How many trees have been cut down since 1900

Were There More Trees 100 Years Ago Vs Today?

As a brand, planting trees is a high priority for us. So far, we’ve planted 40 million and intend to plant 1 billion by 2030! But how many trees are in the world? Are there more trees now than 100 years ago? How many trees are cut down a year? It’s a big question to ask. The number of trees in the world has been historically pretty difficult to pin down. But are there more trees in the world today? Are there more trees in America?

Changes in the last hundred years

The U.S. has been steadily adding back forests since the 1940s. According to the The North American Forest Commission, we have two-thirds of the trees that we had in the year 1600. But the news isn’t all good – cities in the US have been quickly losing critical urban forests.

But overall, the U.S. has 8% of the total forests in the world, and reached a point in 1997 where growth  “exceeded harvest by 42%” and we were growing forests at a rate of roughly four times faster than we were in 1920, when our chop-happiness began to level out due to environmental and recreational concerns regarding timber harvest.

The total tree gains have been most heavily concentrated on America’s eastern coast, where trees have doubled in the last 70 years. The eastern shore was home to the most aggressive timber harvests after hit by waves of arriving European settlers in the 17th Century.

Related: What is the impact of 1 tree?

Pioneers did not reach the West Coast until much later, and so the economy of the West–particularly the Northwest–continues to rely more heavily on the Timber industry, meaning that our numbers over here in Oregon have been less impressive than our East Coast friends. They have had more time to transition away from a timber economy.

Rise of National Forests

The increase in national forests has been influenced by a number of factors, including massive re-planting initiatives that began to grow after WWII and had a flourish of activity starting in the early 1950s, recreational re-purposing of land previously earmarked for timber harvest, stricter laws regarding how and how much timber harvesting can occur on forest lands (such as the Northwest Forest Plan, adopted in 1994), and environmentally-minded owners of private forest land.

Two recent developments have also led to more forests cropping up and being safeguarded from timber harvest. One reason is the increasing public pressure to adopt carbon cap-and-trade policies such as California’s Assembly Bill 32, which require companies responsible for huge carbon pollution to retool their industry and offset their carbon by, for example, buying large plots of privately-held forest land and leaving them alone to do their business of carbon conversion and sequestration.

Another development is large tech companies such as Facebook and Google, which have built large-scale data farms in the Northwestern United States, whose colder climate cuts down on the cooling costs and, hence, carbon output. It makes a compelling case for leaving canopies of trees that prop up what is one of only two major temperate rain forest areas in the world.

Changing the rules to guide the economy away from timber extraction and the capitalization of other finite resources, we can begin to set up the incentives necessary to lead us in the right direction regarding environmental stewardship.

The increases in our forests is good news for the U.S., as trees are amazing little engines-that-could when it comes to carbon conversion and sequestration.

So how many trees are in the world?

Thomas Crowther, a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Sciences from 2012 to 2015, is the leading force behind why we know the approximate number of trees on the planet. At the time his friend was working with a UN youth organization seeking to plant 1 billion trees to combat the effects of climate change.

But nobody at the time knew what the likely effect of 1 billion trees would have on climate change, what percent of the world’s trees 1 billion would account for, or even how many trees there were on the planet in the first place.

We had rudimentary estimates based on satellite imaging technology, but estimates based on satellite imaging varied. The lazy estimate at the time was that there were approximately 400 billion trees on the planet–not based on particularly good or well-documented science.

Long story short, Crowther sent members of his crew to go out to muck it in the dirt of forests and count the number of trees in given geographical areas and compare the number to the estimates of the same geographical areas garnered from satellite imaging. With the estimated numbers and the numbers from his friends on-the-ground, he was able to calculate the total number.

(Drum roll please.)

Crowther found that there are approximately 3.04 trillion trees exist on the planet today–a mind-boggling number, especially compared with previous estimates that had not yet guessed the Earth had even a half-trillion trees.

We’re fine then, right?

However great the news is that we’re adding trees back in the United States, there are still serious concerns about world-wide tree harvests. We have chopped the total number of trees in half since the advent of humans on our surface.

Some countries have begun to push back with aggressive tree planting projects. Ireland, for example, has committed to planting 440 million trees to combat climate change.

Today, annual tree harvest vs. production on a world-wide scale shows that humans cut down approximately 15 billion trees a year and re-plant about 5 billion.

That’s a net loss of 10 billion trees every year, and a rate that would mean the loss of all trees within the next 300 years. That sounds like a long time, but your great-great-great-grandchildren may not have the same perspective as you do on that topic.

