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Wednesday, 3 April, 2002, 10:23 GMT 11:23 UK
Forest survey shows big holes
A burnt forest in Bolivia, cleared for agricultural purposes
The devastation threatens numerous species
Large expanses of the world's forests are in rapid decline and could be lost much sooner than expected, a new report by an environmental research group says.


As we examined what we thought were still vast, untouched stretches of intact forests in the world, we came to the conclusion that they are fast becoming a myth

Jonathan Lash
WRI President
The report, written by Dirk Bryant for the Washington-based World Resources Institute, says much of what is currently designated intact forest is actually badly degenerated.

"A lot of it is illegal logging in areas of the tropics," Mr Bryant told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

"[There are] good rules on the books by governments who are really making an effort, but they're just not implemented on the ground," he said.

Two-year survey

The WRI report is based on a two-year survey that covered North America, Russia, Indonesia, Central Africa, Chile and Venezuela.

Deforestation
Logging is a major reason for the depletion of forests
It found that areas believed to have forest land intact were now riddled with roads, logging and mining activity.

"As we examined what we thought were still vast, untouched stretches of intact forests in the world, we came to the conclusion that they are fast becoming a myth," WRI president Jonathan Lash said.

"We've mapped about half the world's forests in detail and we're finding that the closer we look, the less intact old growth and primary forest we're finding," said Mr Bryant.

Russian loss

"[That is] considerably less in many places than we had estimated during our original mapping several years ago," he added.

"Russia is a great example. [It is] the biggest forest area in the world in a single country.

"We found only a quarter of forests today are intact in larger tracts of old growth and primary forest," he said.

Such forest trees are important in counteracting climate change, Mr Bryant said.

"They store vast amounts of carbon, which, if you clear them, burn them and degrade them, then go into the atmosphere and contribute to global warming," he said.

Industry role

Mr Bryant did, however, have some words of optimism about deforestation.

"It's being offset to some extent by regenerating forests in certain parts of the world.

He said companies were also playing a role.

"Industry is stepping to the fore and leading companies are realising that through market investment decisions, they can make a difference."

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Jane O'Brien
"Around the globe forests are shrinking"
Dirk Bryant, report author
"We've mapped about half the world's forests in detail"
See also:

29 Oct 01 | Asia-Pacific
Illegal logging spreads in Russia
20 Aug 01 | Sci/Tech
UN call to save key forests
25 Jun 01 | Sci/Tech
Amazon forest 'could vanish fast'
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