Legal and illegal deforestation is a huge issue worldwide. It is vital that everyone is able to explain why deforestation is a problem both locally and globally for the simple reason that it affects everyone. Humans and other animals rely on trees to produce the oxygen that we breathe. Without oxygen, we would not be able to live.
The definition of deforestation is the removal of trees and plants by humans. Deforestation can be done using machines, like slashing away clearings with a machete or logging with chainsaws, through planned or accidental fires, or by leaving cattle to heavily graze in a forested area. While we often think of deforestation as the large-scale, illegal destruction of rainforests, deforestation also includes legal practices such as the removal of pine trees for wood in a purposefully planted pine forest. Problems from deforestation arise on both large mountain-type scales and small backyard-size scales.
Why Do People Practice Deforestation?
Humans have been practicing deforestation to varying degrees for centuries all around the world. People may remove forests to create space and to harvest the resources needed to build temples, pyramids, villages, cities and roads. Civilizations throughout history have cleared land for farms, to grow crops or mine precious resources.
Global Environmental Impacts of Deforestation
Deforestation causes many issues on both a local and global scale. The first issue, as mentioned earlier, is that plants are essential for animal life as they convert carbon dioxide into oxygen. The global effects of deforestation don't end there; large forest systems, such as the Amazon rainforest, play a significant role in global water cycles. Deforestation of these critical areas affects the availability of freshwater supplies worldwide.
Deforestation also removes habitat for wild animals. Many animals need large areas of forest for healthy population dynamics. It's not just making forests smaller that is the problem; dividing forests in half with a road, for example, can threaten species. Deforestation is one of the leading causes of endangered species and extinction around the globe.
Localized Deforestation Issues
Plants are also essential for stabilizing the soil. Deforestation can cause runoff of sediment from the land into rivers, lakes and the ocean. The extra sediment in the waterways can smother animals and block their access to light. If pesticides and other dangerous chemicals were used on the land, these chemicals then leach into waterways and poison the organisms that live there.
Alternatively, sediment runoff can boost the nutrients in waterways. Boosting the nutrients in an environment may sound like a good thing, but this isn't always the case. Added nutrients can cause some organisms, such as toxic algae to thrive, creating an imbalance in the ecosystem. Algal blooms can both poison animals that eat them and smother waterways.
How Can We Help Prevent Further Damage From Deforestation?
Some animals and plants cannot live in regenerating forests. Therefore, the only way to prevent further damage from deforestation is to stop doing it while simultaneously focusing on restoring already damaged areas. Healthy forest ecosystems can take potentially hundreds of years to recover with slow-growing trees.
One of the main drivers causing deforestation is the demand for consumer products. If people only demand products that have been harvested using sustainable methods, then more companies will be required to adopt better practices to remain competitive in the market. For example, when building new homes, people can opt for sustainable building materials. Even by selecting environmentally considerate products during everyday shopping, people can reduce the demand for destructive deforestation.
Helping Reduce Small-Scale Effects of Deforestation in Your Backyard
On a small scale, people need to consider the effects that removing trees from their backyard or neighborhood will have on the ecosystem they live. Do any native birds live in the tree? Is it a food source for local wildlife? Is the tree near any waterways and removing it will cause sediment to enter the waterways?
If it is essential that people remove a tree from their backyard, measures can be taken to reduce the negative impact this will have. Planting new plants as replacements will help stabilize soil; adding compost or weed-free mulch and sweeping up any excess dirt will help prevent sediments from washing away.
- World Bank Blogs: Deforestation: Disastrous Consequences for the Climate and for Food Security
- Cambridge Dictionary: Deforestation
- National Geographic: Deforestation Explained
- Mid-America Regional Council: What Is Sediment Pollution?
- St. Johns River Water Management District: Understanding Algal Blooms
- The Good Growth Partnership: Generating Responsible Demand for Reduced Deforestation Commodities
- Encyclopaedia Britannica: Deforestation
- Greenpeace: Solutions to Deforestation
- Biological Conservation: Reflections on the Tropical Deforestation Crisis
- FAO: Cattle Ranching and Deforestation
- Yale Global Forest Atlas: Logging
- Jupiterimages/BananaStock/Getty Images