Deforestation is the act or process of removing trees from forested lands by cutting or burning. There are many reasons for deforestation. Logs are sold as a commodity and cleared lands can be used for pastures and human settlements. The damage caused by deforestation, however, can be great. If land is not somewhat reforested it can cause damage to habitats for wildlife and other plant life, affect the aridity of the region, and possibly encourage degradation into wasteland. Due to negligent forest management, lack of awareness, and poor environmental laws, deforestation is allowed to continue on a large scale. Deforestation is an ongoing issue in many countries and as such is causing irreversible damage. Extinction of species, changes in climate, displacement of indigenous people and desertification are all caused by deforestation.
Deforestation mainly occurs because forested land is not practical in the economy. However, there have never been any confirmed studies to place the value of forests economically. As a result people who own forested lands lose money by not clearing them which affects the welfare of society as a whole. In well developed countries, such as the USA, forested land becomes more important. In less developed nations where there are more forests, there is not as much at risk. These under-developed countries now feel the stress as the developed world criticize them for deforesting. Some developing countries feel that it is hypocritical for rich nations to have the poor nations bear the cost of preservation when the rich created the problem.
Some figures show that deforestation can be split up among 4 main factors: 5% caused by cattle ranching, 19% over-logging, 22% from palm oil plantations, and 54% from slash-and-burn farming. It is nearly impossible to determine the exact rate of deforestation as well. The World Bank estimated that Bolivia, Peru and Colombia have high percentages of illegal logging operations. In the Amazon basin deforestation is growing twice as fast as previously thought. On the other hand, according to one study, global deforestation declined during the 1980s, and more rapidly so in the 1990s and even more from 2000 to 2005. It is estimated that global forest cover could increase by 10 percent within the next 50 years. Developing tropical nations are accountable for the highest numbers of deforestation, but, even there rates have declined in the past 15 to 20 years.
Despite the reduction in deforestation over the past 25 to 30 years there remains a serious global ecological, economical, and social problem. 800,000 square miles of forest are lost each year, of which 350,000 square miles are previously undisturbed by man. Since the mid-1800s nearly half (3,000,000 sq mi) of all (6,200,000 sq mi) the mature tropical forests on the planet have been cleared.
Another area that deforestation affects is climate and global warming. Deforestation is sometimes said to be one of the major causes of the greenhouse effect. Tropical deforestation is responsible for close to 20% of the world greenhouse gas emissions. It is widely believed by most people that rainforests contribute a large amount of the world’s oxygen, although most scientists accept that rainforests provide little net oxygen and deforestation poses no real threat to atmospheric oxygen levels. However, the burning of forested lands releases tons of CO2 which contributes to global warming.
The water cycle can be disrupted by deforestation. Trees extract water from the earth through their roots and release it into the air. When forest is removed, the water can no longer be extracted efficiently and the region may become drier. Deforestation reduces the amount of water in the soil and moisture in the atmosphere. The removal of trees also cause erosion and can cause flooding or landslides. Aquifers are affected as well by deforestation. Deforested lands also lose the ability to intercept and retain precipitation properly and as a result water may pool more easily and cause rapid runoff that can cause flash flooding and more localized floods. According to one study, in deforested regions in north and northwest China, the average annual precipitation decreased by more than 30% between the 1950s and 1980s. About 30% of the Earth’s fresh water is produced by tropical rainforests.
Deforestation is affecting plant and animal life on a global scale and causing the potential extinction of many species directly. Species-area models are used to determine the impact deforestation has on plant and animal life, however, there are no significantly proven facts from these models, and it is hard to predict if there is, or will be, a large scale loss of species. Although, it has been estimated that we are losing 137 plant, animal and insect species every day due to rainforest deforestation. This equates to 50,000 species a year. Predictions have been made that at least 40% of the plant and animal species in Southeast Asia could be wiped out in the 21st century. Other estimates say that these predictions are widely inaccurate and that most plant and animal species are widespread and stable.
Prior to the arrival of European-Americans about 50% of the United States land area was forest, that equals about 1 billion acres. For about 300 years land was continually cleared and for every person added to the population, 2 to 4 acres of land was cleared and cultivated. This trend slowed in the early 1900s when crop lands became abundant enough to sustain the population. As abandoned farmland reverted back to forest, the amount of forest land began to increase and in 1963 the United States had an estimated 760 million acres of forest. Since then, there has been a steady decrease of forest area. At the current rate of deforestation, an estimated 23 million acres of forest will be lost from 1998 to 2050.
Efforts have been attempted for many centuries to stop or slow deforestation as it has been known for a long time that deforestation can cause environmental damage sufficient enough in some cases to cause irreversible damage to society structure. In areas where “slash-and-burn” is practiced, switching to “slash-and-char” would help prevent rapid deforestation and degradation of soils. This charring method provides durable carbon emissions and benefit’s the soil greatly. It brings the creation of terra preta (a rich soil that is able to regenerate itself).
Reforestation and afforestation are increasing in many parts of the world despite the continued decline in forested lands in other areas. The amount of woodland has increased in 22 of the world’s 50 most wooded nations. Global forest cover is expected to increase by 10% by 2050. The Chinese government claims that 1 billion trees have been planted in China every single year since 1982. The people of China celebrate Planting Holiday every year on March 12. They are also trying to halt the expansion of the Gobi Desert by planting trees (the Green Wall of China-project). This project has not been successful as 75% of trees planted die off after planting. Despite this, the forest coverage of China has grown from 12% in the 1980s to 16.5% today.
The Arbor Day Foundation has started the Rain Forest Rescue program to help prevent deforestation through charitable donations. Money is used to buy up and preserve rainforest land before lumber companies can buy and clear-cut it. Once the land is bought by the Arbor Day Foundation, it is protected from future deforestation. Other programs are focusing on similar goals. Greenpeace has mapped out forests that are still intact and published the information on the internet. HowStuffWorks made a thematic map that shows the amount of forests present before man arrived, and current levels of forest since man arrived. These maps provide a good key of how much afforestation is needed to repair the damage caused by man.
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