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Rapid destruction threatens forests

Experts fear 40 percent of the world's forests will disappear in 20 years  

By Gary Strieker, CNN Correspondent

CNN -- The growing crisis facing forests is even more serious than scientists had thought.

Ten years after the Rio Earth Summit and 32 years since the first Earth Day, there are disturbing new findings from the World Resources Institute's Global Forest Watch.

Extensive ground research, combined with digital and satellite mapping shows vast areas of the world's remaining old growth and primary forests are disappearing at an alarming rate.

"We saw the rapid loss of the last remaining old growth forests in the world, the forest frontiers," said Jonathan Lash from the institute.

Businesses and countries move to help environment 

"These are places that are irreplaceable in terms of their value in conserving biodiversity, important cultures, and the services that those ecosystems provide for humankind."

Experts are calling for the forest crisis to be given top priority at the summit on sustainable development in Johannesburg in August.

Among the institute's findings were that in 50 years Indonesia has lost almost half its forests, mostly by illegal logging.

In Russia the taiga, the unbroken semi-arctic evergreen forest, is quickly disappearing, with only a quarter of its area remaining undisturbed.

One conclusion researchers draw from these findings is the idea of virgin forests inhabited only by wildlife and indigenous people is fast becoming a myth.

"The future of forests tomorrow is really logging concessions, mining concessions, protected areas. How we manage those forests will determine the future of our forests tomorrow," said Dirk Bryant of Global Forest Watch.

Some countries have enacted laws to better protect and manage their forests, but in many places the laws are not enforced, the institute said.

At the current rate of destruction, 40 percent of the world's intact forests will disappear in ten to 20 years, it said.

Other researches warn the damage to the Amazon and other tropical rainforests could be irreversible within a decade.


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