Thirty years of forest-cover change in Western Rwanda during periods of wars and environmental policy shifts
Human activities, exacerbated by periods of armed conflict, have impacted the biodiversity-rich forests in Western Rwanda during recent decades, creating a need to enhance forest protection and restoration policies that address widespread environmental degradation in this mountainous region. Contrasting observations and the lack of recent forest-cover maps make reliable assessments of forest-cover change in Western Rwanda difficult. We investigate forest-cover dynamics across Western Rwanda between 1986 and 2019, using the random forest algorithm to classify a suite of Landsat-5, Landsat-7, and Landsat-8 images to produce forest-cover maps at quadrennial intervals. Approximately 19% (23,412 ha) of the initial forest extent was lost between 1986 and 2006, primarily due to pastureland expansion and forest conversions associated with armed conflicts. Forest loss peaked between 2010 and 2014, a period corresponding to rapid extension of public infrastructures and overexploitation of forest products to supply the growing urban areas. Western Rwanda experienced a 17% increase in forest cover between 1986 (144,792 ha) and 2019 (169,197 ha), due to the establishment of tree plantations around protected areas and throughout agricultural land-uses. The published forest datasets for Western Rwanda either overestimate forest area due to confusions with agricultural land cover or they underestimate deforestation due to the complex mountainous terrain. Ongoing forest losses and increasing isolation of natural forests pose significant threats to the biodiversity habitats and the sustainable supply of ecosystem services in this densely populated, globally important biodiversity hotspot region.
Regional Environmental Change
Arakwiye, Bernadette; Rogan, John; and Eastman, J. Ronald, "Thirty years of forest-cover change in Western Rwanda during periods of wars and environmental policy shifts" (2021). Geography. 623.