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. Forests still cover about 30% of the Earth’s surface, but each year swaths half the size of England are lost.(1) That is, 18.7 million acres of forest are lost each year, which is the equivalent of 27 soccer fields every minute.(2) 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.(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. 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 Society. “Climate 101: Deforestation.” Accessed on 24 August 2018.

(2) World Wildlife Fund. “Responsible Forestry.” Accessed on 24 August 2018

(3) “Deforestation.” ScienceDaily. Accessed on 24 August 2018.