Canada and Russia lead the world in tree coverage loss

According to a troubling new report, Russia and Canada led the world in the loss of tree coverage from 2011 to 2013.

Even more alarming, however, is the steep increase of loss of boreal forest, where the reforestation process takes centuries.

Published by Global Forest Watch, an organization convened by the World Resources Institute, the report found that Russia and Canada topped the world in loss of tree coverage, jointly accounting for 34 percent of the total loss.

According to the study, tree cover loss is “a measure of the total loss of all trees within a specific area regardless of the cause.” This measurement accounts for logging, clear-cutting, plantation harvesting, tree mortality due to disease, and forest fires.

It’s the last factor—natural and manmade forest fires—that’s affecting Canada’s boreal region the greatest. Between 2011 and 2013, Canada lost 2.3-million hectares per year of tree cover, 70 percent of which is due to forest fires. Russia nearly doubled Canada in tree loss coverage at 4.3-million hectares per year.

Natural Resources’ Canadian Forest Service reported that in 2013, Canada lost 4.2-million hectares of forest from fires. The researchers with Global Forest Watch say this discrepancy can be due to “different definitions of forest, re-burning of areas where trees have already been killed, and because not all fires kill trees.”

Both Natural Resources Canada and Global Forest Watch can agree though that climate change is affecting the decline of the boreal forest.

“Climate change models predict as it gets drier and warmer…you’re going to see more fires in the boreal region,” Dr. Nigel Sizer, one of the author’s of the Global Forest Watch study, told CBC News.

He continued: “Oil and gas exploration, and logging operations are stretching further north into those forests as well, and might be factors contributing to fires and directly to tree cover loss.”

While wild fires are required for forest renewal, current climate change models suggest fire activity across the country could become increasingly destructive.

As Natural Resources Canada writes, “[forest fires] have major impacts on the economies of communities through the cost of lost timber volumes, decreased forest growth, and increased protection needs.”

For now, it’s too early to determine if the 2011-2013 losses are the beginning of a trend, but Global Forest Watch will continue to measure the world’s tree cover loss and the contributing factors.