NASA, Google data show North Korea logging in protected area

May 17, 2010 by Brian Wallheimer

Using NASA satellite data and Google Earth, a Purdue University researcher has reported finding evidence that North Korea has been logging in what is designated as a protected United Nations forest preserve.

Guofan Shao, professor of geo-eco-informatics, studies the Mount Paekdu Biosphere Reserve, a 326,000-acre forest preserve in . Since many researchers are unable to visit North Korea, Shao studies changes in the forest using remote sensing data.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization operates the Man and Biosphere Programme, which tries to understand the ecological, social and economic dimensions of biodiversity loss and reduce that loss in 551 sites worldwide. Shao said Mount Paekdu - together with an adjacent biosphere in China - has the world's highest in a cool, temperate zone and is the habitat for many wildlife species, including the endangered .

"This mountain is significant in terms of biological conservation," he said.

Shao and his collaborators started noticing through that there were some changes happening to the land in North Korea. NASA images didn't have the resolution Shao needed to pinpoint what those changes were or how they were occurring, so he used , which has a clear resolution down to 1 meter.

"Particularly in the core area, there should be no human activity - no deforestation," Shao said. "But when you look at the data with Google Earth, you can see the forest is no longer intact."

Earth images show that extensive logging has taken place in the North Korean biosphere. Shao estimated that as much as 75 percent of the forest in the core area had been removed in large strips.

"It's kind of a disappointment," said Shao, whose results were published in the journal Biological Conservation. "Hopefully more organizations, including governments, will pay more attention to the conservation issues there."

Without communication with North Korean officials or the opportunity to visit the site - both of which Shao has requested - there is no way to tell why the trees had been removed. Shao speculated that the land may be used for agriculture since North Korea suffers severe food shortages.

"I don't really understand what's going on in the nature area," Shao said. "They may want to grow something, or they may just want the timber."

Forest on the China side, in the Changbaishan Biosphere Reserve, also was damaged, but not by logging. Overharvesting of pine nuts damaged nearly every pine tree in certain zones of the reserve and all but eliminated a food source for about 22 species of forest wildlife. Pine seed harvesting in the biosphere was banned in 2007, but pine tree populations declined because of the harvesting.

Shao said he would continue to monitor the biospheres for changes in the landscape using remote sensing data and that he hopes the study will shed light on deforestation issues in East Asia. He said it is urgent to develop cross-border strategies that can combat both detectable and hidden degradations to preserve forests of ecological importance.

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User comments : 6

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in7x
4.5 / 5 (8) May 17, 2010
They need the wood for their fusion reactors.
goldengod
1 / 5 (1) May 17, 2010
The poor starving masses literally have nothing else so it is inevitable that they will use the only resources they have access to. Anyone recall what Haiti was like before the earthquake? Same thing is happening in North Korea. The only solution is a massive population decrease most likely brought on by nuclear war or forced starvation. not sure which will happen first.
DaveGee
5 / 5 (1) May 17, 2010
You really mean to say that a crazy dictator isn't abiding by a policy imposed on his land by an international organization he doesn't have total control over?!?!

NO WAY!
MikeLisanke
5 / 5 (1) May 18, 2010
The UN has designated protected world forests? Does Google and NASA enforce logging prohibitions in these protected forests?
MarkyMark
not rated yet May 18, 2010
The UN has designated protected world forests? Does Google and NASA enforce logging prohibitions in these protected forests?


Yes they do using Lasers ;)
theophys
not rated yet May 18, 2010
Several things pop out at me here.
1)Google earth has better resolution than NASA sattelites

2)North Korea is putting siberian tigers at risk of extinction

3)the UN seems to think it has the power to protect forests in nonmember states

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