Endangered forests

Forest vulnerability
Limited forest resources
Illegal logging, forest fires and bad forest management pose a serious threat to the world's forests.
Siberia has at least 20 percent of the world's forested area -- between 500 to 600 million hectares (five and six million square kilometres, an area roughly two-thirds the size of USA) and half of all the world's coniferous trees. It represents 17% of the world's standing timber with an estimated 40,000 million tonnes of carbon, nearly half the amount sequestered by the forests of the Amazon Basin. Almost all the forest is under state management and nearly 85 percent is allocated for industrial exploitation. About 87 percent of the growing stock is coniferous species, and 90 percent of these are desirable commercial species. Large areas are damaged by insects and diseases, anthropegenic pollution and unsustainable harvest practices, such as "high-grading" or "creaming" (harvesting only the best timber) whilst destroying the remainder. From 1.5 to 2.0 million hectares are lost each year due to poor fire control. The changes in the former Soviet Union open unprecedented new opportunities and risks for development of Siberian forest resources; however, restructuring Siberia's forest industry will be difficult and costly. The historical legacy is massive industrial developments, obsolete technology, low productivity and poor quality products. The danger is that Siberia's weak economy and severe social problems will prompt careless exploitation on the forests as a short-term cash crop, without regard for the long-term economic, environmental and social consequences.

A global scale modelling of expected changes to global vegetation under climate change found that all boreal vegetation classes would shrink and taiga and temperate forest classes would replace much of their poleward (mostly northerly) neighbours. Most of the vegetation classess of the tropics and subtropics are expected to expand. Precipation would determine whether the shifts would be to forest or savanna. In Pacific northwestern forests, climatic changes could cause forest zones to shift 500 to 1,000 metres in elevation, causing extinction of high altitude species. At lower elevations, species currently abundant several hundred kilometres south would be favoured.

Eighty per cent of the forests that originally covered the Earth have been cleared, fragmented or otherwise degraded (WRI 1997). Most of the remaining forest is located in just a few places, mostly in the Amazon Basin, Canada, Central Africa, Southeast Asia and the Russian Federation. These large blocks of ecologically-intact natural forest are valuable because they house indigenous cultures, shelter global biodiversity, provide ecosystem services, store carbon, contribute to local and national economic growth, and meet recreational needs. Yet logging, mining and other large-scale development projects threaten 39 per cent of the remaining natural forests, with those in South and Central America, western North America and the boreal regions of the Russian Federation most at risk (WRI 1997).

(C) Cross-sectoral problems