Deforestation among Riparian Lake Communities in Northwestern Democratic Republic Of Congo

Forests are being destroyed at alarming rates across the world. Globally, 13 million hectares of forests were converted or lost annually from 2000 to 2010 (FAO, 2010; Hansen et al., 2013a). Remote sensing has been used to quantify forests and their attributes for more than 70 years (Carneggie and Lauer, 1966; Knippling, 1970; Bwangoy et al., 2010; Potapov et al., 2012). For example, forest quantification has been used to determine agricultural patterns (Aldrich, 1968; Xia et al., 2014), wildlife management (Croon et al., 1968; Carneggie, 1970; de Wasseige et al., 2009), soil management (Baumgardner et al., 1969; Luney and Dill, 1970), and for detecting forest fires (Parker and Wolff, 1965; de Wasseige et al., 2012). The forest of the Congo Basin Forest is the world’s second largest tropical rainforest. However, it has been sparsely researched in relation to its size and importance (Malhi et al., 2013; Bwangoy et al., 2010); most studies on forests have been conducted in the Amazon, Southeast Asia, the Boreal zone, or, primarily, the world’s temperate forests.

The Congo Basin has experienced 2-3% forest cover loss per decade over the past 25-30 years (Duveiller et al., 2008; Hansen et al., 2013; Ernst et al., 2013; Tyukavina et al., 2013). The combination of modern technological and development pressures and increasing subsistence agricultural practices has led to extensive clearing of primary  forests (Bwangoy et al., 2013). Bandundu and Equateur Provinces, the third and fourth largest provinces in the Democratic Republic of Congo, have experienced 2.4% and 2.3% forest loss respectively from 2000 to 2010 (OSFAC, 2010). Deforestation for these two provinces is high in the absolute sense within the country, even though the deforestation rates presented above are relatively low in comparison to other rainforests. These forests are at risk for increasingly rapid deforestation in the future because of high population density and limited amount of exploitable non-forested land. This raises fear for food supply (de Wasseige et al., 2009; Dirmeyer et al., 2014).

This paper focuses on the Lake Télé-Lake Tumba Landscape in these provinces to better understand (1) to what extent deforestation within the landscape is detectable by satellite; (2) which communities are experiencing high, moderate, or low amounts of deforestation; and (3) to what extent is deforestation occurring within the landscape detectable by local communities.

State of DRC Forests

Sixty-seven percent of the land cover in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is forest. The forests of the Congo Basin are composed of a variety of ecosystems, such as deltas, dense evergreen forest, and wetlands. These forests contain some of the richest concentrations of terrestrial biodiversity in the world (de Wasseige et al., 2010).

The region is home to over 10,000 plant species, 80% of which are endemic; 1,000 bird species, 36% of which are endemic and 16% threatened; and approximately 400 mammal species, with twenty-three species considered threatened or endangered – including the western, eastern, and mountain gorillas, the common chimpanzee, the pygmy chimpanzee  (also known as the bonobo), and the forest elephant. These forests and the resources they provide support over 40 million people in DRC alone and 75 million across the Congo Basin.

Study Area

The Lake Télé-Lake Tumba Landscape (LTLT) (Figure 1) is the world’s largest swamp forest and the largest wetland in Africa (Seyler et al., 2010). Located in the heart of the Congo Forest, the LTLT Landscape covers a 126,000 km2 spread between eastern Republic of Congo and northwestern DRC (de Wasseige et al., 2010). The vegetation in the area is broken down into four categories, where inundatable forest accounts for 58.3%, dense forest accounts for 31.2%, forest-cultivation mosaic accounts for 2.8%, savannahs account for 3.1% and the remaining 5.9% is water (OSFAC, 2010). There are three lakes within this landscape: Lake Télé, located in the Republic of Congo; and Lakes Tumba and Mai Ndombe, located in the DRC. In 2007, the area between Lake Tumba, the Ngiri River, and Lake Mai-Ndombe was named the world’s largest wetland of international importance established by the Ramsar Convention. It also comprises the largest freshwater mass in Africa. The 65,696 km2 area of the DRC side is also the largest uninterrupted Ramsar site in the world (de Wasseige et al., 2012).

The LTLT forests support a high diversity of animals and people. There are many species of megafauna that can be found in the landscape. Between Lake Mai Ndombe and the Lokoro River, approximately 120 fish species, the Allen swamp monkey, the Congo clawless otter, the giant otter shrew, several kingfisher species, and brown semi-aquatic snakes have been recorded (Seyler et al., 2010). In DRC, there are approximately 250 ethnic groups speaking over 700 languages (International Rescue Committee, 2006). The populations living on the DRC side of LTLT are ethnically diverse and unevenly distributed.

The Mongo group, also known as the Bantu, is the majority group, and they cohabitate with the minority Twa group. The majority of people from all ethnic backgrounds base their livelihoods on forest resources, receiving their dietary protein from forests and waterways (de Wasseige et al., 2009; Inogwabini, 2014). Although the majority of the population in the landscape is clustered around the provincial seat of Mbandaka, there are also varying amounts of deforestation happening around the lakes within the landscape that need to be further investigated.


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