Forest loss in Indonesian New Guinea: Trends, drivers, and outlook

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The rich forests of Indonesian New Guinea are threatened. We used satellite data to examine annual forest loss, road development and plantation expansion from 2001 to 2019, then developed a model to predict future deforestation in this understudied region. In 2019, 34.29 million hectares (Mha), or 83% of Indonesian New Guinea, supported old-growth forest. Over nineteen years, two percent (0.75 Mha) were cleared: 45% (0.34 Mha) converted to industrial plantations, roads, mine tailings, or other uses near cities; 55% (0.41 Mha) cleared by transient processes including selective natural timber extraction, inland water bodies-related processes, fires, and shifting agriculture. Industrial plantations expanded by 0.23 Mha, with the majority (0.21 Mha; 28% of forest loss) replacing forests and reaching 0.28 Mha in 2019 (97% oil palm; 3% pulpwood). The Trans-Papua Highway, a ~4,000 km national investment project, increased by 1,554 km. Positive correlations between highway and plantations expansion indicate these are linked processes. Plantations and roads grew rapidly after 2011, peaked in 2015/16, and declined thereafter. Indonesian government allocated 2.62 Mha of land for the development of industrial plantations (90% oil palm 10% pulpwood) of which 74% (1.95 Mha) remained forest in 2019. A spatial model predicts that an additional 4.5 Mha of forest could be cleared by 2036 if Indonesian New Guinea follows similar relationships to Indonesian Borneo. We highlight the opportunities for policy reform and the importance of working with indigenous communities, local leaders, and provincial government to protect the biological and cultural richness still embodied in this remarkable region.

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