Deforestation – Is the removal of a forest or stand of trees where the land is thereafter converted to a non-forest use.

Deforestation is clearing Earth’s forests on a massive scale, often resulting in damage to the quality of the land. Logging operations, which provide the world’s wood and paper products, also cut countless trees each year. Loggers, some of them acting illegally, also build roads to access more and more remote forests—which leads to further deforestation. Forests are also cut as a result of growing urban sprawl.

Deforestation has many negative effects on the environment. The most dramatic impact is a loss of habitat for millions of species. Seventy percent of Earth’s land animals and plants live in forests, and many cannot survive the deforestation that destroys their homes. It also drives climate change. Forest soils are moist, but without protection from sun-blocking tree cover they quickly dry out. Trees also help perpetuate the water cycle by returning water vapor back into the atmosphere. Without trees to fill these roles, many former forest lands can quickly become barren deserts.

Those people that are entrusted by us with the planet are those who are destroying it. Governments give permits and licenses to those who have the money to buy them they then strip the land and make their money. The governments are often poor and the land is more valuable to large corporations than used for conservation and tourism. But these governments are selling off the planets life support system and that cannot continue.

Loggers tend to cut the largest trees, thinking that the soil is the most fertile there, but the rainforest natives know that the places where the trees have thin trunks often have the best soil. The soil infertility has caused the large trees to develop a highly efficient system of nutrient extraction. Tree roots can extend up to 100 meters along the ground from the tree trunk and form a root mat 30 centimeters (a foot) or more thick. This mat can capture over 99% of the nutrients that fall on it.MPREC

One consequence is that the important mycorrhizal fungi are destroyed by dehydration. The fungi live in a symbiotic relationship with trees, and every rainforest tree species may have its own, very specialized, fungal species associated with it. These unique fungi enable the tree to absorb more minerals from the soil than it would otherwise be able to, in exchange for energy. These fungi are similar to those associated with mushrooms, that are commonly found in temperate forests. In both instances, most of the fungus is in tiny filaments that surround the tree’s roots. When the mycorrhizal fungi are not present, the trees cannot grow. In deforested areas, fungi will not grow in the warmer and drier soil that results when the forest canopy is removed. The degraded soil is taken over by coarse grasses and other hardy species.

Although tropical forests cover only about 7 percent of the Earth’s dry land, they probably harbor about half of all species on Earth. The organic material and nutrients in a tropical rainforest are found in the vegetation itself, not in the soil. Due to massive deforestation, about 50 to 100 species of animals are being lost each day. The outcome of which is the extinction of animals and plants on a massive scale.

With all the lushness and productivity that exist in tropical forests, it can be surprising to learn that tropical soils are actually very thin and poor in nutrients. The underlying “parent” rock weathers rapidly in the tropics’ high temperatures and heavy rains, and over time, most of the minerals have washed from the soil. Nearly all the nutrient content of a tropical forest is in the living plants and the decomposing litter on the forest floor.

Soil erosion, while a natural process, accelerates with deforestation. Trees and plants act as a natural barrier to slow water as it runs off the land. Roots bind the soil and prevent it from washing away. The absence of vegetation causes the topsoil to erode more quickly. It’s difficult for plants to grow in the less nutritious soil that remains.

Because trees release water vapor into the atmosphere, fewer trees means less rain, which disrupts the water table (or groundwater level). A lowered water table can be devastating for farmers who can’t keep crops alive in such dry soil [source: USA Today].

Deforestation also affects indigenous people, both physically and culturally. Because many indigenous people actually have no legal rights to the land on which they live, governments that want to use the forest for profit can actually “evict” them. As these populations leave the rainforest, they also leave their culture behind [source: Plotkin].

Replanting and sustainable forestry

It’s worth noting that proper sustainable forestry practices do not cause a net increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere because a new tree is grown for every one cut down. By contrast, clear cutting and converting forestland into to urban areas has a very high negative impact – because the forest is destroyed and replaced with heat absorbing pavement and buildings.

Obviously, re-forestation, sustainable logging and protecting ancient forests are essential if we do not want the pace of climate change to increase further – so long as these forests are not destroyed later. Nature on the whole is resilient and bounces back extremely fast if given the chance. However forests are slow to re grow and mature. Once the soil has been eroded it could take centuries for it to build up again and start supporting anywhere near the diversity of life it once did. Millions of species have been wiped out never to be seen again in fact most were never seen by human eyes before being driven to extinction.

How much is the Belizean rainforest worth? The Government of Belize values the rainforest at US $0.60 per acre, since it began selling logging rights at that price to foreign companies in 1993.

In an attempt to raise foreign currency, in 1993 the Belizean government began to grant long-term logging contracts to foreign- owned companies, giving them the legal right to cut down trees in traditional Mayan territory. These companies, mostly Asian multinationals, were required to come up with land management plans upon seeking logging concessions. Though the plans were supplied, they were in fact unsatisfactory, and concessions were being granted anyway. One of these companies is Atlantic Industries, a Malaysian timber corporation. Since Atlantic began logging in 1995, it has committed several environmental and cultural atrocities, and the Mayan people of the Toledo district are speaking out against their actions.

The following is a brief listing of Atlantic Industries’ offenses:

  • Cut prohibited species and untagged trees in prohibited areas,
  • Bulldozed in prohibited areas to create roads,
  • Began construction of a sawmill without a legally required environmental impact statement,
  • Cut during the rainy season, and
  • Failed to obtain community support for the management plan.
[source: ICE Case Studies].

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Relevant Links:
Forest Cover and Change in Belize
Thematic Assessment Report – BELIZE

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