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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 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.

Myanmar's extensive forests are declining rapidly due to political and economic change
Myanmar's extensive forests are declining rapidly due to political 
and economic change [Credit: Grant Connette]
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.

Myanmar's extensive forests are declining rapidly due to political and economic change
This image shows the distribution of forest cover and forest cover 
change across Myanmar [Credit: Bhagwat et al., 2017]
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.

Source: PLOS [May 17, 2017]
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