Places to watch

Five forests at risk this year

Wednesday, January 03, 2018

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Using satellite data from Global Forest Watch, World Resources Institute (WRI) has identified what it describes as the most concerning areas of recent deforestation from thousands of alerts around the world. In its first curation of Places to Watch, WRI highlights areas in Brazil, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea.

But, it says, these aren't just “Places to Watch”; they're places to act.

“Government agencies, private companies and local people have the power to stop deforestation before it gets out of control, and readers like you can help this process by drawing public attention to these areas. We encourage you to share these places, including on social media using #PlacesToWatch,” WRI says.


Fires Threaten Indigenous Territories in Brazil

Last year was particularly bad for Brazil in terms of forest fires. Fires spiked in September to the most ever recorded in a single month, and 2017 is now on track to break the record for the most fires in a single year. Though drought has increased the risk of fires, almost all are human-caused, likely to clear forest for agriculture. Forest degradation from logging exacerbates fires as forests that have been logged previously lose their natural fire resistance.


Fires Sweep Degraded Area in Kayapó Indigenous Territory

These fires are posing serious threats to indigenous territories. Satellites have detected more than 50,000 hectares of tree cover loss (an area the size of New Orleans) since October 2017 in the Kayapó Indigenous Territory in the Brazilian Amazon.

Indigenous lands in the Brazilian Amazon have historically been incredibly successful in slowing deforestation. Around 8,000 Kayapó live on more than 11 million hectares of legally protected land, one of the few remaining patches of undisturbed forests on the edge of the Amazon.

The recent deforestation is likely due to fires in areas previously degraded by logging and other extractive activities. According to Barbara Zimmerman from the International Conservation Fund of Canada, “the pressure on Kayapó lands grows daily, and the Kayapó are totally on their own to face a tidal wave of illegal activity, especially logging and gold mining.” Invasions of illegal logging and mining continue in the eastern and northern corners of the territory.

Despite these pressures, there is reason for hope: NGO support of the Kayapó seems to be working, as areas patrolled by the Kayapó and other groups have not been affected by illegal activity.


Exploitation Exacerbates Burning in Xikrin do Rio

The Xikrin do Rio Cateté Indigenous Territory, located just 25 kilometres away from the Kayapó territory, has also experienced significant tree cover loss from fires. GFW indicates that more than six per cent of the territory, or around 25,000 hectares, has burned in recent months, likely due to disturbance in previously degraded land. In the 1990s, a logging company exploited an agreement with Xikrin and left the territory over-logged and severely degraded.



More than 400 hectares of intact forest have been cut between two large cities in Democratic Republic of the Congo, Lolwa and Komanda. As the largest areas of unbroken wilderness in the world, intact forests are critical ecosystems for biodiversity and carbon storage.

According to information collected by The Wildlife Conservation Society, forest in the region north of RN4, the main national road, have been cleared for charcoal and agricultural production (including cocoa). Small-scale miners are operating in areas south of the road. Rebel movements in Beni, a city approximately 150 kilometres south of the clearings, may be pressuring people to flee north on the RN4, causing increased disturbances within these forests. These forests are close to the Okapi Wildlife Reserve and are critical for both livelihoods and biodiversity.


Massive Oil Palm Expansion Clears Primary Forest in Indonesia

Expansion of an oil palm plantation in Indonesia's Papua province caused 430 hectares of deforestation since October alone, bringing the total amount of deforestation in the plantation area to 16,000 hectares since 2014, or around about 1.5 times the size of Paris.

Preliminary research from Greenpeace Sorong, Mighty Earth and Pusaka revealed that this deforestation occurred in a concession owned by Pacific Inter-Link. The area is part of a massive 280,000 hectare concession, an area equivalent to three times the size of Singapore, owned by the Malaysian-based Menara Group. Despite Indonesia's 40,000 hectare limit on converting forest areas for production, the Menara Group was able to acquire this concession by using its seven subsidiaries. Although considered “planned” deforestation, the extent of this loss is concerning considering the potential loss of critical biodiversity and carbon stocks.

Papua holds around a third of Indonesia's remaining rainforest, but those forests are increasingly under threat as the government seeks to expand commodity agriculture in the remote province. Tree cover loss in the province has been steadily increasing over the last five years, more than tripling between 2011 and 2016.


Logging Roads Cut Intact Forests in Papua New Guinea

Around five kilometres of new logging roads cropped up in intact forests in the Papua New Guinean province of East New Britain since October. Global Witness visited the province in November, documenting the rapid expansion of logging.

Papua New Guinea is an incredibly biodiverse country – despite covering only one per cent of the world's area, the country contains seven per cent of its biodiversity. However, Papua New Guinea's forests are increasingly under threat, with the rate of tree cover loss more than doubling in the past three years. Historically, subsistence agriculture and commercial logging have been the biggest drivers of forest change in Papua New Guinea. In 2016 alone, the province of East New Britain exported three-quarters of a million cubic metres of logs. More than half of this timber came from forest clearance operations opposed by local landowners, according to Global Witness.


— World Resources Institute




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