Sunday, May 28, 2006

Forests Increasing in Much of the World

I hadn't realized the degree to which forest land has been increasing in temperate parts of the globe. If you take a look at the image (a larger version can be found on page 3 of this pdf) you see that in the US, Europe, Japan and China have all reforested from 1980 to 2000. From the FAO:

According to current estimates (FAO, 2001), 0.38 percent of the world’s forests were converted to other land uses (i.e. deforested) every year in the 1990s. At the same time, large areas reverted to forest, leaving a net annual loss of 0.22 percent.
In the 90s reforestation added (.38-.22=) .16% back to the forests. Deforestation is still a serious problem, and is much larger than reforestation, but it is only an issue now in tropical areas as this graph shows.

How much forest land does the world have?
Forests cover about 30 per cent of the world's total land area. (A forest is considered an area with at least 10 per cent tree canopy cover.)

The world's forest cover amounts to 3.9 billion hectares (1 hectare equals approximately 2.5 acres).
How can we stop this deforestation? I am not sure, but if you look at how the US and Europe accomplished it, the key to forest revival was more intensive agriculture and limited population growth. Could this also work for the developing countries in tropical regions?

This would require more sophisticated farming to get higher yields per acre. This would also mean fewer agricultural workers, which means economy has to find new jobs for all the people that were farming. If you could do that and limit population growth, that would allow for more land to revert to forests.

In the Skeptical Environmentalist, Bjorn Lomborg states that the entire consumption of wood and paper can be catered for by the tree growth on just 5% of the current forest area.
The world uses 1.55e9 m^3 of wood for timber and paper (WRI 1996a: 220). Forest such as that in Denmark has a net growth rate of 7.5 m^3/ha (EEA 1995: 474). At this rate of growth, total world demand would call for 2e8 ha, or about 4.95% of the Earth's forest cover of 4.168e9 ha.
That seems like an amount that can be handled in a sustainable way. Hopefully FSC will become more prominent and the percentage of sustainably harvested logs will increase each year until we get up to 100%.

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