Tree issues, like human issues, are complicated. While the U.S. has made major strides in adding trees back to our country, for example, we need to be mindful of the kinds of trees we are adding back and their effect on destroying or supporting the ecosystems we depend on.

For example, tropical forests are being mowed down faster than any other kind of forest, and those forests provide some of the most important keys to unlocking a cure for cancer, for example, among a growing number of medicinal properties found in plants and animals in tropical climes.

Mono-cropping can be a major problem–meaning that you cut down eight different types of trees and re-plant with only one kind of tree.

Government action–or, more appropriatelty, people working collectively using their government as a tool–is the linchpin for our dramatic success in the past hundred years.

We must demand good science based on sustaining the numbers and types of trees we need in each local environment. We also need to show continuing support and put continuing pressure on developing countries to seek out and utilize good scientific models to safeguard their forests.

You don’t have to hug a tree to know how important they are to sustaining life on Earth, and you should be glad that they’re making a comeback in some of the worlds major nations.

Let us belt out three cheers for this progress, and let us also continue supporting the science of trees and their effects on our ecosystems. Let us also demand strong action by government to protect our trees for the benefit of the generations that come after us.


Check out the work we’re doing to plant 1 billion trees by 2030.

The world has lost one-third of its forest, but an end of deforestation is possible

Over the last 10,000 years the world has lost one-third of its forests. An area twice the size of the United States. Half occurred in the last century.

by Hannah Ritchie

Shortly after the end of the last great ice age – 10,000 years ago – 57% of the world’s habitable land was covered by forest. In the millennia since then a growing demand for agricultural land means we’ve lost one-third of global forests – an area twice the size of the United States. Half of this loss occurred in the last century alone. But it’s possible to end our long history of deforestation: increased crop yields, improved livestock productivity, and technological innovations that allow us to shift away from land-intensive food products gives us the opportunity to bring deforestation to an end and restore some of the forest we have lost.

Update: In February 2022, this article was updated with an improved version of the long-run chart on global forest loss. You can find the previous version here.

Many people think of environmental concerns as a modern issue: humanity’s destruction of nature and ecosystems as a result of very recent population growth and increasing consumption. This is true for some problems, such as climate change. But it’s not the case for deforestation. Humans have been cutting down trees for millennia.

How much forest has the world lost? When in history did we lose it?

In the chart we see how the cover of the earth’s surface has changed over the past 10,000 years. This is shortly after the end of the last great ice age, through to the present day.1 

Let’s start at the top. You see that of the 14.9 billion hectares of land on the planet, only 71% of it is habitable – the other 29% is either covered by ice and glaciers, or is barren land such as deserts, salt flats, or dunes. I have therefore excluded these categories so we can focus on how habitable land is used.

The bar chart just below shows the earth’s surface cover just after the end of the last ice age.2 10,000 years ago 57% of the world’s habitable land was covered by forest. That’s 6 billion hectares.  Today, only 4 billion hectares are left. The world has lost one-third of its forest – an area twice the size of the United States.

Only 10% of this was lost in the first half of this period, until 5,000 years ago. The global population at this time was small and growing very slowly – there were fewer than 50 million people in the world. The amount of land per person that was needed to produce enough food was not small – in fact, it was much larger than today. But a small global population overall meant there was little pressure on forests to make space for land to grow food, and as wood for energy.

If we fast-forward to 1700 when the global population had increased more than ten-fold, to 603 million. The amount of land used for agriculture – land to grow crops as well as grazing land for livestock – was expanding. You will notice in the chart that this was not only expanding into previously forested land, but also other land uses such as wild grasslands and shrubbery. Still, more than half of the world’s habitable land was forested.

The turn of the 20th century is when global forest loss reached the halfway point: half of total forest loss occurred from 8,000BC to 1900; the other half occurred in the last century alone. This emphasises two important points.

First, it reiterates that deforestation is not a new problem: relatively small populations of the past were capable of driving a large amount of forest loss. By 1900, there were 1.65 billion people in the world (five times fewer than we have today) but for most of the previous period, humans were deforesting the world with only tens or hundreds of millions. Even with the most basic of lifestyles compared to today’s standards, the per capita footprint of our ancestors would have been large. Low agricultural productivity and a reliance on wood for fuel meant that large amounts of land had to be cleared for basic provisions.

Second, it makes clear how much deforestation accelerated over the last century. In just over 100 years the world lost as much forest as it had in the previous 9,000 years. An area the size of the United States. From the chart we see that this was driven by the continued expansion of land for agriculture. When we think of the growing pressures on land from modern populations we often picture sprawling megacities. But urban land accounts for just 1% of global habitable land. Humanity’s biggest footprint is due to what we eat, not where we live.

