(Corrects university affiliation in third paragraph)
By Environment Correspondent Alister Doyle
OSLO, July 30 (Reuters) - Forests in East Africa have shrunk over the past years, especially around the fringes of parks, complicating efforts to protect wildlife and fight climate change, a study showed on Monday.
The report indicated that forest cover decreased by about 9.3 percent overall from 2001-09 in about 12 nations studied. Losses were biggest in Uganda and Rwanda, while only southern Sudan - which is now the independent country South Sudan - made fractional gains.
“The decrease in forest cover is strongest just outside protected areas,” Rob Marchant of the University of York, who co-ordinated the study in the journal PLOS One by experts in Britain, Denmark and the United States, told Reuters.
“Outside the parks there is very little legislation to prevent people from chopping down trees for timber or charcoal,” he said. The study concluded there had been “mixed success” for protected areas in East Africa.
Population growth outside parks puts pressure on species of animals and plants. Loss of forests contributes to climate change - trees soak up carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas, when they grow and release it when they burn or rot.
The losses of forests were high in bands 10 km (6 miles) from parks and other protected areas, where many people were drawn to live by jobs in forest management or tourism.
Forest area inside national park boundaries increased by 3.2 percent overall, thanks largely to successful expansion in Tanzania. Overall, forests in 26 of 48 national parks got bigger or stayed the same size, while they shrank in the remaining 22.
Among recommendations to improve management was to get local communities more involved in protecting forests, such as in the Mukogodo Forest Reserve in Kenya.
Marchant said the study also showed the difficulties of designing U.N. schemes meant to reward countries for preserving their forests as a way to slow global warming.
Such schemes backfire if forest protection in one area simply means that trees are chopped down elsewhere.
According to U.N. estimates, the forestry sector, worldwide, contributes about 17 percent to global warming from human sources, mainly because of deforestation in developing nations. (Editing by Alessandra Rizzo)