Myanmar’s extensive forests are declining rapidly due to political and economic change
The loss of intact forest cover in Myanmar has accelerated over the last decade, according to a study published May 17, 2017 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Peter Leimgruber from Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, United States of America; Ned Horning from American Museum of Natural History, United States of America; and colleagues.
Due to its long political and economic isolation, Myanmar has retained much of its original forest cover but much of the intact forest is unprotected and is increasingly subject to pressures from rapid political and economic changes in the country. Areas that were inaccessible due to armed conflicts between the government and ethnic groups, for example, are starting to open up for timber production and commercial plantations. To investigate changes to forest cover, Leimgruber, Horning and colleagues used Landsat satellite images to map forest cover in Myanmar between 2002 and 2014.
The researchers found that in 2014 63% of Myanmar was covered by forest (more than 42 million hectares), making it one of the region's most forested countries. However, in terms of conservation efforts and protection of endangered species, intact (un-fragmented) forests are the most valuable. In Myanmar, 38% of forest cover is intact forest and during the study period the authors found that this intact forest declined by 11% (more than 2 million hectares) with an annual loss of 0.94%. Through their analyses the authors also identified 9 township hotspots of deforestation of intact forests and a large area 6.1 million hectares of intact forest in Northern Myanmar.
The authors suggest that protection of intact forests should take priority but other ways of improving forest management could include encouraging forest restoration, and reclaiming degraded forestlands for plantations and sustainable agriculture.
Co-author Dr. Qiongyu Huang states: "We found that forests cover 42,365,729 ha or 63% of Myanmar, making it one of the most forested countries in the region. However, severe logging, expanding plantations, and degradation pose increasing threats. Only 38% of the country's forests can be considered intact with canopy cover >80%. Between 2002 and 2014, intact forests declined at a rate of 0.94% annually, totaling more than 2 million ha forest loss."
In your coverage please use this URL to provide access to the freely available article in PLOS ONE: http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0176364
Citation: Bhagwat T, Hess A, Horning N, Khaing T, Thein ZM, Aung KM, et al. (2017) Losing a jewel–Rapid declines in Myanmar's intact forests from 2002-2014. PLoS ONE 12(5): e0176364. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0176364
Funding: EU FLEGT–Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade Provided funding for mapping forest condition and change from Landsat satellite imagery. Website: http://www.euflegt.efi.int/map-flegt-projects Role: The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript. The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust Website: http://helmsleytrust.org/grant/smithsonian-institution-0 Supporting Integrated Protected Area Land and Seascape Management in Tanintharyi. The funder supported salaries for trainers and senior remote sensing analysts based in Myanmar. Role: The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript. USAID Burma Program Website: https://www.usaid.gov/burma/our-work/democracy-human-rights-and-rule-law Provided funding to support local GIS/remote sensing analyst as well as capacity building. Role: The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript. International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) website: https://www.iucn.org/about/union/secretariat/offices/asia/asia_where_work/southeast_asia_group/country_members/myanmar/ Provided funding to support Myanmar GIS/RS analysts to help with mapping. Role: The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.
Competing Interests: The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.
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