In Syria, 76% of the forests are located in the Syrian coast region. This region is witnessing a rapid depletion of forest cover during the conflict that broke out in mid-2011. To date, there have been no studies providing accurate, reliable, and comprehensive data on the qualitative and quantitative aspects of forest change dynamics and the underlying drivers behind this change. In this study, changes in the dynamics of forest cover and its density between 2010 and 2020 were detected and analyzed using multi-temporal Landsat images. This study also analyzed the relationship between changes in forest cover and selected physical and socio-demographic variables associated with the drivers of change. The results revealed that the study area witnessed a significant decrease in the total forest area (31,116.0 ha, 24.3%) accompanied by a considerable decrease in density, as the area of dense forests decreased by 11,778.0 ha (9.2%) between 2010 and 2020. The change in forest cover was driven by a variety of different factors related to the conflict. The main drivers were changes in economic and social activities, extensive exploitation of forest resources, frequent forest fires, and weakness of state institutions in managing natural resources and environmental development. Forest loss was also linked to the expansion of cultivated area, increase in population and urban area. Fluctuating climatic conditions are not a major driver of forest cover dynamics in the study area. This decrease in forest area and density reflects sharp shifts in the natural environment during the study period. In the foreseeable future, it is not possible to determine whether the changes in forest cover and its density will be permanent or temporary. Monitoring changes in forest cover and understanding the driving forces behind this change provides quantitative and qualitative information to improve planning and decision-making. The results of this study may draw the attention of decision-makers to take immediate actions and identify areas of initial intervention to protect current the forests of the Syrian coast region from loss and degradation, as well as develop policies for the sustainable management of forest resources in the long term.
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