A new tool that tracks global forest change shows that the Earth's forests are being destroyed at an alarming rate -- and Canada is among the countries where much of that loss is taking place.

The Global Forest Change map -- a joint project between researchers at the University of Maryland and Google -- tracks the losses and gains of the world's forests over a 12-year span.

Using more than half a million satellite images taken between 2000 and 2012, researchers illustrated forest change through an interactive map; it unfortunately shows that the losses greatly outpace the gains.

Globally, 2.3 million square kilometers of forest were lost between 2000 and 2012 and 800,000 square kilometers of new forest were gained, according to the study, published online on Nov. 14 in the journal Science.

In Canada, the map shows significant forest loss in in British Columbia, northern Saskatchewan and Quebec.


"Saskatchewan and northern Alberta are clearly losing boreal forests at alarming rates for industrial extraction," said Valerie Langer, of ForestEthics.

Langer told CTVNews.ca that mining activities and the extraction of the oilsands can lead to the "bulldozing down" of natural habitat of woodland caribou and songbirds.

In B.C., Langer said the pine beetle – which the provincial government estimates to have killed 723 million cubic metres of timber and affected 18.3 million hectares of land – is behind much of the forest loss.

Langer added that a growing demand for pulp and paper in China is behind increasing activities at paper mills in B.C. and Quebec.

She said Alaska's boreal forest is being removed for oil and gas extraction and warned that if three proposed liquid natural gas plants are developed in Kitimat, B.C., "that is what that province's north will look like in a decade."

While the map shows some forest gain throughout the country, Langer noted that those forests are likely second or third-growth forests.

"Most of Vancouver Island, for example, has been converted from vibrant forests to young tree farms that do not sustain the natural range of species," she said. "Lack of lichen growing on old boreal trees is one of the key reasons that almost all of Canada's woodland caribou herds are currently predicted to die out before the next century."

Worldwide, Paraguay, Malaysia and Cambodia were found to have the highest rates of forest loss, while Brazil showed the largest decline in annual forest loss, cutting the annual rate in half from a high of approximately 40,000 square kilometers in 2003-2004 to 20,000 square kilometers in 2010-2011.

Indonesia had the largest increase in forest loss, more than doubling its annual loss during the study period to nearly 20,000 square kilometers lost in 2011-2012.