Indicators of Forest Extent

Forest Loss

This indicator aims to monitor the total area of forest that is lost or removed globally each year. The indicator currently measures tree cover loss as a best available proxy for forest loss. Tree cover loss includes forest loss as well as loss of industrial tree plantations and agricultural tree crops, which are not typically considered forests. The statistics reported in this indicator capture “gross” tree cover loss, which is the total loss irrespective of any tree cover gain that may have occurred during that same year.

How much tree cover is lost globally each year?

The world has lost 386 million hectares (Mha) of tree cover since the turn of the century, equivalent to about 10 percent of global tree cover in 2001. Tree cover loss has been rising in recent history, from 13.4 Mha of tree cover loss in 2001 to 24.2 Mha in 2019.

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Tree Cover Loss, Forest Loss, and Deforestation

The tree cover data used in this report are based on Hansen et al. (2013),Hansen et al. 2013, https://doi.org/10.1126/science.1244693 . who define tree cover as woody vegetation with a height of at least 5 meters (m) and a canopy density of at least 30 percent at 30 m resolution. Tree cover data therefore include tree plantations and tree crops, which do not constitute a “forest” by most definitions. The tree cover data exclude areas of sparse tree cover, such as in the Sahel or the Cerrado, as well as individual trees in agricultural, suburban, or urban landscapes.

Tree cover loss is defined as the complete removal of tree cover for any reason, including human-caused loss and natural events. Loss of tree cover may be permanent or temporary; for example, temporary tree cover loss may occur when trees are harvested for wood production and the land is subsequently replanted or allowed to naturally regenerate. Deforestation, on the other hand, typically refers to human-caused, permanent removal of natural forest cover. This report uses tree cover loss data because it can be measured consistently at a global scale, but it also attempts to estimate forest loss and deforestation where data allow. More information about these estimates is available in the Data and Methods section. 

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Annual rates of global tree cover loss have risen since 2000

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What are the main causes of tree cover loss?

Forestry, commodity-driven deforestation, wildfire, and shifting agriculture are the leading causes of tree cover loss

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  • Forestry is associated with 115 Mha of tree cover loss: Large-scale forestry operations in managed forests or tree plantations where future regrowth is likely. Regrowth may occur through natural regeneration or tree planting. 
  • Commodity-driven deforestation is associated with 98 Mha of tree cover loss: Permanent conversion of forests for commodity production, including agriculture, mining, or oil and gas production.
  • Wildfire is associated with 86 Mha of tree cover loss: Burning of vegetation with no visible human conversion or agricultural activity afterward. Some of these fires occur naturally, but others are set by humans. In humid tropical forests, fires are not natural to the ecosystem and are almost always set by humans, usually to clear land for agriculture.  
  • Shifting agriculture is associated with 80 Mha of tree cover loss: Agricultural practices where forests are cleared, used for agricultural production for a few years, and then temporarily abandoned to allow trees to regrow. Shifting agriculture involves many different types of smallholder farming practices.
  • Urbanization is associated with 3 Mha of tree cover loss: Permanent conversion of forests to human settlements.
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Tropical regions experience more tree cover loss related to agriculture, whereas boreal and temperate regions experience more loss from forestry and wildfire<fn>See <a href="gfr/data-and-methods#forestloss">Data and Methods</a>; Curtis et al. 2018, <a href="https://doi.org/10.1126/science.aau3445">https://doi.org/10.1126/science.aau3445</a>.</fn>

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How much tree cover loss is permanent versus temporary?

Roughly one-thirdSee <a href="/gfr/data-and-methods#forestloss">Data and Methods</a>. of tree cover loss since 2000 was likely to be deforestation, characterized by permanent loss of forest resulting in new, nonforest land uses such as agriculture and human settlements. 

The remaining two-thirds of tree cover loss was likely more temporary in nature, often related to fire or wood harvesting. In these areas, forests may regrow, but the time required for forests to regenerate and redevelop important ecosystem functions is highly variable and can be long.Liebsch et al. 2008, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.biocon.2008.04.013 .  
 

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How much tree cover is lost in tropical versus temperate and boreal forests?

Though only half (192 Mha) of global tree cover loss this century occurred in the tropical ecozone, the tropics accounted for more than 95 percent of all global deforestation (associated with urbanization, agriculture, and other commodity production). See <a href="/gfr/data-and-methods#forestloss">Data and Methods</a>. The annual rate of tropical tree cover loss nearly doubled from 6.7 Mha in 2001 to 11.9 Mha in 2019. See <a href="/gfr/data-and-methods#forestloss">Data and Methods</a>. Although Brazil and Indonesia experienced the largest area of tree cover loss this century, these two countries have become less dominant as the rate of tree cover loss in all other tropical countries combined has increased by 154 percent since 2001. See <a href="/gfr/data-and-methods#forestloss">Data and Methods</a>.

