For First Time, Non-Forested Land Exceeds Forested Land

For the first time since satellite data was available for the country, the percentage of Cambodia’s landmass covered by forest is smaller than that of non-forest ground cover, according to a report released this week by Open Development Cambodia (ODC).

The group’s report, which was released online on April 10 accompanied by time-lapse maps of the country dating back to 1973, said that satellite data shows that just 47.7 of the country’s surface was covered by forest last year—8,660,152 hectares—compared to 48.4 percent that was not. The remainder is water.

In contrast, 72.11 percent of the country—13,096,148 hectares—was covered by forest in 1973.

According to the report, “dense forest” decreased from 42 percent to 16 percent between 1973 and 2014, while the amount of “mixed forest,” which includes grassland and other vegetation, remained at about 30 percent.

The five years leading up to 2014 saw a sharp increase in deforestation, with the percentage of forest cover dropping 12.5 percent, compared to a 2.87 percent decrease between 2004 and 2009.

In 2013, ODC published maps showing that 46.3 percent of the country’s land mass was covered by forest, less than the 48.4 percent in 2014.

Thy Try, executive director of ODC, explained that while the data seemed to indicate an increase in forest cover from 2013 to 2014, cloud cover obstructing satellite images in 2013 made that year’s data less accurate than usual.

“Actually this does not indicate an increase in forest cover on the ground,” Mr. Try said in an email Wednesday.

He said that overall, the satellite data was evidence that the country’s forests are being depleted.

“The overall trend shown in our analysis is of long-term and on-going deforestation in Cambodia, particularly of dense forest,” he said.

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Correction: A previous version of this article inaccurately paraphrased Thy Try, executive director of Open Development Cambodia, as saying that satellite data analyzed by the organization “was damning evidence that the country’s forests are being rapidly plundered.” Mr. Try said in an email that the data showed “long-term and on-going deforestation in Cambodia,” but did not give a reason for the trend. The article also incorrectly stated that the data was posted online on April 28. It was posted on April 10.

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