Sunday, January 15, 2017

Humans Have Destroyed 7% of Earth’s Pristine Forest Landscapes Just Since 2000

A tract of Amazon rain forest, which has been cleared by loggers and farmers for agriculture, is seen near Santarem, Brazil, in April 2013. (Credit: Nacho Doce/Reuters) Click to Enlarge.
The world’s natural places are disappearing at a galloping clip, says a new study, released Friday in the journal Science Advances.  It suggests that more than 7 percent of Earth’s natural, intact forest landscapes have been lost since 2000 — and these ecosystems may be in danger of disappearing entirely from at least 19 countries in the next 60 years.

These landscapes represent some of “the last portions of the Earth that are not significantly affected by human influence,” said Lars Laestadius, a forest expert, consultant on natural resources policy and co-author of the new study.  “As we lose these, we lose something that is bigger than ourselves.”  

The study defines “intact forest landscapes” as areas greater than 500 square kilometers, or 193 square miles, containing a mosaic of forests and other associated ecosystems, such as plains or wetlands.  The key is that these areas must be undisturbed by human activities — they can’t be fragmented by roads or deforestation or other industrial operations.  Once that happens, the ecosystems cease to be considered “intact.”  And as the new study indicates, this is happening more and more frequently around the world.
The speed at which these landscapes are being fragmented and destroyed has produced the alarming possibility that they may disappear altogether in many places by the end of the century.  If the current reduction rates continue, the study concludes that at least 19 nations around the world will lose all of their intact forest landscapes in the next 60 years.  Four of these — Paraguay, Laos, Cambodia and Equatorial Guinea — may lose them all in the next two decades.

Preventing this from happening is important for a variety of reasons, the researchers note. Intact forest landscapes, by virtue of their size and pristine condition, can provide critical habitat for all kinds of wildlife — conserving them is an important way to safeguard the world’s biodiversity.  Many of them are also significant carbon sinks, making them important components of global climate mitigation strategies.  Laestadius also noted that the forest landscapes most at risk of destruction are often those with the greatest carbon stores.

Read more at Humans Have Destroyed 7% of Earth’s Pristine Forest Landscapes Just Since 2000

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