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Tree cover loss has steadily increased in the tropics

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Meanwhile, temperate and boreal forests have experienced 148 Mha of gross tree cover loss since the turn of the century, with almost 98 percent related to temporary factors (forestry and wildfire) where tree cover is likely to regrow. Canada, Russia, and the United States together make up 94 percent of all tree cover loss related to wildfire and 54 percent of all loss related to forestry. Tree cover loss related to wildfire and forestry is not necessarily permanent, but it takes time for forests to regenerate. Unsustainable forestry practices, such as forestry cycles that are too short, can impact the condition of a forest and its ability to provide wildlife habitat and important ecosystem servicesPeng et al. 2002, https://doi.org/10.1016/S0304-3800(02)00134-5 . (see the Forest Degradation Indicator).

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Are Fires Intensifying?

Fire is a natural part of the landscape in many temperate and boreal forests, fostering species turnover and releasing important nutrients. Although the global burned area has decreased in the past decades, likely as a result of the conversion of grasslands to agriculture,Voiland 2019, https://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/images/145421/building-a-long-term-record-of-fire . forest fires are becoming more frequent and severe as climate change brings increasingly warm and dry weather to parts of the world.Brändlin 2017, https://www.dw.com/en/how-climate-change-is-increasing-forest-fires-around-the-world/a-19465490; Dickie 2017, https://www.upi.com/Science_News/2017/07/12/Climate-change-could-mean-more-wildfires-in-Alaska-northwest-Canada/2641499893084/; Gillis and Fountain 2016, https://www.nytimes.com/2016/05/11/science/global-warming-cited-as-wildfires-increase-in-fragile-boreal-forest.html; Williams et al. 2019, https://agupubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1029/2019EF001210 . These forest fires can result in major impacts on the economy, human life, and forest ecosystems. In addition to climate change, humans have also exacerbated fires in these landscapes by suppressing natural burns, encroaching on wild areas, and igniting new fires. Phillips 2019, https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2019/05/the-vicious-climate-wildfire-cycle .

Tropical forests have also been heavily affected by fires in recent years,Weisse and Goldman 2017, https://www.wri.org/blog/2017/10/global-tree-cover-loss-rose-51-percent-2016 . with 2019 blazes in Brazil and Indonesia drawing massive media attention. Fires in humid tropical forests such as the Amazon are not natural—these fires are almost always set by humansCochrane 2011, https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007%2F978-3-642-05383-2_7; Cochrane and Laurance 2008, https://www.nrem.iastate.edu/class/assets/nrem390-10/Cochrane%26Laurance_Tropics_Fire.pdf . —though they often only burn out of control under conditions of drought. Since these ecosystems are not adapted to fire, the blazes may cause adverse impacts on those forests for years to come.Rappaport et al. 2018, https://doi.org/10.1088/1748-9326/aac331 . These tropical forest fires also result in major climate-damaging emissions,Harris et al. 2015, https://www.wri.org/blog/2015/10/indonesia-s-fire-outbreaks-producing-more-daily-emissions-entire-us-economy . resulting in a potential positive feedback loop between climate change and fires.Le Page et al. 2017, https://www.earth-syst-dynam.net/8/1237/2017/esd-8-1237-2017.pdf .

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Tree cover loss caused by urban expansion is highest in temperate forests. The United States lost more than 2.8 Mha of tree cover to urbanization between 2001 and 2019, about 25 times more than Canada, which had the second-highest rate of deforestation related to urban expansion. Of urban areas within the United States, the city of Atlanta has experienced the greatest tree cover loss due to urban sprawl.Miller 2012, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.apgeog.2011.11.010 .

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Forests have been converted to urban land around cities in the southeastern United States

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Limitations and Future Prospects

Tree cover loss is not equivalent to forest loss because some forms of tree cover (e.g., tree crops such as oil palm) are not included in most widely accepted definitions of a forest. Ongoing efforts to develop better global-scale spatial data on the extent of natural forests, managed seminatural forests and planted forests, and agricultural tree crops would allow improved monitoring of forest loss. A 2019 studyHarris et al. 2019, https://www.wri.org/publication/planted-trees . aggregated maps of planted forests and agricultural tree crops from a variety of sources and time periods into a single database, which is estimated to cover roughly 75 percent (173 Mha) of planted forests and tree crops worldwide. In the tropics, where coverage of the database is most complete, planted forests and agricultural tree crops account for only 3 percent of total tree cover. This number is likely much higher in the temperate and boreal ecozones. 

