UNITED NATIONS, Feb. 2 (UPI) -- The rate of forest loss across the world has slowed, driven largely by a switch from felling to planting in Asia, a United Nations report says.
The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization's State of the World's Forests report says China, Vietnam, the Philippines and India have all seen their forested areas increase in size, and there are gains in Europe and North America, although forests are being lost in Africa and Latin America to a rising demand for food and firewood, the BBC reported Wednesday.
Forests cover about 15 million square miles or about a third of Earth's land surface, the FAO says, urging governments to research ways of generating income from forests that do not require chopping down trees.
Eduardo Rojas-Briales, assistant director-general of the FAO forestry department, said Latin American countries where forest loss continues could take lessons from East Asian policies, in particular the adoption of land-use planning.
"China has increased its forest by 3 million hectares (11,500 square miles) per year -- no country has ever done anything like this before, it's an enormous contribution," he said.
However, as old-growth forest disappears in some regions of the world, environment groups are pressing for increased attention on these areas and their special importance for nature.
"Forests must be seen as more than just a group of trees," Olivier Langrand of Conservation International said. "Forests already play an enormous economic role in the development of many countries as a source of timber, food, shelter and recreation, and have an even greater potential that needs to be realized in terms of water provision, erosion prevention and carbon sequestration."