9 Maps That Analyze the World's Forests
By the time we find out about deforestation, it’s usually too late to take action.
Scientists have been studying forests for centuries, chronicling the vital importance of these ecosystems for human society. But most of us still lack timely and reliable information about where, when and why forests are disappearing.
This will change with the launch of Global Forest Watch (GFW), an online forest monitoring system created by the World Resources Institute (WRI) and more than 40 partners. Global Forest Watch uses cutting-edge technologies to map the world’s forests with satellite imagery, detect changes in tree cover in near-real-time and make this information freely available to anyone with internet access.
With GFW, everyone from business executives to policymakers to indigenous groups can find out what’s happening in forests around the world—and use this information to take action. Now that we have the ability to peer into forests around the globe, a number of telling stories are beginning to emerge:
1. Global Tree Cover Loss Far Exceeds Tree Cover Gain
Data from the University of Maryland and Google shows that the world lost 2.3 million square kilometers of tree cover between 2000 and 2012—the equivalent of losing 50 soccer fields’ worth of forests every minute of every day for the past 13 years. By contrast, only 0.8 million square kilometers have regrown, been planted, or restored during the same period.
2. Palm Oil Development is Driving Deforestation in Indonesia’s Protected Forests
The FORMA system—which produces monthly alerts that pinpoint 500-by-500 meter blocks where new tree cover loss is likely to have occurred—indicates massive deforestation in Indonesia’s Tesso Nilo National Park over the past seven years. Greenpeace, which relied on FORMA data to produce its License to Kill report, found that palm oil plantations are the culprit for much of the park’s destruction.
3. Biodiversity Hotspots in the Congo Basin Are Under Threat
Forests are home to more than half of the world’s terrestrial biodiversity. Central Africa’s Eastern Afromonte eco-region—shown in teal—holds several populations of threatened and endangered animals, such as chimpanzees and gorillas. Significant tree cover loss appears to be occurring in this region, destroying important habitat for these species.
The Jane Goodall Institute, a GFW partner that uses University of Maryland and other forest data to help governments, local communities, and other partners detect the loss of great ape habitat, found that 2.4 percent of forests within chimpanzee ranges have been destroyed in Africa over the past 12 years. That's the equivalent of losing 2,000 soccer fields of forest every day.
4. Deforestation Rates Are Falling in the Brazilian Amazon
While Brazil still ranks as one of world’s largest deforesters, there’s positive news to report. The rate of deforestation in the country has actually decreased by an average of 1,318 square kilometers per year over the past decade, despite a recent uptick in 2013.
Brazil’s decreased deforestation rates are partly due to improved policies and law enforcement—supported by the country’s satellite-based, monthly deforestation alert systems. The map above compares deforestation from 2000-2006 with deforestation from 2006-2012 using data from the Deforestation Alert System developed by Imazon, a Brazilian NGO and GFW partner.
5. Forests are Protected in Brazil’s Indigenous Territories
The traditional territory of Brazil’s Surui tribe is an island of green surrounded by lands that have been significantly degraded and deforested over the past 10 years. Indigenous communities often rely on forests for their livelihoods and cultural heritage, and therefore have a strong incentive to manage forests sustainably. However, many indigenous communities struggle to protect their lands against encroachment by illegal loggers. GFW can help these communities call attention to this problem.
6. British Columbia’s Intact Forest Landscapes Are Threatened
This is a troubling trend. These forests—also known as old-growth forests—have a history of minimal human impact, so they’re particularly valuable for biodiversity, carbon storage and provision of ecosystem services such as water and air filtration.
British Columbia hosts a rich array of intact temperate rainforests, including the Great Bear Rainforest (seen above along the coastline). This forest is home to a rare subspecies of black bear that often display white coats and are considered sacred to the Native tribes of British Columbia.
7. Southern U.S. Forests Experience Some of the Highest Rates of Loss and Regrowth in the World
The Southern U.S. is home to the nation’s most heavily forested region, making up 29 percent of total U.S. forest land. The fine mosaic of tree cover loss (pink) and gain (blue) in the above map shows how forests throughout this region are used as crops, grown and harvested in five-year cycles to produce timber or wood pulp for paper production. In fact, between 2000 and 2012, nearly one-third of the tree cover in this region was either lost or regrown.
This practice of “intensive forestry” or “production forests” is used all over the world to provide valuable commodities and bolster regional and national economies. WRI analysis suggests that if managers of production forests embrace a“multiple ecosystem services strategy,” they will be able to generate additional benefits such as biodiversity, carbon storage and water filtration.
8. Forest and Peat Fires Are a Chronic Problem in Sumatra’s Palm Oil Plantations
Forest and peat fires are a chronic problem throughout Indonesia. This snapshot from early February shows that many of these fires—which are detected by NASA’s near-real-time FIRMS fire data—are located on palm oil plantations.
Last summer, fires in Sumatra sent plumes of toxic haze across Southeast Asia, causing significant damage to the regional economy and human health. WRI analysis overlaid hotspots from NASA’s FIRMS fire alerting system with concession data from the Indonesian government. We found that nearly 50 percent of all hotspots occurred in palm oil and wood pulp concessions, indicating that some of these fires may have been set to clear forest and peatland for agricultural development.
9. Deforestation Rates in South America’s Gran Chaco Region Exceed Those in the Amazon
While many media reports focus on deforestation of rainforests in the Amazon, the dry tropical forests and savannahs of the Gran Chaco region—which spans across sections of Paraguay, Argentina and southern Brazil—have some of the highest rates of tree cover loss in the world. Zooming into one area of Paraguay demonstrates the important role of agriculture in this trend. The rectangular patches of forest loss show a pattern consistent with agricultural expansion for soy fields and beef pastureland.