Current data on the drivers of tree cover loss are also limited. The 10-kilometer spatial resolution of the Curtis et al. (2018) data used in this analysis is relatively coarse, resulting in oversimplifications of land-use dynamics and inaccuracies; for example, the data are known to overestimate shifting agriculture in Africa.Curtis et al. 2018, https://doi.org/10.1126/science.aau3445 . The authors of this data are currently exploring new artificial intelligence techniques to improve the spatial resolution of the model. 
 

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{"Glossary":{"51":{"name":"agricultural tree crops","description":"Trees cultivated for their food, cultural, or economic values. These include oil palm, rubber, cocoa, cashew, mango, oranges (citrus), plantain, banana, and coconut.\r\n"},"94":{"name":"biodiversity intactness","description":"The proportion and abundance of a location\u0027s original forest community (number of species and individuals) that remain.\u0026nbsp;\r\n"},"95":{"name":"biodiversity significance","description":"The importance of an area for the persistence of forest-dependent species based on range rarity.\r\n"},"1":{"name":"deforestation","description":"The change from forest to another land cover or land use, such as forest to plantation or forest to urban area.\r\n"},"77":{"name":"deforested","description":"The change from forest to another land cover or land use, such as forest to plantation or forest to urban area.\r\n"},"76":{"name":"degradation","description":"The reduction in a forest\u2019s ability to perform ecosystem services, such as carbon storage and water regulation, due to natural and anthropogenic changes.\r\n"},"75":{"name":"degraded","description":"The reduction in a forest\u2019s ability to perform ecosystem services, such as carbon storage and water regulation, due to natural and anthropogenic changes.\r\n"},"79":{"name":"disturbances","description":"A discrete event that changes the structure of a forest ecosystem.\r\n"},"68":{"name":"disturbed","description":"A discrete event that changes the structure of a forest ecosystem.\r\n"},"65":{"name":"driver of tree cover loss","description":"The direct cause of forest disturbance.\r\n"},"70":{"name":"drivers of loss","description":"The direct cause of forest disturbance.\r\n"},"81":{"name":"drivers of tree cover loss","description":"The direct cause of forest disturbance.\r\n"},"2":{"name":"forest","description":"Forests include tree cover greater than 30 percent tree canopy density and greater than 5 meters in height as mapped at a 30-meter Landsat pixel scale.\r\n"},"3":{"name":"forest concession","description":"A legal agreement allowing an entity the right to manage a public forest for production purposes.\r\n"},"90":{"name":"forest concessions","description":"A legal agreement allowing an entity the right to manage a public forest for production purposes.\r\n"},"53":{"name":"forest degradation","description":"The reduction in a forest\u2019s ability to perform ecosystem services, such as carbon storage and water regulation, due to natural and anthropogenic changes.\r\n"},"54":{"name":"forest disturbance","description":"A discrete event that changes the structure of a forest ecosystem.\r\n"},"5":{"name":"forest fragmentation","description":"The breaking of large, contiguous forests into smaller pieces, with other land cover types interspersed.\r\n"},"6":{"name":"forest management plan","description":"A plan that documents the stewardship and use of forests and other wooded land to meet environmental, economic, social, and cultural objectives. 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A football pitch is slightly smaller than a hectare (pitches are between 0.62 and 0.82 hectares).\r\n"},"66":{"name":"hectares","description":"One hectare equals 100 square meters, 2.47 acres, or 0.01 square kilometers and is about the size of a rugby field. A football pitch is slightly smaller than a hectare (pitches are between 0.62 and 0.82 hectares).\r\n"},"67":{"name":"intact","description":"A forest that contains no signs of human activity or habitat fragmentation as determined by remote sensing images and is large enough to maintain all native biological biodiversity.\r\n"},"78":{"name":"intact forest","description":"A forest that contains no signs of human activity or habitat fragmentation as determined by remote sensing images and is large enough to maintain all native biological biodiversity.\r\n"},"8":{"name":"intact forests","description":"A forest that contains no signs of human activity or habitat fragmentation as determined by remote sensing images and is large enough to maintain all native biological biodiversity.\r\n"},"55":{"name":"land and environmental defenders","description":"People who peacefully promote and protect rights related to land and\/or the environment.\r\n"},"9":{"name":"loss driver","description":"The direct cause of forest disturbance.\r\n"},"10":{"name":"low tree canopy density","description":"Less than 30 percent tree canopy density.