SAVING PRIMARY FORESTS
Primary (“old growth”) forests are unique and irreplaceable ecosystems, essential to solving both the climate change and species extinction crises, and critical to human well-being around the world.
But we are losing millions of hectares of primary forest every year: we are clearing them and replacing them with industrial crops, we are degrading and fragmenting them through logging – and in some cases we are even turning them into wood chips and burning them as biofuels!
We are running out of time to avoid catastrophic climate change and address an accelerating extinction crisis. Industrial activity has not proven sustainable in primary forests, even with best practices: we urgently need to protect what’s left!
Photo: Jaime Rojo
SAVING EARTH’S LAST PRIMARY FORESTS
Earth’s spectacular primary forests (“old growth” forests) are irreplaceable ecosystems, unique places where nature’s ecosystem services are highly concentrated. They provide habitat for the greatest number of terrestrial and freshwater species, including many endangered species, they store vast amounts of carbon, they provide the highest quality freshwater, they provide livelihoods to local communities and they are the homelands of Indigenous Peoples. In short, primary forests are critical to addressing many of our most urgent environmental and social problems, many of which are closely interrelated. We can’t avoid catastrophic climate change or stop the global extinction crisis unless we protect primary forests – they are essential life-support systems.
But they are going fast. We’ve already lost over a third of the planet’s forests and less than a third of what remains is primary forest. And we continue to lose millions of hectares of primary forest each year. We simply have not succeeded in making industrial activity – including logging – sustainable in primary forests, even with best practices. In some instances primary forests are even being converted to wood chips and burned as biofuels.
We need to stop the destruction, degradation and fragmentation of Earth’s remaining primary forests if we want to maintain a livable planet. Wild Heritage is working to ensure that these critically important forests are prioritized in national and international policies. We can save primary forests by recognizing their special importance, by ending the subsidies that result in their destruction and degradation, and by shifting those incentives to support conservation through protected areas, local communities, Indigenous Peoples and private conservation.
But we are running out of time. The latest scientific reports emphasize that species continue to go extinct at high rates, wildlife populations are collapsing and we may only have about ten years of emissions left at current rates to avoid catastrophic warming. We need to act now!
Wild Heritage is proud to serve as the secretariat for IntAct: International Action for Primary Forests, a coalition of over 100 organizations that have signed the IntAct Statement of Principes and are working to prioritize primary forest conservation around the world. Please visit the IntAct website for more information and please watch our video below!
Wild Heritage Executive Director Cyril Kormos is working as a member of the IUCN Primary Forest Task Team to draft a primary forest policy that will guide IUCN’s 1,300 organizational members and 13,000 volunteer IUCN Commission experts in their work. The policy is due out in 2019. Please see:
Wild Heritage advocates for making primary forests a key focus area in the work of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). See the latest text on primary forests from the CBD.
Wild Heritage is working with partners to raise awareness of the importance of primary forests in the climate convention. See the text on primary forest in the Climate Action Network (CAN) position paper on Forest and Land Restoration and the Climate Land and Rights Alliance’s (CLARA) new report highlighting the importance of primary forests for climate mitigation. CAN and CLARA are both influential NGO networks operating within the UNFCCC – CAN has over 1,000 organizational members.
See the IntAct: International Action on Primary Forests Video!
Primary Forest FAQs
What is a primary forest?
A primary forest is a forest that is the result of natural processes rather than human management and that has not been degraded by industrial activities. Mature trees dominate the canopy in a primary forest and a primary forest contains most or all of its native plant and animal species.
More specifically: a primary forest is a forest whose vegetation structure, species composition and ecosystem dynamics are predominantly the product of natural physical, ecological and evolutionary processes, including natural disturbance regimes such as fires, storms and landslides. Primary forests retain all, or the large majority, of their evolved, characteristic native plant, animal and microbial species, have few if any invasive species, are dominated at the landscape scale by mature canopy trees, have unpolluted waters, contain extensive coarse woody debris, and have not been subject to industrial land use activities such as commercial logging, mining and ranching.
As a “chapeau” term, primary forest covers a range of related terms including “old growth forest”, “ancient forest”, “primeval forest” and “intact forest landscapes”.
Why are primary forests important?
Primary forests are irreplaceable life-support systems. They ensure a wide range of vital ecosystem services that are either unique to primary forests, or that are of a superior quality and quantity to other forest types (such as degraded forests, secondary re-growth forests, plantations). In particular, they:
Protect the most biodiversity (plant, animal and microbial species, functional types, complex food webs, co-evolved species relationships);
Store vast carbon stocks. Primary forest store much more carbon than degraded forests. Their carbon stocks are also a safer investment because they are more stable and more resilient than degraded forests or plantations. To avoid dangerous climate change, we must protect the vast carbon stocks in primary forests. Protecting primary forests is essential for a safe transition from fossil fuels to carbon-free renewable energy.
Provide the cleanest freshwater, prevent erosion and help regulate local water cycles, and;
Inhibit the spread of vector borne diseases to humans.
Are the homelands of Indigenous Peoples around the world and are crucial for sustaining traditional culture and community livelihoods. Primary forests have often remained in good condition because of community and indigenous stewardship.