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Mapping the World’s Intact Forest Landscapes by Remote Sensing

Peter Potapov, Geographic Information Science Center of Excellence, South Dakota State University
Aleksey Yaroshenko, Greenpeace Russia
Svetlana Turubanova, Greenpeace Russia
Maxim Dubinin, Dept. of Forest Ecology & Management, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Lars Laestadius, World Resources Institute
Christoph Thies, Greenpeace International
Dmitry Aksenov, Transparent World
Aleksey Egorov, Greenpeace Russia
Yelena Yesipova, Transparent World
Igor Glushkov, Transparent World
Mikhail Karpachevskiy, Biodiversity Conservation Center
Anna Kostikova, Transparent World
Alexander Manisha, Transparent World
Ekaterina Tsybikova, Transparent World
Ilona Zhuravleva, Greenpeace Russia


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Protection of large natural forest landscapes is a highly important task to help fulfill different international strategic initiatives to protect forest biodiversity, to reduce carbon emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, and to stimulate sustainable forest management practices. This paper introduces a new approach for mapping large intact forest landscapes (IFL), defined as an unbroken expanse of natural ecosystems within areas of current forest extent, without signs of significant human activity, and having an area of at least 500 km2. We have created a global IFL map using existing fine-scale maps and a global coverage of high spatial resolution satellite imagery. We estimate the global area of IFL within the current extent of forest ecosystems (forest zone) to be 13.1 million km2 or 23.5% of the forest zone. The vast majority of IFL are found in two biomes: Dense Tropical and Subtropical Forests (45.3%) and Boreal Forests (43.8%). The lowest proportion of IFL is found in Temperate Broadleaf and Mixed Forests. The IFL exist in 66 of the 149 countries that together make up the forest zone. Three of them—Canada, Russia, and Brazil—contain 63.8% of the total IFL area. Of the world’s IFL area, 18.9% has some form of protection, but only 9.7% is strictly protected, i.e., belongs to IUCN protected areas categories I–III. The world IFL map presented here is intended to underpin the development of a general strategy for nature conservation at the global and regional scales. It also defines a baseline for monitoring deforestation and forest degradation that is well suited for use with operational and cost-effective satellite data. All project results and IFL maps are available on a dedicated web site (

Key words

Forest degradation, Global forest assessment, Intactness, Landsat, Remote sensing, Wilderness

Copyright © 2008 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article  is under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.  You may share and adapt the work for noncommercial purposes provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087