Deforestation is taking place at a rate of about 13 million hectares per year, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization. That’s an area about the size of Greece.
Deforestation is a major contributor to climate change, accounting for an estimated 25 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. It also leads to a loss of habitat for many animal species.
Seventy percent of all land animals live in forests. Many are threatened by rapid deforestation due to fires, logging, and land clearing for agriculture, cattle grazing and development.
The logging and clearing of old-growth (also known as “primary” or “original”) forests is of particular concern. Old-growth forests have existed for centuries without significant human interference. They provide unique habitats for animals because of their mix of old, young and fallen trees, intact soils, and abundant mosses and fungi. The destruction of these forests endangers the animals that live in them.
The photo gallery below illustrates some of the species threatened by deforestation.
- Hawaiian Hawk
Hawaii has already lost two-thirds of its original forests to agriculture, clearing, and fire, and half its native birds through habitat loss and introduced disease.
The population of the endangered Hawaiian Hawk is estimated to be in the range from 1,600 to 2,700 birds. However, most successful nesting is restricted to native `ohi'a trees (which are slow growing and generally in decline). Continuing threats to the hawk include forest clearance for agricultural and other developments, and logging.
Photo by Bryan Harry, National Parks Service
- Ring-tailed Lemur in Madagascar
Many species of wildlife in Madagascar, including lemurs, are found nowhere else on Earth. Madagascar's isolation is the key reason for the existence of lemurs today. But deforestation and hunting have endangered lemurs. Madagascar has lost 86.9 percent of its original forests, due to logging, slash-and-burn clearing for rice paddies, and charcoal production. From 1990 to 2005, forest coverage fell by 6.2 percent.
Photo: Copyright Rhett Butler, 2004
- Orangutan in Indonesia
Indonesia has lost 35.4 percent of its original forests, with a quarter of all forest coverage disappearing from 1990 to 2005. Today, only 28.5 percent of its old forests remain in an intact frontier-forest state.
Orangutan great apes are presently found only in rainforests on Borneo and Sumatra, though they were once widely distributed in southeast Asia (as far as southern China). International demand for palm oil (used for cooking, cosmetics, mechanics, and as source of bio-diesel) has rapidly expanded production and accelerated habitat loss. Between 1984 and 2003, the area planted with oil palms on Borneo increased from 772 square miles to 10,425 square miles.
Indonesia's population of orangutans dropped from 35,000 in 1996 to 20,000 in 2006, according to the Wildlife Conservation Society-Indonesia Program. Due to their slow reproduction rates, environmental groups warn that orangutans could go extinct in the wild without urgent conservation measures.
Photo: H. Vannoy Davis © California Academy of Sciences
- Chimpanzee in Nigeria
Nigeria has the world's highest deforestation rate of primary forests because of logging, agriculture and the collection of wood for fuel. Between 2000 and 2005, the country lost 55.7 percent of its primary forests -- forests with no visible signs of past or present human activities.
While chimpanzees have widespread populations in protected forest areas around Nigeria, the persistent decline of chimpanzees catalyzed the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) to place chimpanzees on its 2007 endangered species list.
Encroaching human activity has caused significant chimpanzee habitat reduction over the last 30 years. This trend is expected to continue for the next three to four decades. Population estimates for the year 2030 project the numbers of chimpanzees to be half of 1970s figures.
Photo: Gerald and Buff Corsi © California Academy of Sciences
- Giant Panda in China
China has lost 78.4 percent of its original forest; however, 10 billion trees were planted in a massive push for reforestation during the 1980s. Major causes of deforestation in China include lumber production, slash-and-burn agriculture, and the clearing of trees for infrastructure -- railroads, power lines and highways.
There are an estimated 1,000 to 2,000 endangered giant pandas in the wilderness of China. Habitat loss and deforestation are the greatest threats to the giant pandas. Their native habitat -- temperate forests full of bamboo -- is fragmented and separated by patches of cleared lands, farmland and forests without bamboo. Panda populations are also hemmed in by logging operations.
Photo by Daniel78
- Marbled Murrelet in the United States
The United States has lost 39.8 percent of its original forests. In 2005, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) found that the U.S. has the seventh largest annual loss of primary (or old-growth) forests in the world, ranking it the worst among wealthy nations.
The marbled murrelet resides in the Pacific Northwest and British Columbia. Populations are currently declining in Washington, California, Oregon and Alaska. Since most of the remaining old-growth forest is slated for logging, the nesting locations of the marbled murrelet continue to be threatened.
Photo by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
- Oriental Stork in Russia
Russia has more forests than any other country on the planet, blanketing an area larger than the continental U.S. or 22 percent of the world's total forest coverage. However, deforestation in Russia is occurring at approximately 2 million hectares per year due to the clearing of land for agriculture and logging.
An estimated 3,000 Oriental Storks breed along the border of Russia and mainland China. As deforestation and the drainage of wetlands -- the stork's breeding grounds -- make way for agricultural developments, the stork population continues to decline.
In Russia, spring fires threaten breeding sites and kill nesting trees. Wetland reclamation, especially in the Yangtze basin in China, has reduced the habitat area for wintering birds.
Photo by Ltshears
- Great Indian Bustard
India has lost 79.5 percent of its original forests. The major causes of deforestation in India are agricultural expansion, rapid industrialization, and urbanization. However, between 1990 and 2005, India gained 5.9 percent of its forest cover, or around 3,762,000 hectares, due to reforestation.
The Great Indian Bustard (Ardeotis nigriceps) has a population as few as 1,000 birds in India. Currently, this bird is threatened by habitat loss because of agricultural development, particularly the conversion of large areas to crop cultivation and irrigation schemes.
Photo by Laxman Burdak
Sources: United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, Rainforest Foundation, Mongabay.com, WildMadagacar.com, U.S. National Parks Service, National Geographic, IUCN Red List 2007