The Irrawaddy

Report: Burma Rapidly Losing Forest Cover

A vessel travels near teak logs awaiting export in the Bago river in Yangon February 2, 2014. Picture taken February 2, 2014. To match story MYANMAR-FOREST/ REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun (MYANMAR - Tags: BUSINESS) - RTR3HZGA

RANGOON — Satellite imagery indicates that intact forest cover in Burma has declined rapidly over the last decade, according to a study.

A countrywide analysis of Landsat data for the period 1990–2000 showed that Burma had retained much of its original forest cover during that time, stretching across 65 percent of the country’s land.

More than a decade later in 2014, more than 63 percent of Burma remained forested, but intact forest had declined by 11 percent, or by more than 2 million hectares, with an annual loss of 0.94 percent.

The total intact forest, which is vital for biodiversity and conservation, was just 38 percent in 2014, according to the study in the journal PLOS ONE.

The reduction of armed conflict in some areas and the expansion of commercial agriculture, including plantations, were identified as key contributing factors to forest loss.

The report identifies nine township “hotspots” of deforestation.

The areas around Homalin Township in Sagaing Division, Bokpyin Township in Tenasserim Division and Hpakant Township in Kachin State lost the most intact forest between 2002 and 2014. Other areas most affected included land around Myitkyina and Tanai townships in Kachin State and mangrove forests in the Irrawaddy Delta.

The authors found a large area of some 6.3 million hectares of intact forest in northern Burma. The Southern Forest Complex in Tenasserim still jointly covers around 1.7 million hectares of intact forest, the study found.

Burma is “at a crossroads,” according to the authors. “Protection of remaining intact forests, and restoration of degraded forest are critical to ensuring the long-term future of the country’s forests,” they said.