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From Cambodia to California: world’s top 10 most threatened forests

Asia-Pacific forests are the most endangered, including 5 of the top 10 threatened forests. 
 

Growing
populations, expanding agriculture, commodities such as palm oil and
paper, logging, urban sprawl, mining, and other human impacts have
pushed many of the world’s great forests to the brink. Yet scientists,
environmentalists, and even some policymakers increasingly warn that
forests are worth more standing than felled. They argue that by
safeguarding vulnerable biodiversity, sequestering carbon, controlling
erosion, and providing fresh water, forests provide services to
humanity, not to mention the unquantifiable importance of having wild
places in an increasingly human-modified world. Still, the decline of
the world’s forests continues: the FAO estimating that around 10
million hectares of tropical forest are lost every year. Of course,
some of these forests are more imperiled than others, and a new
analysis by Conservation International (CI) has catalogued the world’s
10 most threatened forests.

The list catalogues forests that have already lost 90% of their
original extent, but are still hotspots for biodiversity, represented
by at least 1,500 recorded endemic species of plants in each forest.
According to CI, Asian-Pacific forests are the most imperiled in the
world with five of the top 10 forests, including the first four. In
contrast, Africa has three of the top 10 (when one includes the island
of Madagascar), while South American and North America have one each. 

One
of the world’s biologically richest countries, the Philippines is home
to species like the Philippine eagle, the second largest in the world.
Only 7% of its habitat is left. Photo by Oliver Langrand.
“Forests
must be seen as more than just a group of trees. Forests give us vital
benefits. They already play an enormous economic role in the
development of many countries as a source of timber, food, shelter and
recreation, and have an even greater potential that needs to be
realized in terms of water provision, erosion prevention and carbon
sequestration,” said Olivier Langrand, CI’s international policy chief,
in a press release.

While policymakers have focused on the important role forests play in
sequestering carbon—depending on the year 10-15% of the world’s
greenhouse gas emissions comes from deforestation—Tracy Farrell, Senior
Director Freshwater Conservation Program at CI says that the role of
forests in providing fresh water will become increasingly important
during this century.

“As the global population is projected to grow from 6 to 9
billion people over the next 30 years, the access to water will only
get increasingly more difficult if millions of hectares of tropical
forests continue to be burned each year. Other than expensive
desalinization plants, we haven’t yet found a way to increase our
supplies of fresh water, so we need to protect the remaining forests
around the world if we want to keep our sources of fresh water.”

Harboring an estimated 80% of the world’s terrestrial species, the loss
of forests also means an increasing likelihood of mass extinction,
which some scientists say is already occurring. But biodiversity, like
the forests they inhabit, provide essential services: pollination, food
production, and new medicinal discoveries among others.

The Top 10 Most Threatened Forest Hotspots (for maps of each forest, see the end of the article)

1. Indo-Burma

With only 5% of this once great Southeast Asian forest remaining, the
Indo-Burma forest is one of the world’s most threatened, yet the rivers
and floodplain wetlands of this forest provide freshwater, food, and
economic opportunity for many of Southeast Asia’s massive population.
The forests, and the waters they protect, are being impacted by
draining for rice agriculture, hydro-electric dams for electricity,
overfishing, and conversion of mangrove forests for shrimp aquaculture.

2. New Zealand

Only 5% of this truly unique forest landscape remains with its truly
bizarre inhabitants, including ground-hunting bats, ancient frogs, and
flightless birds. The remaining forests are threatened by deforestation
and the draining of wetlands, while many of New Zealand’s unique
species struggle against invasive species, including mammals and weedy
plants. Some of the island’s unique species have already vanished for
good.

3. Sundaland

Not long ago the forests of Malaysia and Indonesia were thriving and
largely intact. Today, Indonesia has surpassed Brazil with highest
forest loss in the world, and Malaysia is not far behind. Logging, pulp
and paper, rubber, and, most recently, palm oil have decimated many of
the forests, putting some of Asia’s most famous wildlife on the
Critically Endangered Species list, including orangutans, Sumatran
tigers, and Javan and Sumatran rhinos. Today, only 7% of the original
forests survive in the Sundaland. The extensive deforestation and
draining of peatlands has had global impacts: although not an
industrial power Indonesia to the world’s third largest emitter of
greenhouse gases almost entirely due to forest destruction.

