Colombia saw a dramatic decline last year in the quality of its forestland. This is according to new satellite data released Wednesday by the University of Maryland.
Tropical forests around the globe lost 39 million acres of tree cover in 2017 — an area about the size of Florida. Tree cover is the area of land that is covered by forest trees. The drop makes 2017 the second-worst year on record. Losses in Brazil, home to most of the Amazon rain forest, made up nearly 30 percent of the total — more losses than in any other country.
“These numbers show an alarming story of the situation for the world’s rain forests,” said Andreas Dahl-Jorgensen, deputy director of Norway’s International Climate and Forest Initiative. “It’s really a call to action for everyone.”
The growing losses in Colombia are being tied to the government’s peace deal with rebels who had controlled the large forested areas for decades. With the rebels no longer in control, people are setting fires to clear land for farming and mining. Fires are also increasing because of the effects of climate change, but the majority are set by people clearing land.
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said the government is training security forces to protect the Amazon.
Fires are becoming an increasingly important part of the picture in the Brazilian Amazon, where they accounted for 31 percent of tree cover loss last year, according to the data.
The University of Maryland report also looked at the African nation of Congo, where tree cover loss reached a record high last year, and the Caribbean, where hurricanes caused significant losses. While destruction from storms is part of a natural cycle, experts worry that increasingly powerful storms may make it harder for forests to recover.