Analysis: 85% of Forest Throughout the Americas Is Threatened

NEW YORK – January 15, 2018 – New analysis published today in Conservation Letters shows that drastic measures must be taken in order to protect naturally forested areas throughout North, Central, and South America, as well as the Caribbean. Using criteria developed by the IUCN Red List of Ecosystems, a group of international scientists determined that as much as 85 percent of current forest area is threatened, primarily due to human development. EcoHealth Alliance, a nonprofit working at the intersection of animal, environmental, and human health on a global scale, which participated in the analysis, has previously determined that as many as 31 percent of outbreaks of new and emerging disease are due to land-use change like deforestation.

The analysis also includes by-country recommendations to reduce threat levels, such as forest restoration, halting deforestation, and resource management. The United States, for instance, should focus predominantly on halting deforestation, whereas Brazil–home to the vast majority of the Amazon rainforest–should prioritize managing resource use.

This map shows the optimal combination of strategies for each country analyzed in the paper (Photo: Conservation Letters)

"It was our intention not to scare, but to provide a realistic picture of the dire threat the Western Hemisphere faces," paper co-author and EcoHealth Alliance’s Associate Vice President for Conservation and Health Dr. Carlos Zambrana-Torrelio said. "While the threat of deforestation is clear and present, it’s often more difficult to conceptualize an effective solution. This analysis–the first of its kind–will provide governments and other stakeholders with clear guidance as to where to focus their efforts."

Zoonotic diseases–those which are spread from wild or domestic animals to humans like Ebola, SARS, influenza, and rabies–represent 60 percent of all human diseases.

"The effects of deforestation include the obvious: increased odds of natural disasters like flooding, increased global temperatures, and the release of harmful greenhouse gasses," EcoHealth Alliance President Dr. Peter Daszak said. "But EcoHealth Alliance’s groundbreaking research has proven its link to disease spread as well. As forests disappear, so too do the natural habitats of many animals which are then focused to re-settle closer to human settlements. This increased likelihood of contact creates exponentially greater odds of their spreading any diseases they may carry to us."

In service of its mission of using scientific research to mitigate pandemic risk globally, EcoHealth Alliance scientists have long been dedicated to curbing the threat of deforestation. Previously, EcoHealth Alliance scientists developed a tool for assigning economic value to protected forest, in terms of costs spared and ecosystem services. Decision-makers in various countries worldwide have used this analysis in order to make the case for sustainable development.

About EcoHealth Alliance
Building on over 45 years of groundbreaking science, EcoHealth Alliance is a global nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting wildlife, environmental, and public health from the emergence of disease. Approximately 60 percent of emerging infectious diseases like Ebola, HIV, Zika, SARS, MERS, and West Nile virus have all originated in animals before spilling over to human populations. Using environmental and health data covering the past 60 years, EcoHealth Alliance scientists created the first-ever global disease hotspots map that identified at-risk regions to determine where research and field work are needed to help predict and prevent the next pandemic crisis. That work is the foundation of EcoHealth Alliance's rigorous, science-based approach working in nearly 30 countries worldwide. EcoHealth Alliance's strength is founded on innovations in research, training, global partnerships, capacity building, and policy initiatives.
Press contact: Anthony Ramos, (212) 380-4469 or ramos@ecohealthalliance.org

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