Whether it’s a 300 foot high Giant Sequoia tree in California with a volume of 50,000 cubic feet, or a small Umbrella Thorn Acacia in Africa that drills its taproot down 115 feet to survive in a region where the rainfall might not reach two inches for the year, trees and the forests they form have captured the imagination of people and societies from the dawn of time. We climb and build tree-houses in them as kids, shepherds retreat to their shade on a hot day, and from them come the homes and sustenance for billions of people.

Forests once covered nearly half the Earth’s land surface but due to agricultural expansion, this has declined to about one-third. Despite the decline, forests still play a vital role in moderating the Earth’s climate by regulating the water cycle and transferring huge amounts of water from the soil into the air, which in turn influences rainfall patterns and storms.

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Photo credit Chris Linder.

Advancing Science. Informing Solutions.

  • WHRC uses satellite images to map the area covered by forests and calculate the rates at which forests are being cut in different parts of the world. We combine these mapping studies with on-the-ground measurements of the amount of carbon contained in forests, so that we can calculate how much carbon intact forests take out of the atmosphere and how much forest cutting releases into the atmosphere.
  • We relate rates of forest cutting to studies of the economic pressures faced by farmers and ranchers. This helps us understand the root causes of deforestation and to search for alternatives that conserve forests while meeting economic needs.
  • We show relationships between changing forest cover and the amount of water flowing in rivers, including during floods and droughts.
  • We contribute to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) by helping to design ways for countries in tropical regions to receive payments for maintaining their forests. This helps the inhabitants economically, prevents forest-carbon from going into the atmosphere and helps conserve the forests.
  • We train and educate scientists, forest managers, and representatives of government agencies in tropical countries so that they are better able to manage their own forests.
  • We conduct studies with local farmers in developing countries to demonstrate how much economic value they can extract from their forests.
  • We identify options to connect parks or other parcels of forest with corridors of land between these areas that could be reforested so that wildlife can migrate among these areas. We also identify areas that can be reforested to create new wildlife habitat and to soak up more carbon from the air.