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Paradise lost, how we’ve destroyed 7% of the Earth’s pristine forests since 2000

Secondo un nuovo studio pubblicato su Science Advances i paesaggi forestali intatti stanno scomparendo ad un ritmo insostenibile.

Pristine, verdant areas extending as far as the eye can see, home to countless native species. These areas, greater than 500 square kilometres, are referred to as intact forest landscapes (IFL).

amazon forest
Forests are our best allies in reducing C02 in the atmosphere © Jody Amiet/AFP/Getty Images

How the Earth’s last paradises are disappearing

Besides being of astonishing beauty, these areas have an inestimable value for storing carbon dioxide, are home to more than 80 per cent of animal and plant species, regulate hydrological regimes and provide precious ecosystem services. Yet, we’re destroying pristine forest landscapes at an appalling rate. A new study published in the journal Science Advances shows that 7 per cent of pristine forests have been wiped out between 2000 and 2013. These areas risk disappearing from at least 19 countries over the next 60 years. In fact, a forest landscape is no longer considered “intact” if roads fragment it.

We’re losing something bigger than ourselves

The sorrow generated by this decline emerges from the words of one of the study’s co-author, Lars Laestadius: “These landscapes represent some of the last portions of the Earth that are not significantly affected by human influence. As we lose these, we lose something that is bigger than ourselves”.

How forests have changed over 13 years

Researchers used satellite data to document the changes global intact forest landscapes went through from 2000 to 2013. In 2000 these covered a total surface of 12.8 million square kilometres but this was drastically reduced – by 7.2 per cent – due to human-related activities that altered and fragmented them.

deforestation pristine forests
Deforestation is speeding up. Some 13 million hectares of forest are destroyed each year © Nick Garbutt/SuperStock/Corbi

The countries that lost the largest amount of forests

More than 50 per cent of intact forest loss occurred in three countries alone: Russia, Brazil and Canada. In general, however, tropical countries tend to be the most affected. These losses don’t necessarily mean that forests are being wiped out completely. Instead, they’ve been fragmented into smaller portions. However, the rate at which we’re losing forests is increasing. The study shows that the rate of reduction in intact forest between 2011 and 2013 tripled compared to 2001.

The causes behind pristine forest loss

The main cause of a reduction in pristine forests could be linked to the relentless development of human activities. The study shows that 14 per cent of forest loss was linked to activities that directly altered their landscape including deforestation, while others have been fragmented by the construction of roads, buildings and development of agriculture.

tiger asia
The uncontrolled development of infrastructure in Asia threatens the survival of tigers due to habitat loss and increasing conflict with humans © Philippe Desmazes/AFP/Getty Images

More nature reserves needed

The causes of a reduction in pristine forests vary from one country to another, thus requiring targeted solutions. The study shows that protected areas “generally fared better all over the world”, suggesting that establishing nature reserves can be an effective way to halt this phenomenon.

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