Mountain forests disappearing at alarming rate

Saturday, Mar 18, 2023

WASHINGTON: Logging, wildfires and farming are causing mountain forests, habitat to 85 percent of the world´s birds, mammals and amphibians, to vanish at an alarming rate, according to a study published on Friday.

Mountain forests covered 1.1 billion hectares (2.71 billion acres) of the planet in 2000, the authors of the study published in the Cell Press journal One Earth said. But at least 78.1 million hectares -- an area larger than the US state of Texas -- have been lost between 2000 and 2018, with recent losses 2.7-fold greater than at the beginning of the century.

Key drivers of the loss are commercial logging, wildfires, “slash-and-burn” cultivation and commodity agriculture, said the authors from China´s Southern University of Science and Technology and the University of Leeds.

Of particular concern, they said, is that heavy forest losses have occurred in mountain areas that are “tropical biodiversity hotspots” -- refuges for rare and endangered species.

High elevations and steep slopes have historically restricted human exploitation of mountain forests, the authors said. But they have increasingly been targeted for timber and used for agriculture since the turn of the century.

Commercial forestry was responsible for 42 percent of mountain forest loss, followed by wildfires (29 percent), shifting cultivation (15 percent), and permanent or semi-permanent commodity agriculture (10 percent), the study said. Shifting cultivation involves growing a crop on a plot of land for a few years and then abandoning it until it becomes fertile again.