Figure 1 ‘Blue marble’ image showing global forested areas. Copyright: NASA Visible Earth team. http://visibleearth.nasa.gov/
Tropical forests cover almost 14 million square kilometers globally, extending from the neo-tropics and the vast rainforests of Amazonia through Africa and Asia across to the islands of the Pacific region (Figure 1) These are truly remarkable places; home to the richest terrestrial biodiversity on the planet, as well as providing a host of vital ecosystem services and values of significance locally and globally (Gardner, Barlow, Chazdon et al., 2009). At the same time these forests are under tremendous pressure. They are greatly reduced in comparison to their former extent and continue to suffer high rates of deforestation and degradation (Table 1.1).
The forests of Southeast Asia are amongst the most ancient on the planet, dating back over 70 million years. They stretch from Indochina, through the Malay Peninsula, across to the islands that make up Indonesia and the Philippines and encompass in excess of 2 million square kilometers. These forests represent an area of outstanding biodiversity value; Indonesia alone holds a remarkably rich biological heritage; home to 10 percent of the world’s known plant species, 17 percent of bird species, 16 percent of reptiles and amphibians, 25 percent of all fish as well as 12 percent of all mammal species including the critically endangered Sumatran orangutan (Pongo abelli) (Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund, 2001). They are also home to an estimated 90 million forest-dependent people (Colchester & Fay, 2007). Only a century ago, the country was densely forested, with trees covering an estimated 80-95 percent of total land area. Widespread deforestation, however, has taken its toll and today this figure has fallen to well under 50 percent (Bradshaw, Sodhi and Brook, 2009). The most recent Global Forest Resources Assessment (FAO, 2010) indicates that over half of Indonesia’s remaining forests are earmarked for production, of which half again are primary forest, the majority of which are in Papua and Kalimantan, a stronghold for the endangered Bornean orangutan (Pongo pygmaeus). Similar patterns of loss are seen in the biodiverse forests of Malaysia. Between the 1950s and 1990s, Malaysia experienced significant deforestation such that in the 30 years to 1992, the total forest area in Peninsular Malaysia declined from 65 percent to 46 percent. Today, most of Peninsular Malaysia’s primary forests have been logged, while Sarawak has also experienced significant deforestation. By the early 1990s, about 60 percent of Sarawak’s land had been licensed for timber extraction and large areas have since been logged. Increased land pressure from urbanization and agri-business in Peninsular Malaysia and Sabah has meant the major timber productions have shifted to Sarawak where human populations are less dense and forests not yet depleted (Jomo, Chang and Khoo, 2004).