Endangered Forests


Executive Editor: George Clark; Editor: Paul Malamud
U.S. Department of State Office of International Information Programs

Redwood forest in California. Courtesy of

Much loss of forest cover, including loss of ancient forests, is due to harvesting for paper, at the rate of hundreds of millions of metric tons per year. There are less environmentally destructive ways to produce paper, including recycling, or the use of crops such as kenaf. Once an acre of forest is cut down and the trees sold for timber, its value of the land is often diminished. Some studies have shown that harvesting fruits, chocolate, substances such as latex, and vegetables can create more sustainable yield for a tropical farmer than a one-time timber harvest.

Rainforest in Indonesian Borneo in Oregon. Courtesy of

One approach currently being used around the world is to identify biodiversity "hot spots" and to concentrate on saving those areas first. In a tropical foreststropical forest, areas with the most diverse species of trees also tend to harbor the most diverse groups of shrubs, plants, birds, insects, amphibians, fish, and other creatures. Hotspots are not all in forests: they can vary in terms of geography and habitat and in the kinds of organisms they shelter. However, they are useful in delineating and protecting biodiversity. In 1997, one conservation group estimated that the 17 most vibrant hot spots in the world occupied 1.3 percent of the planet's land, yet protected 25 percent of terrestrial vertebrate species and 40 percent of plants. Clearly, well-maintained hot spots can begin to salvage the biological richness and potential of many nations, while mitigating the destruction of remaining wild areas. The Internet may become a tool in the service of forest conservation, posting and correlating the best data on deforestation and making it available worldwide. Global Forest Watch, an arm of the World Resources Institute, is attempting to create an international data and mapping network to track the pace of the destruction. Similar efforts may be made by other groups.

Rainforest in Sabah, Malaysia. Courtesy of

The world is beginning to wake up to the need to save forests. Governments are increasingly committed to forest conservation. In 1992 at the Rio Earth Summit, nations adopted the Forest Principles, the first-ever global consensus on the importance of forest conservation. In 1995, the United Nations established the Intergovernmental Panel on Forests. David Sandalow adds, "Illegal logging may be the single greatest threat to tropical forests," and commends some nations for having "made major commitments to address the problems."

The United States is implementing its own Tropical Forest Conservation Act. In March, 2000, the United States committed itself to a debt-for-nature swap with Bangladesh, to help conserve Bangladeshi tropical forests. Shortly thereafter, the U.S. government added 262,400 hectares of giant sequoia trees in California to its extensive network of national parks and nature reserves. Corporations are beginning to see the value of sustainable use of forests. Home Depot, a major U.S. retailer, has announced it will stop selling wood products from environmentally sensitive areas. The American Forest and Paper Association has committed itself to a focus on sustainable forest management.

Rainforest in Colombia. Courtesy of

In 1997, the government of Bolivia, the Nature Conservancy, a U.S.-based not-for-profit organization, and American Electric Power provided funds and worked together to expand and protect an ecologically rich national park. The same year, a public-private partnership worked together to protect 4 million acres of rainforest in Suriname. In general, such partnerships involving many stakeholders, targeted to local conditions, seem to work the best. Agronomists are striving to continue to improve agricultural productivity, in order to make it less necessary to cut down forests for cropland. Around the world, 500 million people are thought to depend on forests for their livelihood - an incentive to preserve the health of forests and to protect them as a sustainable resource for future generations.




Benefits of Biodiversity
Traditional crop varieties and food security
Plant-based medicines
The death of global biodiversity
How to save biodiversity

Coral reefs
Endangered Forests [page 2]
Biodiversity of Wetlands
Arctic Biodiversity