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Deforestation of Tropical Forests

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Deforestation of Tropical Rainforests
Gabriel Corbeil
ENV/GEO 120
March 20, 2015
Introduction:
Tropical rainforests represent an important percentage of the globes biodiversity. This ecosystem is estimated to house 50% of all plant, insect and animal life. Covering less than 7% of Earth’s surface, it nonetheless is attributed with producing 20% of our oxygen supply. This unique biome arcs like a green arrow along the equatorial line. Its primary locations are South America, Central Africa and South-East Asia. Each region is facing varying degrees of serious deforestation. The result being widespread loss of humid tropical forest “Between 1990 and 1997, 5.8 ± 1.4 million hectares of humid tropical forest were lost each year, with a further 2.3 ± 0.7 million hectares of forest visibly degraded.” (Achard et al. 2002) The heart of the problem lies beneath a tangled mess of socio-economic growth resulting in massive deforestation chiefly for the land. Commercial farmers using the land for cattle, soybeans, palm oil and monoculture tree farms take advantage of loose government regulations. The most common tactic for land for forest removal is “slash and burn” where existing vegetation is cut down and burned for fertilizer. This technique has major impacts on multiple cycles key to forest health. Most notably the hydrological cycle, the nitrogen cycle and the carbon cycle. If this trend continues there will be major changes in precipitation and air quality, both locally and globally. This combined with already worsening global climate problems may spell catastrophe. Due to differing levels of importance placed on this issue by the various countries involved solutions would have to be fine-tuned at the local level. Every solution needs stricter governmental regulation and policies enforcing sustainability, this coupled with standard forest management will curb significant contributions to deforestation. A global awareness campaign would help give incentive for countries to implement anti-deforestation laws. There will be implications felt worldwide if the rainforest ecosystem suffers an irreversible amount of damage, we as humans must make a conscious effort to change. This paper will take a comprehensive look at the current state of the tropical rainforest, including the causes of deforestation. Solutions and long term effects locally and globally will also be covered.
Destroying Earth’s Green Lung:
Firstly, we need to understand the definition of deforestation. “The clearing of trees, transforming a forest into cleared land.” Secondly, we need to understand the scope of this issue. Large tracts of land have been deforested globally for centuries, however none were as ecologically significant as the humid tropical rainforest biome. Deforestation reached an all-time high in rainforest regions from 1990 to 1997. “The annual deforested area for the humid tropics is estimated at 5.8 ± 1.4 × 106 ha, plus a further 2.3 ± 0.7 × 106 ha of forest where degradation could be visually inferred from satellite imagery.” (Achard et al. 2002) As an ecosystem this forest is estimated to be responsible for absorbing 1.5 billion tonnes of carbon annually. Essential for our long term fight against global warming, rainforests are potentially our biggest ally. The three continents with major rainforests; South-East Asia, South America and Africa are all deforesting at substantially different percentage rates. South-East Asia showed the highest percentage deforestation rate, African forests were being cut at half that rate. While Latin America had the lowest rate it made up for it by nearly matching South-East Asia’s annual forest loss of 2.5 × 106 ha year-1. (Achard et al. 2002) Expanses of land are being converted to the ecological opposite of a forest; cleared farm land. The conversion of forests to agriculture speeds along at a rate of 3.09 × 106 ha year−1. (Achard et al. 2002) This creates the largest possible impact on the land locally and globally.