4. Philippines

Just north of Malaysia and Indonesia are the islands of the
Philippines, whose forests are nearly as imperiled as the Sundaland’s
although for different reasons. Many of the Philippine’s forests were
logged in the past. Today the 7% of forests that remain are threatened
by booming rural populations living in severe poverty, who are clearing
forests for agriculture. Some 80 million Filipinos depend on the
forests for their resources, threatening some of the world’s most
biologically rich forests.

5. Atlantic Forest

South America is known for the world’s greatest tropical forest: the
Amazon. Yet, the continent is home to another lesser-known, but even
more imperiled, forest ecosystem, the Atlantic Forest.
Once covering much of South America’s Eastern coast, the forest has
been whittled down to around 8% of its former range. Large-scale
destruction of the Atlantic Forest began centuries ago for sugarcane
plantations and then coffee plantations. Today, the dwindling forest,
largely surviving in small fragments, is threatened by urban sprawl,
agriculture, and cattle ranching. Many of its unique species survive on
the edge of extinction in smaller and smaller forest fragments.

6. Mountains of Southwest China

Down to 8% of its original extent, the forests of Southwest China’s
mountains is home to one of the world’s most beloved species, the giant
panda. But these forests also support some of China’s most important
and biodiverse rivers, including the Yangtze. While the region’s
forests are threatened by overgrazing, firewood collection, and illegal
hunting, the rivers are imperiled by overpopulation, overexploitation
and China’s runaway development, such as the Three Gorges Dam. The
Yangtze has already likely lost one of its key species, the baiji or
Yangtze River dolphin, and many others are imperiled.

7.California Floristic Province

The only non-tropical forest on the list, California’s Floristic
Province is home to the world’s largest tree—not to mention the largest
living organism—the sequoia. Down to 10% of its original habitat, the
forest was historically logged, but is today largely threatened by
commercial farming. In addition urban sprawl, pollution, and roads also
impact the remaining coastal forest.

8. Coastal Forests of Eastern Africa

While Eastern Africa is largely known for its great plains, it is also
home to some of the world’s most threatened forests, including the
region’s coastal forests. While 10% of these forests survive, they are
mostly fragmented. As in many parts of the world, agricultural
expansion most imperils these forests. In the case of these coastal
forests, both commercial and subsistence agriculture are putting
pressure on the forests, exacerbated by population growth. Remaining
species, such as a number of primates found no-where else, are
imperiled by bushmeat hunting.

9. Madagascar & Indian Ocean Islands

Few places in the world are more unique than Madagascar, home to all of
the world’s lemurs. Yet, desperate poverty, overpopulation,
agriculture, bushmeat hunting, commercial timber, and mining are
putting the island’s remaining 10% of forests left. In fact, even
protected forests are not truly protected in Madagascar as a recent
crisis has seen the island’s fabled parks ravaged for rosewood and its
lemurs killed for bushmeat. Still, given the nation’s extreme poverty,
survival of the forests is essential for fresh water, erosion
protection, food production, and tourism, much of which is based around
the island’s incredible biodiversity. Some conservationists have warned
that if deforestation isn’t halted in Madagascar the nation will soon
look like Haiti.

10. Eastern Afromontane

The forests of the Eastern Afromontane are the highest forests on the
list. Covering mountains from Saudi Arabia to Zimbabwe, the remaining
11% of these forests contain remarkable biodiversity, including massive
lakes with over 600 fish species found no-where else in the world.
These forests are now threatened by agriculture, including plantations
like bananas, beans, and tea. A growing bushmeat trade, which is
booming across much of Sub-Saharan Africa, is putting additional
pressure on the region’s species.


Map courtesy of CI.


Map courtesy of CI.


Map courtesy of CI.


Map courtesy of CI.


Map courtesy of CI.


Map courtesy of CI.


Map courtesy of CI.


Map courtesy of CI.


Map courtesy of CI.


Map courtesy of CI.

 

 Source: Mongabay News
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Categories: Local News
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