|Pipelines carrying steam to wellheads and heavy oil back to the processing plant line the roads and boreal forest 120 km south of Fort McMurray, Alta. Researcher Peter Potapov said the oil and gas industry is largely responsible, directly and indirectly, for fragmenting intact forests in both Canada and the Russian region of West Siberia. (Todd Korol/Reuters)|
The world's precious few remaining large forests are fragmenting at an alarming rate, and the degradation in Canada leads the world, a new analysis shows.
The degradation of such pristine "intact" forests threatens species such as Canada's woodland caribou and Asia's tigers that rely on huge unbroken expanses of natural ecosystems in order to survive, said Nigel Sizer, global director of forest programs with the World Resources Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based research institute focused on resource sustainability.
This week, the group, along with its collaborators, released a new global map of intact forest landscapes, along with an analysis of how those landscapes have changed since the year 2000. The maps are available as part of the institute's Global Forest Watch online forest monitoring and alert system.
The satellite mapping analysis led by Peter Potapov, an associate professor of geographical sciences at the University of Maryland, showed that over 104 million hectares of the world's remaining intact forests — an area about the size of Ontario — were degraded between 2000 to 2013. Such forests are considered degraded when they are broken up or fragmented into smaller pieces that are no longer the same kind of ecosystem. Sizer called the amount of degradation a "shocking number."
Canada accounts for 21% of global degradation"Canada is the country with the largest share of intact forest degradation in the world. It's No. 1 on the list," Sizer said.
In fact, the fragmentation of intact forests in Canada represents about 21 per cent of the global total, the analysis shows.
Potapov said the oil and gas industry is largely responsible, directly and indirectly, in both Canada and the Russian region of West Siberia.
"There's huge areas affected by this fragmentation, by pipelines, seismic lines, industrial places, temporary settlements and so on," he said.
He added that infrastructure put in by the oil and gas industry, such as roads, subsequently makes the forests accessible for logging.
Fires that start from human infrastructure are also a major cause of degradation in northern Canada, where they are usually left to burn, he said.
"We couldn't be sure in all the cases that these fires are human caused," Potapov added, but he noted that previous studies have shown that most fires originating from human infrastructure are caused by humans.
Meanwhile, other countries with fewer remaining large forests saw huge proportions degraded during the study period:
- Paraguay had more than 78 per cent of its intact forests degraded, mostly because of land being cleared for agriculture.
- In Russia, an intact forest believed to be the largest in Europe saw about 25 per cent of its area fragmented.
- The Democratic Republic of Congo, which has the largest tropical rainforest outside the Amazon, lost more than 17 per cent of its intact forest.