Deforestation is one of the most significant issues of our time; considerable measures must be taken to prevent further pillaging of our unique forest resource.
Ninety percent of the earth?s trees between three and four hundred years old have been cut down. The remaining ten percent is all we will ever have (Gallant, 97). The definition of deforestation by the Random House Dictionary of the English Language is “to divest or clear of forests or trees.? Deforestation is one of the most significant issues of our time; considerable measures must be taken to prevent further pillaging of our unique forest resource.
There are approximately four-hundred million hectares of forest in the world, nearly twenty-five percent of the world’s land area. Close to fifty-eight percent of the forests are found in the temperate/boreal regions and forty-two percent in the tropics. During the last millennium people have survived utilizing the forests. Forest products range from simple fuel-wood and building poles to sophisticated natural medicines, high-tech wood based manufacturing materials and paper products. Environmental benefits include water flow control, soil conservation, and atmospheric purification. Brazil’s Amazon contains half of the world?s tropical rain forests. The forests cover a region ten times the size of Texas. Only about ten percent of Brazil’s rain forests have been cut to date but cutting goes on at an uncontrollable rate (Westoby, 177).
Since pre-agricultural times the world’s forests have declined in size approximately twenty percent. Temperate forests have lost thirty-five percent of their area. Sub-tropical woody savannas and deciduous forests have lost twenty-five percent. Evergreen forests which are now under the most pressure have lost six percent; they are inaccessible and sparsely populated and have lost the least. With new technology such as satellites systems, low altitude photography and side looking radar scientists now figure that the world is losing about twenty million hectares of tropical forests annually. It has been suggested that the high deforestation rates are caused partially by the fact that the new surveys are more accurate and thus reveal old deforestation rates that were miscalculated with previous methods (Westoby, 202).
At first there was concern only among foresters about deforestation but now the public has created organizations such as Green Peace to facilitate increased awareness and reduce deforestation. The Food and Agriculture Organization (F.A.O.) has worked mainly within the forestry community to find new and better ways to manage the forests. In 1985 there was the introduction of the Tropical Forestry Action Plan or T.F.A.P. This plan involved the F.A.O, United Nations, World Bank, other developmental agencies, and several other multi-national government organizations; together they developed a new strategy. More than sixty countries have decided to prepare national forestry action plans to manage their forests (Gallant, 381).
Tropical deforestation has various direct causes: permanent conversion of forests to agricultural land, logging, demand for fuel-wood, forest fires and drought. Slash and burn clearing is the single greatest cause of tropical rain forest destruction world wide. Air pollution is also a major threat to the forests in the northern hemisphere and is expected to increase. Reduced growth, defoliation and eventual death occur in most affected forests. From 1850 to 1980 the greatest forest losses occurred in North America, Middle East, South Asia and China. The highest rates of deforestation per year are now in South America and Asia (Zuckerman, 219).
Over the last two decades the world became interested in the loss of tropical forests as a result of expanding agriculture, ranching and grazing, fuel-wood collection and timber exportation. The consequences are increased soil erosion, irregular stream flow, climate change and loss of biodiversity. Deforestation is second only to the burning of fossil fuels as a human source of atmospheric carbon dioxide. Almost all carbon dioxide released due to deforestation originates in the tropics. Annual global estimates of carbon dioxide released by deforestation are 2.8 billion metric tons. Deforestation accounts for about thirty-three percent of the annual emissions of carbon dioxide by humans. In 1987 eleven countries were responsible for eighty-two percent of the net carbon dioxide released: Brazil, Indonesia, Colombia, Cote d’Ivoire, Thailand, Laos, Nigeria, Vietnam, Philippines, Myanmar and India. During 1987 when there was intense land clearing by fire in Brazil’s Amazon, more than 1.2 million metric tons of carbon dioxide is believed to have been released (Zuckerman, 299-303).
Lowering the consumption of paper products will greatly reduce some of the burden on our forests. For example removal of your name from junk/bulk mailing lists. Writing or photocopying on both sides of the paper. Recycling waste paper and buying recycled paper products, use of cloth shopping bags, napkins, towels, and diapers in place of their respective paper counterparts is also obliging. Communicating our views to our elected representatives and building a movement toward forest protection are other steps that can be taken to promote forest conservation rather than deforestation.
In the past Northern California’s Pacific Lumber Company was a timber operation that set an example of good forestry practices. The family run firm harvested selectively from its one-hundred ninety-five acres of Redwood forest. These conservation efforts enabled Pacific Lumber to virtually guaranteed that the trees would last well
Into the next century. All that changed in 1985 when Charles Hurwitz of the New York based MAXXAM group bought the company. To pay the debt of the transaction Hurwitz doubled the logging rate. Since the late 1980’s huge tracts of land have been clear-cut. Economically this change in practice has been fruitful. Sure to follow this success is an inevitable financial and ecological disaster (Kerasote, 268).
Proper forestry practices can accommodate the demand for timber products without completely destroying our forest resource. Economic based forestry practices on the other hand will decimate this resource. If deforestation continues global warming will increase and a great natural resource will be lost (Westoby, 212). Now is the time to embrace forest conservation before the total deforestation of our planet destroys our ecosystem.
Zuckerman, Seth. Saving our Ancient Forests. Los Angeles: Living Planet Press,
Gallant, Roy. Earth’s Vanishing Forests. New York: Macmillan Publishing Company,