Deforestation: Cause and Effect

Deforestation is the process of cutting down trees and clearing land. Deforestation occurs for a variety of reasons. In many countries, people clear land to use it for other purposes, such as agriculture, pasture land, and urban development. Deforestation can also occur to produce the wood and organic materials needed for a variety of industries. Forests cover approximately 30 percent of the entire surface of the Earth, with tropical rainforests taking up about 7 percent of the land area. Trees serve a variety of important functions, so losing vital forest area will likely have far-reaching implications for Earth and life residing on this planet.

Causes of Deforestation

Deforestation is not a new development. Humans have been removing trees to make room for crops and livestock pastures for centuries. The "slash and burn" clearing method involves intentionally setting fires to clear land. This practice enables farmers to completely clear out the understory of forests, decimating shrubs, small trees, flowers, and vines. Logging and harvesting wood for construction and domestic fuel is another significant reason for deforestation. With the expansion of the human population, people have chosen to clear both deciduous forests and tropical rainforests to build roads, highways, and cities. As countries have built roads for access in and out of remote areas, these roadways have made it possible for logging activities to expand in many locations. Roads pave the way for logging trucks to drive in and out of logging facilities as they deliver materials to processing plants.

Effects of Deforestation

The ecosystems that exist within tropical rainforests provide homes for approximately half of all of the living species on the Earth. Many of these plants, animals, and other organisms need very specific living environments that they can only find in tropical rainforests. If deforestation eliminates these natural ecosystems, many species will likely face extinction. Even the forests left standing are vulnerable to damage thanks to the changed environment that often results from deforestation. The soil left after deforestation is often of poor quality, and it lacks the nutrients necessary for agriculture. This tropical soil is dependent on trees to continually replenish its nutrients. When the trees disappear, the soil is unable to sustain crops.

A number of climate impacts may also result from deforestation. Tropical rainforests are an integral part of the water cycle, contributing to water evaporation from the soil. If this evaporation disappears, rain may not fall as it typically would. Evaporation also contributes to natural cooling of the Earth's surface. The end result of deforestation could cause changes in the amount of rainfall and higher temperatures for some geographic locations. Trees are also important for replenishing the Earth's atmosphere with oxygen. In fact, the Amazon rainforest produces about 20 percent of the oxygen supply for the entire planet. Eliminating forests has a direct correlation with global warming and an increase in dangerous levels of greenhouse gases.

Preventing and Reversing the Effects of Deforestation

People can help to preserve forests in a variety of ways. Locally, governments can work with citizens to encourage agricultural practices that have less impact on the environment in general and forests specifically. Shade farming is one option to help prevent additional deforestation for agriculture. Creating protected forest areas can provide jobs, and it also may increase tourism in various countries. National and international environmental laws and treaties can also help prevent future deforestation. However, continual monitoring is necessary to ensure that countries uphold laws and treaties, preventing activities such as illegal logging. As the global community becomes more aware of deforestation risks and alternative sustainable options, deforestation becomes more preventable.

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