Earth's 25-Year Tree Loss Would Cover Texas Twice

Over the last 25 years, we've lost about 1 percent of the Earth's tree cover, but there is good news. Continue reading →

The continuing destruction of the world's forests, which as recently as a few hundred years ago covered about 45 percent of the Earth's surface, is a big global problem. Cutting down forests adds more carbon dioxide to the atmosphere than the sum total of cars and trucks on the world's roads. It also wreaks havoc with biodiversity by destroying animal habitats, and causes erosion that contributes to flooding and water pollution.

The latest report on the world's forests from the UN contains both good and bad news on that subject.

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First, the good news. The Food and Agriculture Organization's 2015 Global Forest Resources Assessment reports that the rate at which humans are hacking down trees has decreased over the past 25 years, and nations are planting more trees to replace lost wooded areas. Over the last 25 years, the tree cover of the planet's surface has declined only about 1 percent, from 31.6 percent to 30.6 percent.

"Attention paid to sustainable forest management has never been higher," the report concludes. "More land is designated as permanent forest, more measurement, monitoring, reporting, planning and stakeholder involvement is taking place, and the legal framework for sustaining forest management is nearly universal. Larger areas are being designated for conservation of biodiversity at the same time as forests are meeting increasing demand for forest products and services."

Now for the bad news. Even at the reduced rate of deforestation, over the last 25 years, humans have cut down enough trees to cover an area nearly twice the size of the state of Texas, as Washington Post writer Chris Mooney points out.

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And many of the trees being lost are in tropical rainforests, which are particularly crucial to biodiversity.

The report also notes that the global demand for wood is increasing, as population grows, and harvesting trees is now a $600 billion global industry. That has both good and bad implications. The demand could increase incentives for illegal logging, but it also encourages countries to consider wood a renewable resource that must be managed through replanting and regulation.

Another hopeful sign: Here's a 2015 Nature article that cites satellite data to show that we may at last be starting to reverse the loss of green biomass. But whether we can make enough progress to make a significant dent in climate change is still open to question.

Deforestation in southern Mexico

Photographer Beth Moon spent 14 years traveling across the world to find and photograph the world's oldest trees. She spent time in the United States as well as remote areas and reserves in Europe, Asia, the Middle East and Africa. Living up to 500 years, the Heart of the Dragon (pictured) is unique to Socotra island in Yemen. Growing in severe conditions, they have raised their branches upward over time in an effort to obtain moisture from the highland mists -- hence the distinctive appearance of their canopies, like an umbrella blown inside out.

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The legendary Bowthorpe Oak, with its rugged bole, gnarled branches, and great spreading crown, stands in a grassy meadow behind a stone farmhouse in Bourne, Lincolnshire. With a circumference of 40 feet, it competes for the title of largest-girthed living oak in Britain. It is also perhaps the oldest living oak tree, with an estimated age of 1,200 years (give or take a century).

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Above, a desert rose on the island of Socotra in Yemen, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The trees store water in their trunks to survive the dry climate.

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This Spanish Chestnut on the grounds of Croft Castle in Herefordshire, England, is between four and five centuries old.

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Elegant in shape and form, these strange and magnificent baobabs,

Adansonia grandidieri

, seem to rise effortlessly to heights of 100 feet.

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At Wakehurst Place, set among 170 acres of beautifully manicured gardens, is a gloomy cliff of Ardingly sandstone. A few hundred English winters have eroded the soil, but the yews of these woods have adapted to their surroundings. Tangled, black and menacing, they send their naked roots cascading over the huge greenish-blue rocks of the cliff’s edge, in search of soil to sink into.

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There is something magical about these two stately yews, which act as pillars, framing the north door of the church in Stow-on-the-Wold, Gloucestershire. Not much is known about these trees. It is presumed that they were planted sometime in the 18th century and are the survivors of a formal avenue that led to the church. It has also been suggested that this church door was the inspiration for the Doors of Moria in The Lord of the Rings, as J.R.R. Tolkien is known to have passed through the area.

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Elegant in shape and form, these strange and magnificent baobabs seem to rise effortlessly to heights of 100 feet. They are found only on the island of Madagascar, where they are known as


, Malagasy for ‘mother of the forest.’ These trees are a valuable source of food, fiber, dye, rope and fuel, among other things. The trees in this grove, known as the Avenue of the Baobabs, are approximately 800 years old. Sadly, these 20-25 baobabs are the only survivors of what was once a dense tropical forest. The avenue was granted temporary protected status in 2007, as a prelude to its promised future as Madagascar’s first natural monument.

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