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Over 13 years, the planet has lost at least 43 mln ha of forests due to deforestation

13 january 2021
According to a new WWF report, at least 43 million hectares of forests have been lost to deforestation in 13 years.

“The Deforestation fronts: Drivers and responses in a changing world” report identified 24 regions in the Earth's tropics and subtropics with the highest rates of deforestation. The study was conducted in 29 countries with a total area of more than 710 million hectares, where deforestation is one of the main causes of forest loss. From 2004 to 2017, 43 million hectares of forests were lost in those regions alone. Nine of the world's 24 major deforestation fronts are in Latin America, 8 in Africa, and 7 in Asia. The highest rates of deforestation were recorded in the Amazon (Brazil and Bolivia), Cerrado, Paraguay, Argentina, Madagascar, Sumatra and Borneo.

"The Russians should not be surprised that our country is not included in the report. Indeed, such a phenomenon as deforestation is less common here than in tropical countries. However, for Russian forests, especially for intact ones, there are other threats: degradation because of fires and logging, and here we top the rating. Russia has been among the top three world leaders in terms of intact forests loss for many years, and in 80 years we may lose them all," says Konstantin Kobyakov, WWF-Russia’s Forest Program coordinator on HCVs.

Deforestation fronts map
(c) WWF

Deforestation usually denotes the complete disappearance of the forest, forever or for a long time. For example, forests replacement with pastures, fields, plantations or industrial buildings, which is typical for many countries in the tropical zone. After several cycles of harvesting on such fields, laid out on the site of the logged forest, these lands are often abandoned, as to cut down the forest for a new fertile field in many countries is more profitable than to restore the already depleted land.

Agriculture, infrastructure construction, and land speculation are the main causes of global deforestation, but they are not the only ones. For example, in Russia, although in a rather limited territory compared to the total area of Russian forests, there are also places where deforestation occurs, the cause of which was not only the overly active development of cattle breeding, but also fires or logging.

Kuzomen Sands in Murmansk Region

On the Tersk coast of the Kola Peninsula, near the mouth of the Varzuga River, there is a unique mass of mobile sands that resembles a desert. They formed here as early as in the 1920s. Scientists believe that it was caused by mass logging of forests and overly active development of cattle breeding. Large trees were cut down, and small ones were eaten by cattle. The wind blows Kuzomen Sands into the river. Therefore, the area of the old Pomeranian village of Kuzomen', Varzuga becomes shallower. Eighty percent of the Atlantic salmon of the White Sea enter this river, and the shallowing begins just on its way to the spawning sites. To strengthen the banks and stop the spread of the sand, thereby protecting the Varzuga riverbed from the onset of the northern desert, WWF-Russia has been planting young forests here for 3 years. Much has already been done, but it is necessary to constantly plant and strengthen the banks.

Kuzomen Sands (c) Tatiana Yulusova / WWF-Russia
Kuzomen Sands (c) Tatiana Yulusova / WWF-Russia
Kuzomen Sands (c) Tatiana Yulusova / WWF-Russia
Kuzomen Sands (c) Tatiana Yulusova / WWF-Russia
Varzuga river, Kuzomen village (c) Andrey Karaban
Varzuga river (c) Tatiana Yulusova / WWF-Russia
Varzuga river (c) Andrey Karaban
Varzuga river, Kuzomen village (c) Andrey Karaban
Kuzomen Sands in Murmansk Region

Mountain forests of Dagestan

According to WWF-Russia’s estimates, half of the low-and mid-mountain forests in Dagestan have been lost over the past 200 years. Mountain Dagestan is a complex system of individual ridges and gorges with small areas of valleys. The traditional form of cattle breeding, which has been well developed here since ancient times is the driving of cattle to summer and high-altitude pastures. Extremely active breeding of livestock in a limited area of wooded slopes, as well as intensive logging and frequent fires in the XX century caused irreversible degradation of the forests in Dagestan. For the same reasons, the mountain forests that managed to survive are dominated by shrubs and low-growing, rather than large trees, and there are no elements of forest flora specific to the Western Caucasus and the Southern Caspian region.

Mountain forests of Dagestan degraded by intensive cattle breeding
(c) Vladimir Skvortsov

Grassy wastelands in the south of the Far East

Forest ecosystems are arranged in such a way that after a fire, they independently recover after several decades. However, if fires occur frequently in the same area, sometimes every year, the forest gradually disappears. Thus, initially resistant to fires, pine, larch and oak forests in the south of the Russian Far East began to turn into grassy wastelands due to annual fires. Unlike forests, those are very poor natural ecosystems in terms of biodiversity, since in such large open areas, only 2-3 species of grasses and shrubs are usually found. Everything else is burned in fires, the frequency of which has especially increased here since the middle of the XIX century. To conserve the remaining valuable cedar-deciduous forests of the region, which are adjacent to the tiger and the Far Eastern leopard habitats, it is necessary to ensure their reliable protection from fires.

Grassy wastelands in the south of the Far East
(c) Konstantin Kobyakov / WWF-Russia

“Forests covered about half of the Earth’s land area 8,000 years ago, but today only 30% of land is forested, with deforestation continuing at shocking rates, particularly in places that are home to some of the world’s most vulnerable communities and endangered wildlife,” says Fran Raymond Price, Forest Practice Lead at WWF International.

Every person anywhere in the world can fight deforestation of the planet. You can start by consciously consuming, and rejecting products that are associated with deforestation, such as certain types of meat, soybeans, and palm oil, and by drawing public attention to the problem of forest loss itself.

Preview and headline photos: (c) Konstantin Kobyakov / WWF-Russia.

For additional information please contact
Forest Program communication coordinator
Project coordinator of High Conservation Value Forests