How can we put an end to our long history of deforestation?

This might paint a bleak picture for the future of the world’s forests: the United Nations projects that the global population will continue to grow, reaching 10.8 billion by 2100. But there are real reasons to believe that this century doesn’t have to replicate the destruction of the last one.  

The world passed ‘peaked deforestation’ in the 1980s and it has been on the decline since then – we take a look at rates of forest loss since 1700 in our follow-up post. Improvements in crop yields mean the per capita demand for agricultural land continues to fall. We see this in the chart. Since 1961, the amount of land we use for agriculture increased by only 7%. Meanwhile, the global population increased by 147% – from 3.1 to 7.6 billion.3 This means that agricultural land per person more than halved, from 1.45 to 0.63 hectares. 

In fact, the world may have already passed ‘peak agricultural land’ [we will look at this in more detail in an upcoming post]. And with the growth of technological innovations such as lab-grown meat and substitute products, there is the real possibility that we can continue to enjoy meat or meat-like foods while freeing up the massive amounts of land we use to raise livestock. 

If we can take advantage of these innovations, we can bring deforestation to an end. A future with more people and more forest is possible.

More articles on this topic

Trees on Earth are 8 times more than previously thought

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Image copyright Reuters

Image caption

New data show there are eight times as many trees on the planet as previously claimed

There are about three trillion trees on the planet, according to Yale scientists. This data, collected using satellite imagery and forestry data, is eight times higher than previous figures, when it was reported that there were about 400 billion trees growing on Earth.

Calculations were made on more than 400 thousand plots on all continents.

According to research team leader Dr. Thomas Crowther, there are now about 420 trees for every inhabitant of the Earth.

As noted in a report published in the journal Nature, these studies will help to elucidate other important factors in the life of the planet - from the biological diversity of the animal world, to the modeling of climate change, which are significantly affected by the absence or presence of large forests, absorbing greenhouse gases in huge quantities. gases, converting them into oxygen.

In an interview with the BBC, Dr. Crowther, however, notes that the data from this study does not indicate that the state of the planet, the atmosphere, the level of carbon dioxide turned out to be "good" or "bad", it's just that , what is the current state of these forest areas.

"We simply described the state of the planet's forest system, so that the data could then be used, for example, by environmentalists for their research, or politicians and governments for their own purposes," says Dr. Crowther.

According to scientists, the largest number of trees - about two trillion - grow in the tropical and subtropical zones of the planet, which is quite natural.

Image copyright, Reuters

Photo caption,

Researchers believe the data will help understand the causes of climate change on the planet and how threatening the consequences are

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In addition, this study provides a clear picture of human impact on vegetation on earth. According to the data received, about 15 billion trees (or 0.5% of the total) are cut down on the planet every year, while no more than five billion are planted.

"Now we can see how fast the planet is being deforested. Combined with other data, like climate change, we can understand how deforestation affects the climate," says researcher Dr. Henry Glick.

This study also allows us to compare the current state of forests with what it was, for example, after the end of the Ice Age. Scientists say that since then, humanity has cut down almost three trillion trees on the planet.

"Europe was almost completely covered with forest, and now it is almost continuous fields and meadows. And it is, of course, human activity that has led to such results," says Dr. Crowther in an interview.

At the same time, other scientists doubt the accuracy of this study. Dr. Martin Lucas of the University of Reading in England says that the inaccuracies of recent studies, when they counted only 400 billion trees on Earth, suggest that this study, which increased the number of trees by eight times, may eventually turn out to be inaccurate.

Other scholars also point out that this study was meticulously carried out only in Europe and North America, and regions such as India, Australia, China and the Congo were practically not studied. Therefore, the following data can again increase the number of trees by two, or maybe 10 times.

Environmental problem: deforestation in Russia: Ecology articles ➕1, 09.02.2022

According to official data, 10-30 million cubic meters are illegally destroyed annually in Russia. m forest. Every tenth tree is cut down without documents, the rest - under the guise of sanitary felling or other pretext. The most threatening situation is in the Siberian Federal District and the Far East. looked into the negative consequences of the problem of cutting down trees in Russia and what is being done to solve it.

Photo: Karl Ander Adami / iStock

The unified state system LesEGAIS is responsible for accounting for the sale of timber. But in fact there is a large illegal market, unregistered in this system and focused on export.

