental activists are rarely brought to justice in the country, with a government report showing zero convictions for the 35 people killed in incidents of rural violence in 2021 — about a third of them in Rondônia.
- Indigenous groups and environmental activists in Rondônia say they fear for their lives as the criminal gangs that covet the Amazon’s rich resources act with impunity in threatening defenders and invading protected lands.
- Activists and experts point to a combination of the government’s anti-Indigenous rhetoric and the undermining of environmental agencies as helping incite the current surge of invasions and violence against land defenders in Rondônia and the wider Brazilian Amazon.

Home away from home: Researchers trial artificial nests for Lilian’s lovebirds
- Researchers and conservationists are experimenting with artificial nest boxes to provide a home for a threatened lovebird in Malawi whose preferred nesting sites — mopane trees — are being lost to logging.
- Lilian’s lovebird prefers nesting in the cavities found in mature mopane trees, and a year-long trial shows it hasn’t taken to the nest boxes as alternative breeding and roosting sites.
- Experts say they’ll continue refining their experiment, including setting up camera traps to better understand the bird’s behavior.
- Artificial nest boxes have been used with some degree of success for other bird species facing a similar loss of their natural nesting sites, including hornbills elsewhere in Southern Africa and in Southeast Asia.

Indonesian palm oil audit a chance to clean up ‘very dirty’ industry
- The Indonesian government plans to audit all palm oil companies operating in the country, in a bid to tackle an ongoing shortage and high prices of cooking oil.
- Experts attribute the crisis to the fact that the country’s palm oil industry is dominated by a small number of big companies.
- These companies have large concessions, in excess of the limit imposed by the government, allowing them to wield outsized power to dictate prices, policies and supplies.
- Analysts say the audit should address this land ownership issue, as well as other problems that plague the industry, such as lack of clear data and transparency.

Mining company destroys Indigenous cemetery during expansion in Honduras
- Indigenous residents living near the San Andres mine in western Honduras were devastated to learn that a centuries-old cemetery was dug up in the middle of the night, making it nearly impossible for some families to find their loved ones.
- The mass exhumations come after nearly a decade of community-level and legal battles between the Maya Chortí and Minerales de Occidente (Minosa), a subsidiary of Toronto-listed mining company Aura Minerals.
- The controversy highlights the fact that the national government hasn’t yet upheld its promise to close open-pit mining concessions.

EU’s anti-deforestation bill leaves out critical ecosystems, study shows
- New regulation proposed by the European Commission aims to reduce the import of commodities that cause deforestation and forest degradation abroad.
- But according to a report commissioned by the EU Greens parliament members, the narrow definition of forest and deforestation in the revised legislation would not protect ecosystems in South America where EU demand for commodities such as soy and beef create high deforestation risk.
- Soy production is not only destroying native vegetation, but also threatens the livelihoods of hundreds of Indigenous peoples and traditional communities in the Cerrado and Chaco biomes, made of grasslands, savannas and dry forests stretching down the center of South America.
- Broadening the definition of forest to include other types of wooded land, or adopting a definition based on native vegetation rather than forest, would protect much more of the Cerrado and the Chaco, and be much more effective at tackling deforestation, the report says.

Miners, drug traffickers and loggers: Is Costa Rica’s Corcovado National Park on the verge of collapse?
- Extreme polarization about what’s going on in Costa Rica’s Corcovado National Park has led to accusations of corruption, negligence, media manipulation, fights for control of the area’s management, and who does and doesn’t receive funds from international donors.
- The park suffers from artisanal gold mining, hunting, logging and drug trafficking, but officials, scientists and NGOs have very different views on how badly these things are impacting the health of the park.
- Some researchers say the populations of species like the jaguar and white-lipped peccary are on the decline, while others are optimistic about population trends and believe the park is healthy.
- Dwindling staff and budget for basic resources like food and gasoline have made it difficult to adhere to the park’s protection plan, and there’s little consensus, even on very basic things, about what the future holds for the park.

How unsustainable is Sweden’s forestry? Very. Q&A with Marcus Westberg and Staffan Widstrand
- Sweden has a gigantic forest products industry, and its national forestry agency claims their operations to be the most sustainable in the world.
- However, the truth on the ground is that the industry relies heavily on clearcutting natural forests, many of which are quite old, and replanting those with monocultures of trees, some of which are non-native.
- “Only 3% of Sweden’s forestry doesn’t involve clear-cutting. That should be pretty shocking to anyone who hears it, given Sweden’s reputation as a leader of so-called green practices,” two top conservation photographers tell Mongabay in a wide-ranging interview.
- This is made possible in part by the Swedish forestry model, which allows companies to police their own practices toward ensuring good ecological and social outcomes, which most of the time don’t happen.

Consumer countries mull best approach to end deforestation abroad
- Major global consumers like the U.K., the U.S. and the EU are debating how best to reduce the amount of tropical deforestation resulting from the production of the commodities they import.
- Some experts argue that laws should restrict any products tinged with deforestation, while others say regulations should allow in imports that come from areas that were deforested legally in the countries in which they were produced.
- The debate involves questions around sovereignty, equality, and, ultimately, what strategy will best address the urgent need to stem the loss of some of the world’s most important repositories of carbon and biodiversity.

The war on journalists and environmental defenders in the Amazon continues (commentary)
- Journalists in Brazil and around the world are devastated about the tragic end of a 10-day search for British journalist Dom Phillips and Indigenous advocate Bruno Pereira in the Amazon rainforest near the Brazil-Peru border in northern Amazonas state. Bodies believed to be theirs were found on June 15 after a huge outcry against the federal government’s inaction following their disappearance. Indigenous patrols bravely conducted their own search while the government did little.
- The murders of Dom and Bruno are emblematic of the plight of journalists across Latin America as violence against both journalists and activists in the region escalates. It also raises an alarm for the need to protect reporters as we report on environmental crime from Nature’s frontline.
- But these crimes will not stop us: Exposing wrongdoing across Brazil’s critical biomes — from the Mata Atlantica to the Cerrado to the Amazon — is more necessary than ever now. At the same time, demanding justice for the murder of Bruno and Dom became a fight for all of us.
- This article is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily of Mongabay.

Second Indonesian province moves to retake forests from palm oil companies
- The government of Indonesia’s Papua province has recommended that district officials revoke the permits of 35 of the 54 oil palm concessions operating there.
- These concessions cover a combined 522,397 hectares (1.29 million acres) of land, and are being targeted for revocation because of a range of administrative violations by the license holders.
- If revoked, the large swaths of forests still standing inside these concessions could be saved from being cleared and converted into plantations, and returned to Indigenous communities, activists say.
- The move by the Papua government mirrors a round of revocations ordered last year by the government of neighboring West Papua province, which has also successfully warded off lawsuits filed by affected companies.