- Authors say just 22 percent of primary forests are located in protected areas and that less than 5 percent of original primary forest is left on Earth
- Half the world’s remaining primary forests located in U.S., Canada, Russia, Australia, and New Zealand
- Analysis provides clear policy recommendations to safeguard primary forests into the future
- Full Report
New York – A team of conservationists has published a new global analysis and map showing the extremely precarious state of the world’s primary forests. The analysis is featured in a paper appearing in the early online edition of the journal Conservation Letters.
The analysis reveals that only 5 percent of the world’s pre-agricultural primary forest cover is now found in protected areas.
Primary forests – largely ignored by policy makers and under increasing land use threats – are forests where there are no visible indications of human activities, especially industrial-scale land use, and ecological processes have not been significantly disrupted. These forests are home to an extraordinary richness of biodiversity; up to 57 percent of all tropical forest species are dependent on primary forest habitat and the ecological processes they provide for their survival.
The analysis shows that almost 98 percent of primary forest is found within 25 countries with around half located in five developed countries: U.S., Canada, Russia, Australia and New Zealand. Primary forest protection is therefore the joint responsibility of developed as well as developing countries and is a matter of global concern, according to the authors.
Lead author Professor Brendan Mackey of Australia’s Griffith University, warns that industrial logging, mining and agriculture gravely threaten primary forests and those outside of protected areas are especially vulnerable. He says that policies are urgently needed to reduce pressure to open up primary forests for industrial land use.
“International negotiations are failing to halt the loss of the world’s most important primary forests,” says Professor Mackey. “In the absence of specific policies for primary forest protection in biodiversity and climate change treaties, their unique biodiversity values and ecosystem services will continue to be lost in both developed and developing countries.”
Said co-author James Watson of the Wildlife Conservation Society: “Primary forests are a matter of significant conservation concern. Most forest-endemic biodiversity needs primary forest for their long-term persistence, and large intact forest landscapes are under increasingly pressure from incompatible land use.”
The authors identify four new actions that would provide a solid policy foundation for key international negotiations, including forest-related multilateral agreements, to help ensure that primary forests persist into the 21st century:
- Recognize primary forests as a matter of global concern within international negotiations, and not just an problem in developing nations;
- Incorporate primary forests into environmental accounting including their special contributions of their ecosystem services including freshwater and watershed services and use a science-based definition to distinguish primary forests;
- Prioritize the principle of avoided loss – emphasize policies that seek to avoid any further biodiversity loss and emissions from primary forest deforestation and degradation;
- Universally accept the important role of indigenous and community conserved areas – governments could use primary forest protection as a mechanism within multilateral environmental agreements to support sustainable livelihoods for the extensive populations of forest-dwelling peoples, especially traditional peoples, in developed and developing countries.
The paper's authors are Brendan Mackay of Griffith University, Dominick A. DellaSala of the Geos Institute, Cyril Kormos of The Wild Foundation, David Lindenmayer and Sonia Hugh of Australian National University, Noelle Kumpel of Zoological Society of London, Barbara Zimmerman of International Conservation Fund of Canada, Virginia Young of Forest Alive, Sean Foley of The Samdhana Institute, Kriton Arsenis of RoadFree Initiative, and James Watson of the Wildlife Conservation Society. The authors are world experts in forest ecology, conservation biology, international policy, and practical forest management issues.