Nearly half of the planet’s original forest cover is gone. And much of what remains is in trouble: diseases and insects are slowly killing entire species of trees; illegal logging impoverishes local people and communities and destroys vital wildlife habitat; woods have become tinderboxes for destructive fires because the natural fire regime has been altered.
Deforestation and degradation of the world’s forests harm communities, economies, plants and animals, and the basic ability of forest ecosystems to function and provide services, such as fresh water, that benefit people everywhere.
Each year, approximately 32 million acres – an area nearly equal to the size of Florida – are lost to deforestation. Illegal logging accounts for much of this loss – up to 30 percent of hardwood lumber and plywood traded globally is of suspicious origin. Other forests are cut for conversion to agriculture and development.
Many of the forests that remain are severely fragmented, compromised in their ability to shelter wildlife or to supply fresh water to people. Deforestation also contributes 20 to 25 percent of all carbon pollution causing global climate change, and contributes to the impoverishment of forest-dependent communities.
The recent global interest in biofuels derived from plants, such as soy and palm oil, is also triggering widespread deforestation. Intended to decrease our reliance on environmentally harmful fossil fuels, biofuels may have the unintended consequence of "burning” the biodiversity of forests. The lure of energy-yielding crops is triggering forest conversion in Brazil, Malaysia, Canada and Colombia as well as in the United States, where an increase in demand for ethanol is driving the plowing of more land for corn.
A degraded forest dies a death by a thousand cuts. The invasion of pests and diseases that kill trees, the gathering of wood for fuel, the impacts of climate change, too much fire or too little fire in forest ecosystems that cannot cope with it – all lead to unhealthy, unproductive, degraded forests.
What You Can Do
As these and other threats continue to harm the world’s forests, the Conservancy is taking action now to protect the forests on which we all depend. Find out what you can do to help us protect forests.