Module 17: Forests and Conservation

The Importance of Forests

Forests are habitats for biodiversity and important sources of livelihood for humans. They offer watershed protection, timber and non-timber products, and various recreational options. They prevent soil erosion, help in maintaining the water cycle, and are essential for reducing global warming by using carbon dioxide in photosynthesis. The Amazon forests serve as the Earth’s carbon dioxide sinks as they absorb massive amounts from the atmosphere caused from animal respiration, fossil fuel production, and other carbon-producing phenomena. The destruction of forests for land clearing purposes results in the loss of entire ecosystems and has a detrimental affect on the health of the planet. In the past 50 years, about half of the world’s original forest cover has been lost. Each year, 12-15 million hectares of forest are lost, which is the equivalent of 36 football fields per minute.(1) Deforestation reduces biodiversity, increases the release of greenhouses gas emissions, disrupts water cycles since trees are no longer able to release groundwater through evaporation, and accelerates soil erosion by increasing runoff and reducing the protection of soil from tree litter. Deforestation is caused by conversion of forests to plantations, roads and other infrastructure. Degradation results from fires, unsustainable logging, fuelwood harvesting, and climate change.(2)(3)

Challenges of Deforestation

Deforestation in developing countries is linked to poverty and underdevelopment. In developing countries, deforestation is due to population growth and agricultural expansion, and this is further aggravated over the long term by wood harvesting for fuel and export. However, the sustainability of forests, particularly in developing countries, are fundamental to combatting the adverse effects of pollution and to maintaining the ecosystems of many subtropical regions. A transition to sustainable forest management can take place, but only incrementally and with adequate national and international political will. An complete restoration will be nearly impossible, especially with the amount of deforestation that has already occurred.

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(1) “National Geographic: Eye in the Sky—Deforestation.” Accessed 13 July 2010.

(2) “WWF- Forests, jungles, woods & their trees.” Accessed 12 July 2010.

(3) “Deforestation.” ScienceDaily. Accessed 13 July 2010.