Make Your Own Forest Map
Previously, the data required to make these maps was difficult to obtain and interpret. Most people lacked the expertise, special software, and resources necessary to access, view, and analyze the data.
GFW allows a host of users to readily access this information. For example:
- Governments can use GFW to better enforce forest laws, monitor concessions and detect illegal forest clearing.
- NGOs can identify deforestation hotspots in near-real-time, mobilize action and collect evidence to hold governments and companies accountable for forest-related commitments.
- Indigenous communities can upload alerts and photos when encroachment occurs on their customary forest lands.
- Buyers of major commodities such as palm oil, soy, timber and beef can monitor compliance of their suppliers with relevant laws, commitments and certification standards
- Suppliers of these commodities can credibly demonstrate that their products are “deforestation-free” and legally produced.
- Media can quickly highlight trends in deforestation and gather evidence for reporting.
- Concerned citizens everywhere can learn more about the state of forests and participate in forest monitoring.
Visit EcoWatch’s BIODIVERSITY page for more related news on this topic.
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By Matthew J. Landry and Heather Eicher-Miller
When university presidents were surveyed in spring of 2020 about what they felt were the most pressing concerns of COVID-19, college students going hungry didn't rank very high.
Why It Matters<p>This is not just a matter of growling stomachs. This is a straight-up education and health issue.</p><p>When students don't really know if they'll be able to get enough to eat, it can lead to a series of problems that make it harder to stay in school. For instance, it can affect <a href="https://doi.org/10.1177%2F1359105318783028" target="_blank">academic performance</a> and <a href="https://doi.org/10.1186/s12889-019-6943-6" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">sleep quality</a>. It can also lead to <a href="https://doi.org/10.1177/1359105318783028" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">poor mental and physical health</a> outcomes for college students.</p><p>Food insecurity can also result in disrupted eating patterns if there is <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6627945/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">not enough food or the variety</a> or <a href="https://bmcpublichealth.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12889-019-6943-6" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">quality of what someone eats</a> is low.</p>
Campus Food Pantries<p>Previous strategies by <a href="https://www.gao.gov/assets/700/696254.pdf" target="_blank">colleges and universities</a> to fight hunger in their student bodies have varied widely. They include campus food pantries, emergency cash assistance and nutrition education through noncredit classes or workshopse.</p><p>These strategies were put to the test during the spring 2020 semester, when nearly <a href="https://hope4college.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/Hopecenter_RealCollegeDuringthePandemic.pdf" target="_blank">three in five students</a> said they had trouble meeting their own basic needs during the pandemic.</p><p>College food pantries saw <a href="https://www.utrgv.edu/newsroom/2020/05/01-utrgv-student-food-pantry-seeing-recent-increase-in-demand-during-covid-19.htm" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">big increases</a> in demand. Others said they <a href="https://www.theprospectordaily.com/2020/09/22/uteps-food-pantry-is-running-out-of-food/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">were getting less donated food</a>. This made it even harder to meet the rising food needs of students.</p><p>Campus food pantries largely rely on local or regional food banks, which have been dealing with <a href="https://www.indystar.com/story/news/local/2020/10/04/indiana-food-banks-call-more-food-stamps-meet-publics-need/3523683001/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">greater demand</a> than they are able to meet during the pandemic.</p><p>The many students who are attending college remotely will, of course, have less access to campus resources like food pantries.</p>
Federal Help<p>Other potential ways to get more food are government programs like the <a href="https://www.fns.usda.gov/snap/recipient/eligibility" target="_blank">Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program</a>, known as SNAP. Yet the majority of able-bodied students are not eligible. Long-standing restrictions, like the <a href="https://www.fns.usda.gov/snap/students" target="_blank">college SNAP rule</a>, prevent full-time students from receiving these benefits.</p><p>Such regulatory hurdles were created under the assumption that most students can rely on their parents to get enough to eat. However, college students have vastly different levels of financial support. Some students can rely on their parents for everything and others cannot rely on their parents for anything.</p><p>Decreased reliance on parental financial support is <a href="https://ir.library.louisville.edu/jsfa/vol47/iss3/5/" target="_blank">especially common</a> for first-generation students and students of color, who now make up <a href="https://1xfsu31b52d33idlp13twtos-wpengine.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/Race-and-Ethnicity-in-Higher-Education.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">45% of enrolled college students</a>.</p><p>Under normal circumstances, many college students might rely on part-time jobs to pay for their food.</p>
Short-Term Solutions<p>Universities and colleges can make it a priority to ensure students are aware of all available campus resources and services. They can also potentially help students apply for federal assistance benefits.</p><p>Campus food pantries are not a fully effective and efficacious solution for the scale of college food insecurity, but they can be a good interim solution to increase access to food for students.</p><p>Campuses without food pantries can start one, making use of resources the <a href="https://cufba.org/resources/" target="_blank">College and University Food Bank Alliance</a> provides. Schools with food pantries can try to get them to <a href="https://www.swipehunger.org/5campuspantry/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">reach more students</a>.</p><p>Universities and colleges can also lean on one another for support. The <a href="http://wp.auburn.edu/endchildhungeral/alabama-campus-coalition-for-basic-needs/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Alabama Campus Coalition for Basic Needs</a> is a great example of this. It brings together 10 universities across the state of Alabama collectively working to address student food insecurity.</p>
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