Note: This case study is part of a WRI series on tree cover change across the globe. The first poster (1.2 Mb), titled Painting the Global Picture of Tree Cover Change: Tree Cover Loss in the Humid Tropics, depicts tropical hot spots in Brazil, Cambodia, Central Africa, and Indonesia.
Hotspots of forest change appear in red in the inset map at right. Below, high-resolution Landsat images show forests being logged and then cleared for agriculture.
By Stephen Adam
The forests of the Congo Basin constitute the world’s second largest area of dense tropical rainforest. Over half of these forests, covering more than 100 million hectares are contained within the resource-rich Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
Within the DRC, plantations have been established in a few areas and extensive deforestation occurred near refugee camps in the eastern part of the country. However, for the most part, the DRC has not experienced widespread forest clearance on the scale that has occurred in Brazil or Indonesia. Instead, most forest change is associated with the construction of forest roads for selective logging, which has opened once remote forest areas to increased levels of human activity, such as hunting, settlement, and smallholder agriculture.
The impacts of the selective logging operations themselves are relatively hard to detect using coarse- to medium-resolution satellite imagery such as MODIS (250-meter resolution). Just a few commercially valuable species (such as sapelli) are targeted and, typically, only one to four trees per hectare are removed.
A decade of civil war in the DRC led to decline in the forestry sector, with much lower rates of production than in neighboring countries as well as poor forest governance. Currently, a reorganization of the forest sector is under way, including the establishment of forest monitoring capabilities using remote sensing data. Given the pattern of forest development in the DRC, forest change is happening on a relatively smaller scale, necessitating the use of more detailed satellite imagery (such as Landsat) to track selective logging and the construction of logging roads.
Smallholder agriculture expanding into the forest along road networks is visible in this series of Landsat images. Purple hues represent newly cleared or burned areas. Yellow denotes agriculture, and green shows degraded forests. Black stripes in recent satellite images are data gaps caused by a malfunction malfunction of the sensor’s scan-line corrector.
Each Landsat image represents an area 29 kilometers wide by 25 kilometers high.
|Small-scale clearings west of Benin, in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Source: Erik Lindquist (SDSU).|