The researchers assessed primary-forest changes at the national scale and modelled potential changes assuming that population growth, logging activity and maintenance infrastructure will remain the same. The analysis was based on mid-resolution satellite imagery and results of forest cover/change detection assessment of intact forest landscapes – an approach that allowed the team to analyse intact and non-intact or degraded primary forests separately. The results show that almost 1% of primary forests have been cleared and that 2% of intact forests are degraded.

Intact primary-forest degradation rates are high in Nord-Kivu, Equateur and Kasai-Occidental provinces. Between 2000–2005 and 2005–2010, losses have increased and primary-forest degradation in protected areas has been significantly less. In logging areas, on the other hand, it has been much higher than for the rest of the country. At the same time, primary-forest loss has been much less within protected areas and likely the same in logged regions.

Predicted degradation rates of intact primary forest between 2010–2020 are 4% – that is, twice as high as in the previous decade. To validate this point, we used GLAS (Geoscience Laser Altimetry System) – derived vegetation height data that showed significant structural differences between all types of forests.

National conservation strategies could benefit from our results and propose zoning for primary forests. We believe that it is essential to preserve core intact primary forest areas and manage the remaining primary forests in a sustainable way.

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