Over the last 8,000 years, forest cover on the planet has plummeted to around 13,000 square miles from about 24,000 square miles, the advocacy group Global Forest Watch estimates. Rain forests in particular are being felled at stunning rates.
The consequences of destroying forests could be dire, given that trees absorb carbon dioxide, and 80 percent of the Earth’s terrestrial biodiversity lies in forests. The United Nations has declared 2011 the International Year of Forests to call more attention to the problem.
From a film series to a commemorative stamp, all kinds of activities are planned to educate the public. (Next month the National Association of State Foresters plans to introduce an interactive Web site to offer a master calendar of events and information on American forests.)
Conservation International, which works in nearly 40 countries around the world, on Wednesday released a list of the 10 most endangered forested areas around the world. All have lost 90 percent or more of their original habitat. If they were to vanish completely, 1,500 plant species found nowhere else would also disappear.
The list of these “hot spots,” detailed in a slide show of maps, includes forests stretching from India to Vietnam as well as forests in New Zealand, the western half of the Indo-Malaysian archipelago (see this post from Tuesday night by my colleague John Rudolf), the Philippines, the mountains of southwestern China, eastern Brazil and Uruguay, California, coastal East Africa, Madagascar and other islands in the Indian Ocean and pockets of Ethiopia, Tanzania and Malawi. Many of these forests are subtropical or tropical moist forests that are under pressure from human development.
While North America has fared slightly better than other regions in protecting its forests in recent decades, the hot spot that the group refers to as “the California Floristic Province” is home to the giant sequoia, the planet’s largest living organism, which is deeply threatened by farming and urban sprawl. Its death would pose risks to innumerable species, including some of the few remaining California condors, the continent’s largest bird.By LESLIE KAUFMAN/NYT