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New satellite data finds that Indonesia’s tree cover loss slowed to 1.6 million hectares per year in recent years.

JAKARTA (April 2, 2015)– Indonesia’s annual tree cover loss declined in 2013 to the lowest point in almost a decade, according to new high-resolution satellite-based maps released by Global Forest Watch, a partnership led by the World Resources Institute. From 2011-2013 Indonesia’s average tree cover loss was 1.6 million hectares per year, indicating the past decade’s surge in tree cover loss may have now plateaued. However, Indonesia’s tree cover loss still remains high compared to other nations, ranking fifth highest among all countries for annual tree cover loss in the period from 2011-2013. The new data sends encouraging signs for Indonesia’s forests, but a longer time frame and additional research is needed to confirm the trend.

“This new data should continue to drive momentum to improve monitoring and management of Indonesia’s forests,” said Dr. Nirarta Samadhi, Director, WRI Indonesia. “While we are encouraged by this new data, there are still improvements to be made in law enforcement and data transparency, including collaboration among government agencies, companies and civil society to promote sustainable commodities, strengthen the forest moratorium, and improve cooperative forest mapping.”

The new data come from the University of Maryland and Google, and represent the largest and most up-to-date global data set for tree cover loss. With the addition of these data, Global Forest Watch now features tree cover loss data spanning 2000-2013 at a 30-meter resolution. Tree cover loss is a measure of the total loss of all trees within a specific area regardless of the cause. It includes human-driven deforestation, forest fires both natural and manmade, clearing trees for agriculture, logging, plantation harvesting, and tree mortality due to disease and other natural causes.

“This new information tells a very positive story about Indonesia’s forests,” said Siti Nurbaya, Minister of Environment and Forestry for Indonesia. “It is too early to say this is a definitive trend, and the ministry is now examining how our numbers compare with this finding. If it holds true, this could be a powerful indicator that Indonesia’s significant investments in forest protection are paying off. We intend to take additional steps to ensure these positive trends continue.”

In addition to an overall decline in tree cover loss, Indonesia’s loss of primary forests, which are mature, natural forests that have not been cleared in the past 30 years, slowed to an average of less than half a million hectares per year between 2011-2013, the lowest in the last decade. Indonesia’s primary forests represent some of the most biodiverse and carbon-rich forests on earth. Global Forest Watch partners are the first group to independently produce public maps for tree cover loss within primary forests in Indonesia, which offer an exclusive look at recent forest changes within these critically important areas.

“Years of patience have finally paid off,” said Agustin Teras Narang, Governor of Central Kalimantan, Indonesia. “We could not have done this without the support from the government who established Indonesia’s first REDD+ pilot project in Central Kalimantan. But more importantly, it is the constructive engagement between the government, community leaders, and the people of Central Kalimantan that made this effort successful. I do hope that the newly published University of Maryland data can motivate the national government and more local leaders to continue and improve their commitment to protect forests and lead the pathway for a more sustainable Indonesia.”

The decline in Indonesia’s primary forest loss in 2013 represents a shift in direction, since previous research published last year by the University of Maryland and WRI showed Indonesia’s loss of primary forests increased rapidly from 2001-2012. Possible reasons for the decline in both primary forest and overall tree cover loss include a moratorium on new licenses for forest conversion, a significant decline in agricultural commodity prices (especially palm oil), corporate zero-deforestation commitments, and the fact that most accessible forests have been cleared already. But, more research needs to be done to confirm the underlying drivers of this shift.

“We have watched Indonesia’s primary forests rapidly disappear over the past 12 years, so it is good news that primary forest loss slowed to less than half a million of hectares in 2013,” said Belinda Margono, Researcher at the University of Maryland and Indonesia’s Ministry of Environment and Forestry. “However, the clearing of degraded forests remains a serious issue — 98 percent of primary forest loss is occurring in areas that have already been logged or degraded in some way. These forests are still very important and contain significant carbon stores, and should be restored and conserved for future generations.”

Globally, the world lost more than 18 million hectares (69,500 square miles) of tree cover in 2013. The data find that Russia, Canada, Brazil (2.2 million hectares), the United States (1.7 million hectares) and Indonesia (1.6 million hectares) make up the top five countries for average annual tree cover loss from 2011-2013. In 2013 alone, Indonesia experienced the lowest tree cover loss in a decade.

"Halting the loss of the world's carbon-rich forests and peatlands is necessary if we are going to keep climate change at bay," said Tine Sundtoft, Minister of Climate and Environment, Norway. "The new figures give reason to hope that measures to reduce deforestation in Indonesia are having a positive effect. I hope to see further measures and reduction under the new administration."

The new tree cover loss data was made possible through free public access to satellite imagery provided by the U.S. Geological Survey Landsat program, in partnership with NASA. The new 2013 data is publicly available through maps, data visualizations, and downloads at Tree cover loss can also be monitored through near real-time alerts such as FORMA, Imazon SAD alerts, and Terra-i alerts.

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