69% of illegal logging occurs in the Siberian Federal District, including 40% in the Irkutsk Region. In the Far East, according to the International Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), 80% of valuable wood species such as cedar, oak, Daurian larch, Amur linden, and Manchurian ash are illegally cut down.

Officially, reforestation in Russia is carried out on an area of ​​more than 1 million hectares per year, but a significant part of the seedlings die due to lack of care. According to the auditor of the Accounts Chamber, Sergey Mammadov, the total amount of forest in need of restoration is 35.4 million hectares. The quality of the "lungs of the planet" is also deteriorating: valuable species of coniferous trees are being replaced by birches and aspens.

Another problem is when, during illegal logging, only trunks are removed, while branches remain. Dried wood easily catches fire, provoking large-scale fires.

The ineffectiveness of measures to restore the forest is due to the lack of reliable data on the extent of deforestation. Plantations around residential areas are depleted, and lumberjacks, including illegal ones, go deep into wild forests that are difficult to restore. In addition, poachers do not pay taxes that could be used to plant trees.

Will it be possible to save the wild forests of Russia

And will they help save the climate

Pavel Pashkov, traveler and public figure, author of the film "Russian Taiga", traveled around Western and Eastern Siberia during the filming. He came to a disappointing conclusion: more and more territories that were previously occupied by wild forest are turning into clearings and swamps. At the same time, Russia still ranks first in the world in terms of forest area. This is not only natural wealth, but also a great responsibility, because reducing the number of trees on the planet can lead to environmental disasters.

Flood in the Irkutsk region in 2019

Photo: wikipedia. org

After deforestation, the groundwater level rises, as tree roots no longer feed on them. Also, according to Yuri Pautov, director of the Silver Taiga Sustainable Development Foundation, 10-25% of precipitation lingers on tree crowns and quickly evaporates. In addition, the soils in the forest are looser and absorb moisture well. And on the plain, rain and melt water does not meet obstacles, therefore, it significantly raises the level of rivers.

In recent years, deforestation and destruction of forests in Siberia and the Urals has led to waterlogging of territories. And due to the destruction of trees on the slopes of the Caucasus Mountains, local rivers overflow more and more, causing water erosion of the soil and landslides. What is soil erosion? In the upper part of the basins of the Iya and Uda rivers, there were no such serious consequences as below, on the plain, where trees were cut down allegedly in order to control pests. Aleksey Yaroshenko, head of the forest department of Greenpeace Russia, does not rule out that this reason has become just a pretext to cover up illegal logging.

Photo: kappaphoto / iStock

In the process of photosynthesis, the forest converts part of the carbon dioxide into oxygen, mitigating its impact on the climate. Uncontrolled cutting of trees leads to an increase in global temperatures, the consequences of which we are already feeling. One of them is the melting of the Arctic ice. It leads to weather anomalies and natural disasters around the world. Bacteria and viruses that have been “sleeping” in the thickness of glaciers for thousands of years also cause concern. During the study of Tibetan ice samples, American scientists discovered 33 viruses, 28 of which were previously unknown.

The world is now on a warming trajectory of 3-5°C by the end of the century. To mitigate the effects of rising global temperatures, care must be taken to preserve and restore forests.

Will millions of new trees save the climate?

Why reforested forests are dying and can they be saved? It is in the forests that most of the entire biodiversity of the Earth is concentrated: 60 thousand species of trees, which are the habitat for 80% of amphibian species, 75% of birds and 68% of mammals. From 19In the 1990s, the world lost about 420 million hectares of forests, and along with them, many rare species of flora and fauna.

How and why life is disappearing on Earth talks about the mass extinction of species

A study by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) showed that over half a century the number of wild animals has decreased by more than two-thirds. One of the main reasons for the extinction of species is deforestation and degradation. WWF experts note that only 25% of the land has not been changed by human activity.

A five-year study by an international team of scientists revealed that 17,510 tree species are threatened with extinction. The main reason is the need to free up areas for farmland. Experts say that only 41.5% of the world's tree species are safe.

Photo: abadonian / iStock

In order to control the movement of raw materials in Russia, the LesEGAIS system needs to be finalized so that it also covers the shadow market, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Viktoria Abramchenko notes. She proposes to involve the Federal Customs Service and law enforcement agencies in the work, equip all equipment involved in logging with navigation aids and track its movement.

From January 1, 2022, untreated and rough-treated wood can be exported from the Russian Federation only through two border points: Khasan (Primorsky Krai) and Lyutta (Republic of Karelia). Such a measure should make it difficult for the gray business that sends Russian timber to China.

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