Deforestation is bi-product of the ongoing socio-economic struggles countries with rainforest habitat are experiencing. The fault can be attributed to governments acquiescing to the terms of large scale commercialization. This in turn places pressure on low-income families, deforesting the land for larger crop yield seems only logical. In all three humid tropical forest regions commercial farming is playing a primary role in deforestation. In Amazonia expansion of cattle and soybean production are the chief contributors. (Malhi et al. 2008) This has a secondary effect of forest degradation along the forest edge, making the ecosystem more vulnerable. South-East Asia is also under threat from a growing legal/illegal tropical timber industry. The multi-fronted attack can be placed into three categories: (1) forest degradation into secondary vegetation by intensive logging, (2) conversion of forest areas into large-scale plantations and (3) expansion of small-holder dominated farming areas. (Miettinen et al. 2011) it is important to mention that South-East Asia is the only continent actively reforesting, nonetheless it results in forest degradation as mostly monocultures are planted. Most farmers use the “slash and burn” technique, this is used globally with disastrous environmental repercussions. The most obvious risk is a wide spread forest fire, however removing large amounts of vegetation interrupts natural cycles. In central Africa approximately 80% of the rural population are slash-and-burn cultivators. (Miettinen et al. 2011) Such a large percent of the population actively partake in deforestation, luckily impassable mountains protect much of this regions forest. Blame for the destruction of rainforests is often heaped on farmers because they are directly impacting the ecosystem. The real fault however lies in dark zone caused by a mixture of consumerism, international stakeholders, pitiable government regulations and fast-paced development.
The gap between the wealthy and the poor widened with technological advances made in industrialized countries. Developing nations normally have limited green alternatives, relying on the cheapest and fastest ways to do things. Large corporations allured by the savings then take advantage of governments desperate for international money. Brazil is one of the largest deforesting nation, there is only 67% of their rainforest left. This can be credited mainly to senseless policies regarding land allocation and a flawed agricultural credit system. The key provisions include: the virtual exemption of agricultural income from income taxation; rules of public land allocation that provide incentives for deforestation because the security of a claim is determined by land clearing; a progressive land tax that contains provisions that encourage the conversion of forest to crop land or pasture; a tax credit scheme aimed toward corporate livestock ranches that subsidizes inefficient ranches established on cleared forest land. (Binswanger 2002) Policies such as these create cycles of accelerated deforestation, a pattern of one-sided benefits and shared consequences develops. South-East Asia is undergoing a similar situation in many nations, Malaysia is one of such. The government is more directly implicated in deforestation, owning large scale palm oil plantations on previously forested land. The perpetuation of deforestation in this region is due to an outdated land code. The State's land code evolved from the commercial imperatives of securing land title to plantations for foreign investors. (McMorrow and Talip 1999) The land code has favoured agriculture over other uses and, more significantly, the conversion of forest to permanent cash crops. African nations are subjected to similar policies, favouring established companies over the small time farmer. There is also significant illegal felling in this region.
The current state of the rainforest in these three areas is deplorable. There must be better policies implemented, prioritizing the health of their unique ecosystem. This will only come about with the cooperation of international companies, NGOs and the local governments. The state of the tropical forest has been trending negatively for over 30 years, irreversible global climate change will occur unless this is reversed.
Future:
Humans have marred the Earth’s surface by cutting down colossal swathes of forested land. Many countries have nearly exhausted their entire forest supply, such as Nepal which has an estimated 23% of their original forest cover left. However none of these forests were as vital to our very existence as the rainforest biome is. There is no accurate way to predict how the Earth will react to losing its lungs. Estimates of the situation in the Amazon are projecting a temperature rise of 3.3°C in the next century. (Malhi et al. 2008) These are midrange appraisals and the full repercussions of the massive vegetation loss are unknown. Ruined tropical forest biomes leave gaping holes in the environment; major breaks in the hydrological and carbon cycles and widespread extinction of native species. Resulting in drastic possibly permanent effects on the local and global climate.
