Much of the world's original forests has been destroyed, and some countries will have no natural forests in 50 years if the rate of destruction continues, an environmental group reported yesterday.
A new study by the World Wide Fund for Nature singled out Brazil as the nation with the highest annual rate of forest loss in the world. A record number of fires have been reported in the Brazilian Amazon this year, and new roads to open up the Amazon to logging and development have decimated trees, plants, and rare species.
The report does not take into account the widespread damage done to forests in Indonesia, where fires set to clear land have raged out of control for weeks, producing a thick, smoky haze over much of Southeast Asia.
According to the study, only 7.5 billion acres of forests of the 20 billion acres that existed 8,000 years ago remain today. Tropical forests are destroyed at a rate of 42 million acres per year, and similar losses occur across temperate and northern forests of Canada, Europe, Russia, and the United States, the study found.
"We have always suspected that forest loss was high, but now we have proof of the extent of forest already lost," says Francis Sullivan, director of the fund's Forests for Life campaign.
"The frightening thing is that the pace of forest destruction has accelerated dramatically over the past five years and continues to rise," he says.
The fund is urging governments to agree to its plan to establish a network of protected forest areas to include 10 percent of each of the world's major forest types by 2000.
During the United Nations Earth Summit in June, the fund and the World Bank announced the plan, which would bring 247 million acres of northern forests and 247 million acres of tropical rain forests under "sustainable management" by 2005.
Europeans, Canadians, and others have called for an international treaty to introduce new standards in the timber trade and other changes.
The US opposes the idea, as do many environmentalists, who would prefer to first see existing agreements better enforced to slow deforestation.
In conjunction with the World Conservation Monitoring Center, the fund studied forests in Africa, the Asia-Pacific region, Europe, Latin America, North America, and Russia.
If current rates of deforestation continue, there will be virtually no natural forests left in countries such as Costa Rica, Malaysia, Pakistan, and Thailand in 50 years, the study found.
"As more and more countries run out of their own natural forests ... the people who depend on them will come under greater threat," Forest for Life director Sullivan says.