\r\n"},"84":{"name":"managed forest concession","description":"Areas where governments have given rights to private companies to harvest timber and other wood products from natural forests on public lands.\r\n"},"83":{"name":"managed forest concession maps for nine countries","description":"Cameroon, Canada, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Indonesia, Liberia, and the Republic of the Congo\r\n"},"91":{"name":"megacities","description":"A city with more than 10 million people.\r\n"},"57":{"name":"megacity","description":"A city with more than 10 million people."},"56":{"name":"mosaic restoration","description":"Restoration that integrates trees into mixed-use landscapes, such as agricultural lands and settlements, where trees can support people through improved water quality, increased soil fertility, and other ecosystem services. This type of restoration is more likely in deforested or degraded forest landscapes with moderate population density (10\u2013100 people per square kilometer). "},"86":{"name":"natural","description":"A forest that is grown without human intervention.\r\n"},"12":{"name":"natural forest","description":"A forest that is grown without human intervention.\r\n"},"63":{"name":"natural forests","description":"A forest that is grown without human intervention.\r\n"},"82":{"name":"persistent gain","description":"Forests that have experienced one gain event from 2001 to 2016.\r\n"},"13":{"name":"persistent loss and gain","description":"Forests that have experienced one loss or one gain event from 2001 to 2016."},"93":{"name":"plantations","description":"An area in which trees have been planted, generally for commercial purposes.\u0026nbsp;\r\n"},"88":{"name":"planted","description":"A forest composed of trees that have been deliberately planted and\/or seeded by humans.\r\n"},"14":{"name":"planted forest","description":"A forest composed of trees that have been deliberately planted and\/or seeded by humans.\r\n"},"73":{"name":"planted forests","description":"A forest composed of trees that have been deliberately planted and\/or seeded by humans.\r\n"},"15":{"name":"primary forest","description":"Old-growth forests that are typically high in carbon stock and rich in biodiversity. The GFR uses a humid tropical primary rainforest data set, representing forests in the humid tropics that have not been cleared in recent years.\r\n"},"64":{"name":"primary forests","description":"Old-growth forests that are typically high in carbon stock and rich in biodiversity. The GFR uses a humid tropical primary rainforest data set, representing forests in the humid tropics that have not been cleared in recent years.\r\n"},"58":{"name":"production forest","description":"A forest where the primary management objective is to produce timber, pulp, fuelwood, and\/or nonwood forest products."},"89":{"name":"production forests","description":"A forest where the primary management objective is to produce timber, pulp, fuelwood, and\/or nonwood forest products.\r\n"},"87":{"name":"seminatural","description":"A managed forest modified by humans, which can have a different species composition from surrounding natural forests.\r\n"},"59":{"name":"seminatural forests","description":"A managed forest modified by humans, which can have a different species composition from surrounding natural forests. "},"96":{"name":"shifting agriculture","description":"Temporary loss or permanent deforestation due to small- and medium-scale agriculture.\r\n"},"17":{"name":"tree cover","description":"All vegetation greater than five meters in height and may take the form of natural forests or plantations across a range of canopy densities. Unless otherwise specified, the GFR uses greater than 30 percent tree canopy density for calculations.\r\n"},"71":{"name":"tree cover canopy density is low","description":"Less than 30 percent tree canopy density.\r\n"},"60":{"name":"tree cover gain","description":"The establishment of tree canopy in an area that previously had no tree cover. Tree cover gain may indicate a number of potential activities, including natural forest growth or the crop rotation cycle of tree plantations."},"18":{"name":"tree cover loss","description":"The removal or mortality of tree cover, which can be due to a variety of factors, including mechanical harvesting, fire, disease, or storm damage. As such, loss does not equate to deforestation. "},"19":{"name":"tree plantation","description":"An agricultural plantation of fast-growing tree species on short rotations for the production of timber, pulp, or fruit.\r\n"},"72":{"name":"tree plantations","description":"An agricultural plantation of fast-growing tree species on short rotations for the production of timber, pulp, or fruit.\r\n"},"85":{"name":"trees outside forests","description":"Trees found in urban areas, alongside roads, or within agricultural land\u0026nbsp;are often referred to as Trees Outside Forests (TOF).\u202f\r\n"}}}