Degraded forest in Lahnberge, Germany: the soil is being washed out due to lack of vegetal cover, some trees are losing ground and they appear to be sick (photo by Andreas Trepte).

Forest degradation is a process in which the biological wealth of a forest area is permanently diminished by some factor or by a combination of factors. "This does not involve a reduction of the forest area, but rather a quality decrease in its condition." The forest is still there, but with fewer trees, or less species of trees, plants or animals, or some of them affected by plagues.[1] This degradation makes the forest less valuable and may lead to deforestation. Forest degradation is a type of the more general issue of land degradation. Deforestation and forest degradation continue to take place at alarming rates, which contributes significantly to the ongoing loss of biodiversity.[2]

Interpretations of the term

Drivers of deforestation and forest degradation by region, 2000–2010, from the Food and Agriculture Organization publication The State of the World's Forests 2020. Forests, biodiversity and people – In brief[3]

Deforestation is much worse than forest degradation, but it is clear and visible. On the contrary, forest degradation may start and go on without showing clear effects. It is difficult to measure and even the very term is controversial. In a paper[4] submitted to the XII World Forestry Congress, 2003, Jean-Paul Lanly states: "The situation is even less satisfactory regarding forest degradation due in particular to the imprecision and multiple, and often subjective, interpretations of the term". In 2009 Lund[5] identified more than 50 definitions of forest degradation.

Previously to this August 2017 editing, the Wikipedia page Forest degradation was redirected to Secondary forest, a forest which has re-grown after a timber harvest. This is a confusion: a secondary forest may be perfectly healthy, and a primary forest may be suffering degradation.

The term "permanently" also poses some difficulties: a forest affected by a mild seasonal drought may experience a loss of its biological wealth, but if it is seasonally reversed, then it is not considered degradation. On the contrary, a severe prolonged drought may seriously degrade a forest and make human intervention advisable to limit damages.

Difficulties which hamper the assessment of degradation

According to Lanly,[4] there are three difficulties:

For mapping forest degradation in Bolivia, Müller et al.[5] consider areas where only between 30% and 70% of the original forest cover remains. If less than 30% remains, the area is considered as deforested, and if more than 70% remains, the forest is considered intact.

Davidar et al.[6] also think that "Loss of dense and moderately dense forest cover is suggestive of forest degradation", but for the moment no parameter exists "that indicates at what speed forests become degraded and how long it will take for the ecosystem to degrade beyond the point of recovery."


Forest loss by driver and region

The Dominican Center for Agricultural and Forest Development[7] lists the following causes of forest degradation:

Davidar et al.[6] add another:

Earth Eclipse,[8] a platform of environment research articles, adds the following causes:

Finally as an additional cause:[citation needed]

Remedies to forest degradation

Generally, any measure to prevent deforestation will also reduce forest degradation. Specifically for degradation, Greenpeace[9] proposes:

Curbing emissions of sulfur dioxide (to combat acid rain) would also reduce forest degradation for this cause. If a coal-fired power plant uses low-quality coal (with a high sulfur contents), this may be alleviated by flue-gas desulfurization.

Initiatives against forest degradation

See also


 This article incorporates text from a free content work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 (license statement/permission). Text taken from The State of the World’s Forests 2020. In brief – Forests, biodiversity and people​, FAO & UNEP, FAO & UNEP.


  1. ^ "Plague". Retrieved 2023-08-04.
  2. ^ The State of the World's Forests 2020. In brief – Forests, biodiversity and people. Rome: FAO & UNEP. 2020. p. 9. doi:10.4060/ca8985en. ISBN 978-92-5-132707-4.
  3. ^ The State of the World's Forests 2020. Forests, biodiversity and people – In brief. Rome: FAO & UNEP. 2020. doi:10.4060/ca8985en. ISBN 978-92-5-132707-4.
  4. ^ a b Lanly, Jean-Paul (2003). "DEFORESTATION AND FOREST DEGRADATION FACTORS". Proceedings of the XII World Forestry Congress. Retrieved 23 August 2017.
  5. ^ a b Müller, Robert; Pacheco, Pablo; Montero, Juan Carlos (2014). El contexto de la deforestación y degradación de los bosques en Bolivia (PDF). Bolivia: CIFOR. ISBN 978-602-1504-29-1. Retrieved 23 August 2017.
  6. ^ a b Davidar, Priya; Sashoo, Sasmita; Mammen, Pratheesh C.; Acharya, Prashanth; Puyravaud, Jean-Philippe; Arjunan, M.; Garrigues, Jean Pierre; Roessingh, Krista (15 May 2010). "Assessing the extent and causes of forest degradation in India: Where do we stand?". Biological Conservation. 143 (12): 2937–2944. Bibcode:2010BCons.143.2937D. doi:10.1016/j.biocon.2010.04.032. Retrieved 23 August 2017.
  7. ^ Ovalles, P. "Causas de la deforestación y degradación de bosques en la República Dominicana" (PDF). CEDAF. Archived from the original (PDF) on 5 July 2016. Retrieved 23 August 2017.
  8. ^ Eclipse, Earth. "What is Forest Degradation?". Earth Eclipse. Retrieved 23 August 2017.
  9. ^ "Solutions to Deforestation". Greenpeace. 22 June 2015. Retrieved 23 August 2017.
  10. ^ PROGRAMME, UN-REDD. "About the UN-REDD Programme". UN-REDD. United Nations. Retrieved 23 August 2017.