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Laos Forest Figures

Forest Cover
Total forest area: 16,142,000 ha
% of land area: 69.9%

Primary forest cover: 1,490,000 ha
% of land area: 6.5%
% total forest area: 9.2%

Deforestation Rates, 2000-2005
Annual change in forest cover: -78,000 ha
Annual deforestation rate: -0.5%
Change in defor. rate since '90s: 4.5%
Total forest loss since 1990: -1,172,000 ha
Total forest loss since 1990:-6.8%

Primary or "Old-growth" forests
Annual loss of primary forests: n/a
Annual deforestation rate: n/a
Change in deforestation rate since '90s: n/a
Primary forest loss since 1990: n/a
Primary forest loss since 1990:0.0%

Forest Classification
Public: 100%
Private: 0%
Other: 0%
Production: 21.6%
Protection: 54.7%
Conservation: 23.5%
Social services: 0.2%
Multiple purpose: n/a
None or unknown: n/a

Forest Area Breakdown
Total area: 16,142,000 ha
Primary: 1,490,000 ha
Modified natural: 14,428,000 ha
Semi-natural: n/a
Production plantation: 223,000 ha
Production plantation: 1,000 ha

Plantations, 2005: 224,000 ha
% of total forest cover: 1.4%
Annual change rate (00-05): 25,000,000 ha

Carbon storage
Above-ground biomass: 2,342 M t
Below-ground biomass: 632 M t

Area annually affected by
Fire: 100,000 ha
Insects: n/a
Diseases: n/a

Number of tree species in IUCN red list
Number of native tree species: 1,457
Critically endangered: 5
Endangered: 7
Vulnerable: 8

Wood removal 2005
Industrial roundwood: 682,000 m3 o.b.
Wood fuel: 6,742,000 m3 o.b.

Value of forest products, 2005
Industrial roundwood: $40,931,000
Wood fuel: $20,226,000
Non-wood forest products (NWFPs): n/a
Total Value: $61,157,000

More forest statistics for Laos

Despite a small population, undeveloped mineral deposits, and forest covering nearly 70 percent of the country, Lao's forests are threatened. Slash-and-burn agriculture, uncontrolled fires, commercial and illegal logging, and fuelwood collection resulted in the loss of 6.8 percent of the country's forests between 1990 and 2005. The deforestation rate has increased moderately since the close of the 1990s, but there is concern that the shift from a command economy toward a market-oriented economy will put increasing pressure on the forest resources of Laos.

The natural resources of Laos—including oil, natural gas, coal, hydroelectric potential, and mineral deposits—are attracting development interest in the country. According to the Wall Street Journal (September 16, 2004; "Laos Is Looking Like a Gold Mine To Foreigners" by Patrick Barta), foreign investors are looking to capitalize on Laos' underdeveloped mineral resources. With gold prices steady over $400 and few new deposits turning up in the usual places, mining companies are flocking to this poor, land-locked country bordered by China, Myanmar (Burma), Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam. Laos, which holds the dubious record of being the most bombed country in the world despite never officially being involved in the Vietnam war, may become an important source of revenue for mining companies willing to take on the extra risk associated with operating in a country with large amounts of unexploded ordnance and poor infrastructure.

With the prospect of expanded mining operations in Laos, there is considerable concern over the environmental impact. Clear-cutting and the use of chemicals, especially mercury and cyanide, can cause severe ecological damage. Mining also exposes previously buried metal sulfides to atmospheric oxygen, causing their conversion to sulfuric acid and metal oxides, which run off into local waterways. Oxides tend to be more soluble in water and contaminate local rivers with heavy metals, affecting human populations and wildlife.

In the short term, the financial opportunities presented by mining overwhelm the potential ecological effects. For example, at peak production, a $330-million operation run by Australia-owned Oxiana should yield as much as $15 million in royalties and taxes for Laos—a significant sum for a country where the per capita GDP is around $1,700 per year.

Conservation in Laos faces considerable obstacles not only from increased interest in mining but also from the activities mentioned above, The strongly centralized approach to conservation—Laos is a Communist country—may spawn animosity toward conservation efforts at a local level if initiatives fail to account for local needs.

Despite these hurdles, there is hope for conservation in Laos. In an effort to protect the country's species richness, Laos recently established 18 National Biodiversity Conservation Areas including one known as Nakai Nam Theum National Biodiversity Area in the mountainous border area near Vietnam. During the 1990s researchers in this protected area discovered a new genus of cattle-like mammal along with two deer-like species.

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Last updated: 4 Feb 2006