Though the dense humid forests of Central Africa have been regarded as among the most pristine on Earth, the expansion of industrial logging and the accompanying proliferation of road density are threatening the future of this important ecosystem. Woods Hole Research Center scientists are using satellite imagery taken from 1976 to 2003 to study the development of industrial logging and road density in Central Africa so that scientists, conservation agencies and other organizations can better understand the trends and implications of such expansion. The work is profiled in the current issue of Science.
According to Nadine Laporte, an associate scientist at the Woods Hole Research Center and lead author of the work, It has never been timelier to monitor forest degradation in Central Africa because there is still an opportunity to make a significant difference in reducing the amount of deforestation. The Democratic Republic of Congo contains most of the remaining forest and is the last frontier for logging expansion in Africa.
Researchers mapped nearly 52,000 km of logging roads within the forested region, which includes Cameroon, Central African Republic, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Republic of Congo, and Democratic Republic of Congo. Prior to this work, there were few reliable data sets available to monitor both legal and illegal logging. This study provides the first synoptic view of industrial logging in Central Africa, enabling conservation agencies, government agencies, scientists, industry officials, and others to better gauge how the expansion of logging is impacting the forest and its inhabitants, and how better planning might mitigate damage.
Jared Stabach, a research assistant at the Center and second author, comments, Roads provide access, and this research provides clear evidence that the rainforests of Central Africa are not as remote as they once were.a bad thing for many of the species that call it home.