As we have been learning in ENV/GEO 120 the various cycles that occur naturally are imperative for a properly functioning ecosystem. Particularly in rainforests, which boast an unparalleled biomass per unit. Such dense phytomass requires efficient transportation and recycling systems. Rainforest trees have roots which extend up to 10 metres into the ground, this permits them to move large amounts of water and chemicals through evapotranspiration. This enables the Amazonian forest basin to recycle 25 to 50% of rainfall, vital in regions where most precipitation is derived from local convection. (Malhi et al. 2008) Large-scale deforestation will alter precipitation trends first locally then globally. Removal of 30 to 40% of the forest could push much of Amazonia and other rainforest biomes into a permanently drier climate regime. (Malhi et al. 2008) Never before seen outcomes will follow, entire regions may be turned into arid land. The other cycle implicated in global climate change that will be affected by rainforest deforestation; the carbon cycle. Untold amounts of biomass carbon are held in these ecosystems, the Amazonian region is assessed to be storing 120 ± 30 Pg C. (Malhi et al. 2008) Deforestation kills two birds with one stone per say, both releasing large amounts of carbon into the atmosphere and leaving less availability for reabsorption. Continued disturbances of these cycles is accelerating the demise of the rainforest ecosystem. They will combine to create an environment which no longer has enough available nutrients or precipitation for such condensed vegetation and plant life. Rainforest composition will have to change radically otherwise a transformation into a desert-like biome may follow. A large percent of our global biodiversity would disappear due the unequalled number of endemic species each rainforest region houses. Solutions to such a complex problem must be an amalgamation of social, economic and environmental priorities. The deciding factor will be how well managed the economic development of these less wealthy nations. As they slash and burn their way into the 21st century mitigation of damages caused can occur with the incorporation of a plan ensuring certain key elements. Foremost is keeping the total extent of deforestation safely below possible climatic threshold values of about 30 to 40% cleared. Widespread fire safety education for the public coupled with stricter fire regulations will reduce fire damages. Strategies for slowing the agricultural advance on forest land would entail a change of cultivation style and lower impact crops. Regulated sustainable harvesting of non-wood forest products such rubber, cork, produce, or medicinal plants. (Lindsey R. 2007) Local governments can also take advantage of their unique forest life and endemic species to create one of a kind ecotourism opportunities. Reforestation programs have begun in South-East Asia, however they are mostly monocultures resulting in forest degradation. A successful reforestation platform will include planting of numerous different species of tree and vegetation.
Conclusion:
Deforesting rainforest ecosystems negates one of Earth’s natural abilities to breathe life into the ongoing struggle with climate change. The situation we are faced with is already dire enough, regulations and policies must be made internationally and locally to protect these pristine forests. Laws must be followed up with education, reforestation programs, farming alternatives and strict penalties for illegal felling. Financing for such a plan will be done mostly through environmental incentives from NGO’s and international entities. Without change the current deforestation rates can cause irreparable damage to our global climate system. Looking towards the future, global warming will become increasingly relevant. Decisions made concerning the health of the tropical rainforest ecosystem will have large impacts.

References:
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Deforestation

...will discuss deforestation across the globe and how it affects the world’s ecosystems. Everyday, a piece of Earth’s ecosystem is demolished by human hands for the conquest for timber, minerals, and other resources. Forests cover 2% of the Earth’s surface, 6% of the landmass, and yet they house half the animal and plant species while rainforests cover twice that area. Deforestation is occurring across the globe on a scale that if it were continue at its present rate the forests could disappear within the next one to two hundred years. This raises concerns and questions. First, why should we be concerned? Second, what kind of damage could deforestation lead to animal and plant species, human existence, and to mother Earth and its atmosphere? Third, how and why the rainforests benefit the human race. To answer these questions, this paper will discuss where the most deforestation is occurring and the consequences of deforestation. Tropical rainforests are defined by two primary factors: location and amount of rainfall they receive. Rainforests receive from 4 to 8 meters of rain a year. Most of the rainfall is blocked by heavy vegetation, and water reaches the forest floor by rolling down branches and trunks. A distinctive characteristic is that the rainforests have no seasonality or no dry or cold season of slower growth. In addition, they are the Earth’s oldest living ecosystems. The rainforests are a priceless part of mother earth and their removal through deforestation would......

Words: 1455 - Pages: 6