Haiti has more forest than previously reported: land change 2000–2015

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Estimates of forest cover have important political, conservation, and funding implications, but methods vary greatly. Haiti has often been cited as one of the most deforested countries in the world, yet estimates of forest cover range from <1% to 33%. Here, we analyze land change for seven land cover classes (forest, shrub land, agriculture/pasture, plantation, urban/infrastructure, barren land, and water) between 2000 and 2015 using Landsat imagery (30 m resolution) in the Google Earth Engine platform. Forest cover was estimated at 26% in 2000 and 21% in 2015. Although forest cover is declining in Haiti, our quantitative analysis resulted in considerably higher forest cover than what is usually reported by local and international institutions. Our results determined that areas of forest decline were mainly converted to shrubs and mixed agriculture/pasture. An important driver of forest loss and degradation could be the high demand for charcoal, which is the principal source of cooking fuel. Our results differ from other forest cover estimates and forest reports from national and international institutions, most likely due to differences in forest definition, data sources, spatial resolution, and methods. In the case of Haiti, this work demonstrates the need for clear and functional definitions and classification methods to accurately represent land use/cover change. Regardless of how forests are defined, forest cover in Haiti will continue to decline unless corrective actions are taken to protect remaining forest patches. This can serve as a warning of the destructive land use patterns and can help us target efforts for better planning, management, and conservation.