Canada and Russia top global list in loss of tree cover

Apr 15, 2015 12:00 AM

Russia and Canada are leading the world when it comes to tree cover loss according to an analysis of 2011 and 2013 satellite data by researchers at the University of Maryland and Global Forest Watch. The findings coincide with the publication of a separate study in Nature Climate Change which suggests the world's tree cover is improving, despite decades of deforestation efforts at the hands of man.

That study cited recent tree-planting efforts in China, the re-growth of forests in former Soviet states and healthier Savannas due to above-average rainfall as factors that helped expand the world's vegetation, adding close to 4 billion tonnes of above-ground carbon to the Earth since 2003.

Still -- when it comes to forest loss, Canada comes in second to Russia.

"Global tree cover loss in 2013 continued to be high at over 18 million hectares —about twice the size of Portugal—slightly lower than 2012, but a troubling 5.2 percent increase over the 2000-2012 average," the World Resources Institute (WRI) says in a statement.

"In 2011-2013, Russia and Canada topped the list (mostly due to forest fires), jointly accounting for 34 percent of total loss."

Researchers are quick to point out that at least some of the tree loss is "temporary" -- but it will take some time for forests to replenish.

Between 2011 and 2013, 43,000 square kilometres of northern boreal forest were destroyed in Russia. Canada saw a loss of 24,500 square kilometres during the same time frame.

Both regions have experienced an unusually high rate of forest fires in recent years, exacerbated by dry conditions.

Oil, gas and logging operations have also played a role.

"It is too early to call this spike a trend," WRI writes.

"Further research is needed to determine the drivers and estimate impacts of the forest fires, which tend to be highly variable over time and affect some boreal areas more than others."

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