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Land Use

Forest Protection

Malaysia’s tropical hardwoods have been in demand for centuries, intensively so in the last twenty years. During that time, timber companies have not only profited from the sale of timber, they compounded their gains by installing palm oil plantations. Much of the logging was illegal, as was the appropriation of the land. The effects have been devastating. Logging has degraded or destroyed the vast majority of Malaysian rainforests, and the deforestation rate is faster there than in any other tropical country. Home to one of the most intelligent primates, the critically endangered orangutan, it is estimated that only 20 percent of Borneo’s rainforests remain. This photo shows the silt-laden waters of the Miri River, colored orange by runoff from upstream logging, and the herringbone tethering of smaller-diameter trees, which indicate that forests are not being allowed to recover before being logged again.

The most critical of all forest types is primary forest, known as old-growth or virgin forest. Examples include the Great Bear Rainforest of British Columbia and those of the Amazon and the Congo. With mature canopy trees and complex understories, these forests contain 300 billion tons of carbon and are the greatest repositories of biodiversity on the planet.

In 2015, there were an estimated three trillion trees in the world. That count is substantially higher than previously thought, but more than 15 billion are cut down each year. Since humans began farming, the number of trees on earth has fallen by 46 percent. Carbon emissions from deforestation and associated land use change are estimated to be 10 to 15 percent of the world’s total.

Strategies to stop deforestation and protect forests include:

  • public policy and the enforcement of existing anti-logging laws;
  • market-driven mechanisms, primarily eco-certification programs that inform consumers and affect purchasing decisions; and
  • programs that enable wealthy nations and corporations to make payments to countries and communities for maintaining their forests.

The benefits of forest conservation include biodiversity protection, non-timber products, erosion control, pollination, ecotourism, and other ecosystem services.

Technical summaries for each solution will be available May 1, 2017.

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