Intact Forests Free of Roads – Int. Forests Day

Forest Pic from Satellite

On the eve of the 2nd International Day of Forests on Friday, March 21st, scientists join MEP Kriton Arsenis in calling for an urgent response to the threats from road development to the world’s last intact primary forests.

Less than a third of Earth’s forests remain undisturbed by human activities [1]. Road building, often driven by industrial activities, is one of the main causes of intact forest loss. RoadFree, an initiative by Member of the European Parliament Kriton Arsenis, was specially created to address this issue [2].

“95% of forest loss occurs within 50 km of a road [3]. Scientific reports and satellite imagery have demonstrated road building is a major driver of deforestation from the Amazon to Indonesian and Congo Basin forests. Keeping our last intact forests free of roads is a cost-efficient way to protect the climate, halt biodiversity loss and keep illegal traffickers at bay”, says Kriton Arsenis.

William Laurance, Distinguished Research Professor and Australian Laureate at James Cook University in Australia, says: “Roads are often fatal for forests and other native ecosystems. They open up a Pandora’s Box of environmental problems, such as illegal deforestation, colonisation, hunting, mining, and land speculation.  It’s a global crisis—roads are rapidly penetrating into the world’s last surviving wildernesses, and we have to do something to stop it.”

Citing the central importance of intact forests in protecting the diversity of life on Earth, Dr. Dominick DellaSala, President and Chief Scientist of the Geos Institute, says: “The world’s dwindling intact, roadless forests are an irreplaceable well-spring of life that supports such magnificent species as endangered tigers of the Russian Far East, endangered gorillas of Africa’s Congo Basin, wild salmon of British Columbia, and centuries old trees from Sumatra to Tasmania to Amazonia to North America to Chile. Protecting intact forests is critical to a safe climate and clean water that these forests uniquely provide to people.”

Noting the critical role intact forests play in addressing the worsening global climate change crisis and supporting livelihoods of forest-dependent people, Dr. Sean Foley, Chairman of The Samdhana Institute comments: “Intact forests store vast amounts of carbon, most of which is contained in large, old trees. Keeping these forests intact and free of roads not only prevents dangerous carbon dioxide emissions, it also preserves the homes and livelihoods of tens of millions of indigenous peoples around the world, and helps them adapt to a rapidly changing climate.”

On the particular role of industrial logging in intact forests Dr. Barbara Zimmerman, Director of the Kayapo Project with the International Conservation Fund of Canada says: “Road building, associated with industrial logging in the tropics, is almost always the first step towards destruction of forests. High-value timber species are completely extirpated, leading to degradation of primary forest to a state from which it is impossible to recover or at best, its regeneration is severely depressed [4].”

“We now have new tools to monitor the state of forests in almost real time and to identify the remaining road free areas around the world so we have a good idea of what needs to be protected. Keeping these intact forests road free is critically important”, says Arsenis.

He adds: “While forest protection is enshrined into various International agreements, this ambition would not be complete without a real commitment to save world’s last intact roadfree forests. This is a challenge for both the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the UN General Assembly when deciding on the post 2015 agendas [5]”.

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