How many trees are cut down every year?

When you work for a group like RAN, you get lots of questions about deforestation. Here's a recent Q&A. "Statistics lie"  you say? Commentary on our conclusions are welcome encouraged!

Where can I get hard facts on global deforestation?

The UN FAO State of the World's Forests 2007 gives the most current comprehensive world view, but lacks much detail. The latest detailed look at global deforestation rates is available from the FAO's Global Forest Resources Assessment 2005. An easy-to-navigate summary of key findings of the 2005 report is available at http://www.greenfacts.org/en/forests

Note that the FAO defines forests as land with a tree canopy cover of more than 10 percent and an area of more than half a hectare. FAO says that “forest” includes natural forests and forest plantations<–monoculture tree farms that most would not recognize as “forests” in the traditional sense. So when you hear industry brag that the country has more forests than we did a decade ago, their claim relies on this designation.

How many trees are cut down each year? For what purpose?

  1. As for how many trees are cut down each year, the 2005 report concludes that primary forest area (as opposed to plantations)was reduced globally by 60,000 square kilometers per year (about the size of Ireland; see: http://www.greenfacts.org/en/forests/index.htm#2). Note that this data is incomplete due to a lack of available data from many countries who do not monitor such change. As to the "number of trees" this represents, it's impossible to get an accurate count. Tree density in primary forests varies from 50,000-100,000 trees per square km, so the math would put this number at 3 billion to 6 billion trees per year.
  2. As for what purpose this logging is for, pg. 129 of the 2007 report provides statistics on global production and consumption of woodfuel (charcoal and other energy uses) roundwood (paper and other non-lumber products) and sawnwood (lumber). It estimates global production at 1.7 billion (46 percent) , 1.6 billion (43 percent) and 421 million (11 percent) cubic meters respectively with comparable volumes consumed globally.

How much is this industry worth? How much (in millions) goes to paper vs. construction?

  1. Incomplete data from the FAO's 2005 report gives a global value of $64 billion to "wood forest products removals"--$57 billion of which is from industrial roundwood and its derivatives (lumber and paper; see http://www.greenfacts.org/en/forests/l-2/8-economic-social-benefits.htm#0)
  2. A recent report on illegal logging by The American Forest and Paper Association states that "The global value of 2002 total wood products trade (HTS Chapter 44) can be estimated at approximately $69 billion, based on data available through the Global Trade Information Service (GTIS). Pulp, Paper and Paperboard trade would add another $117 billion, bringing the total value of forest products trade to $186 billion" (link, page 6).

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