When it comes to tree cover loss, the spotlight usually rests on midlatitude hot spots like Brazil and Indonesia, where agriculture, logging and other development have threatened the existence of rainforests for years.
But an analysis released today by a Washington, D.C.-based think tank reveals that people worried about the world's forests may want to turn their attention north.
According to new data from the World Resources Institute's Global Forest Watch initiative, Russia and Canada saw "massive" forest losses in 2013. The nations had the top two highest annual average tree cover losses in the world between 2011 and 2013, WRI data show, at an estimated 10.7 million acres in Russia and 6.1 million acres in Canada.
On the other hand, Indonesia—which is ranked the No. 1 deforester in the world—saw a "substantial" decline in tree cover loss in 2013, the new analysis found, although experts said it's too soon to say the nation has solved its deforestation problem.
In Canada and Russia, wildfires were likely the biggest driver of forest cover loss in 2013, WRIreported. The think tank cited higher temperatures and dry conditions linked to climate change as key factors behind the trend. Research by Canada's Forest Service found that in 2013, the nation saw more than 10 million acres consumed in wildfires. Greenpeace Russia reported a big spike in wildfires over the past three years, as well.
WRI's data only extended to 2013, but last summer, millions more acres of forest burned in northern Canada amid a record-breaking heat wave (ClimateWire, July 16, 2014). Canadian forest managers anticipate that 2015 might also be a bad fire season (ClimateWire, March 31).
Nigel Sizer, global director of WRI's Forests Program, said the nature of Canada's and Russia's forest cover loss is different from much of the deforestation in the tropics because the land isn't being converted to cropland, so the trees will grow back at some point. But Sizer added that in the context of climate change, the trend is still "very concerning."
"These fires and these emissions do need to factor in some way into the national carbon accounting for these countries," Sizer said.