Thursday, 23 July 2015

Uganda's forests in terminal decline?

What's the state of African forests? 

A recent article in New Scientist gives a dismal answer for Uganda. 

First the numbers. Between 1990 and 2009 forest cover fell from 24% to 10% and is still falling. At that rate it's probably down to 6% already and will all be gone by 2025.

But that estimate may be too optimistic. Many forest reserves look OK from the outside but in the forest squatters have cleared land and built homes, schools and churches. Many are solid, brick-built structures. The squatters are not planning to move on.

There's a quality issue too. Loggers, legal and illegal, have concentrated on native African hardwoods but reforestation - where it's occurred at all - has usually been with faster-growing softwood species like eucalyptus and pine.

And all this affects the wildlife. Deforestation, loss of native species, hunting, human defence of crops and the breaking up of large areas into a patchwork of forests and fields all make the wildlife move away. Those animals that stay lack food and face conflicts with the squatters. Conflicts that the humans are bound to win.

There are clearly two causes. One is land hunger due to population growth and human conflicts in both Uganda and its neighbours. The other is inadequate policing due to the usual mixture of limited resources and local corruption. Climate change is probably involved as well.

According to Forestry Commissioner Margaret Adata Uganda aims to get the squatters out of the forest and return forest cover to 1990 levels. Wildlife, she thinks, will follow.

I wish her well but time is terribly short.

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