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DEVELOPMENT REPORT - Seeing More Forest for the Trees: A Brighter Future for World's Forests?

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This is the VOA Special English Development Report.

A research team from Finland, the United States, China and Scotland is hopeful about the future of forests. Six experts in forestry science and economics say forest growth is on the rise in some countries and the number is increasing.

Findings from the Forest Identity project appeared in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in Washington.

Pekka Kauppi of the University of Helsinki was the lead author of the study. Professor Kauppi says the findings suggest the world may be able to reach a turning point away from deforestation. Many experts have considered that impossible.

But the researchers say it may be possible to expand the world's forests by ten percent, or an area the size of India, by two thousand fifty.

Smoke rises from a burning Indonesian forest set afire for land-clearing, 2005
Smoke rises from a burning Indonesian forest set afire for land-clearing, 2005

They used information released last year by the Food and Agriculture Organization. The United Nations agency reported on changes in the world's forests between nineteen ninety and two thousand five.

The new study looked just at the fifty nations with the most forest. The researchers used a new way to measure forest resources.

They considered more than just the amount of land covered by trees. They also considered forest density, tree size, biomass and the amount of atmospheric carbon captured in forests. The biomass represents all plant and tree growth.

The researchers say growing stock increased in twenty-two of the fifty countries. And, in about half of the fifty, biomass and carbon storage also increased.

The researchers say forest area and biomass are still being lost in such important countries as Brazil and Indonesia. But they found gains in others, including the world's most populous nations. They say China and the United States had the greatest gains. And they say India has reached the right balance between forested and non-forested land.

In percentage terms, though, the study says forest area expanded fastest in the last fifteen years in Vietnam, Spain and China. And it shrank fastest in Nigeria and the Philippines.

Professor Kauppi says the main blocks to forest growth are fast-growing poor populations that burn wood for cooking fuel. Or sell it for quick money -- or clear forest for crops.

But a number of scientists criticized the use of information that came from governments. They say some governments do not keep good records about their forests, or may not tell the truth.

And that's the VOA Special English Development Report, written by Caty Weaver. I'm Bob Doughty.

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