Oops! There Goes Another Rubber Tree Plant!

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Imagine you are in a rainforest, looking around. You're probably imagining trees, like the rubber tree, and animals like the spider monkey. Maybe you would even let the monkeys be playing in the trees above your head. Now let me bring you to what you will see today. You can look out at the luscious fields of logging equipment. Deforestation of the world's rainforests has numerous impacts on the environment and is occurring at alarming rates. As a result, species extinction has become a daily occurrence. Other problems are created as well: flooding, erosion, and global climate change are all interrelated to deforestation. Logging, cattle ranching, shifted cultivators, and foreign debts are some of the immediate causes of this worldwide problem. 8,000 years ago, the Earth was covered by approximately 14.8 billion acres of forest 8,000 years ago. As a repercussion of human exploitation, only 8.6 billion acres now remain ' the highest rates of deforestation occurred during the last 50 years. Currently, the major causes of deforestation are: agriculture (64%), the logging industry (18%), fuel wood collection (10%) and cattle ranchers (8%).
Over 80% of the world's ancient forests have been destroyed or degraded by logging. Since 1950, two-thirds of Central America's lowland tropical forests have been turned into pastures for raising beef cattle. Through agricultural processes, shifted cultivators cause about 60% of all tropical forest loss. During 1998, in 63 developing countries, approximately 2.2 billion people could not get enough fuel wood to meet their basic needs or were forced to meet their needs by using wood faster than it was being replenished.
As a result of heavy deforestation, more carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide is one of the greenhouse gases responsible for warming earth's surface and lower atmosphere above natural temperatures. When large areas of rainforest are cleared, the trees are no longer present to help absorb the rainfall and protect the soil from erosion. Therefore, heavy flooding, soil erosion and the buildup of silt in rivers are daily occurrences in heavily deforested areas.
Rainforests are an important resource to the world and all it's living organisms, including human beings. Rainforests have only a small chance of recovery after they are deforested; so once the rainforests are gone, more than likely they will be gone forever!
Between 1980-1990, Brazil lost 91.4 million acres of tropical forest, roughly the total area of North and South Dakota. Annual forest loss in the Brazilian Amazon rose from less than 3 million acres in 1991, to an average of 4.8 million acres during the next three years. In 1995 alone, an area the size of Belgium, which is about 7 million acres, was destroyed in the Brazilian Amazon! Between 1960-1980, Asia lost almost one-third of its tropical forest cover; in West Africa, approximately 90% of all rainforests have been destroyed. Countries with tropical rainforests, the country's land area, original forest cover, present forest cover, and the annual deforestation rate are illustrated in. While examining Figure 1, it is important to compare the original forest cover with the present forest cover; the numbers are dreadfully surprising.
When Madagascar was colonized (1500-2000 years ago), the original extent of its eastern rainforest was 11.2 million hectares (ha), in 1950, only 7.6 million ha remain. In 1985, 3.8 million ha of forest covered the eastern rainforests of Madagascar; only 50% of the rainforests existing. In 1950 still remained. Between 1950-1985, the average rate of clearance was 111,000 ha (1.5%) per year. Approximately 90% of all Madagascar's forests have been destroyed. 

 Madagascar is the fourth largest island in the world and biologically is regarded as one of the richest areas on Earth; species richness per unit area is especially high compared to similar areas in Africa. Madagascar accounts for 2% of Africa's landmass, but contains 10,000 species of plant life, 80% of which are endemic, meaning they are found nowhere else in the world. All of the world's lemurs (primates), which are all endangered, can be found in Madagascar. A result of Madagascar's separation from the other continents, 90% of the vegetation native to Madagascar is found nowhere else in the world. One very flamboyant example is the Tahina. The Tahina is a palm tree that is found nowhere else in the world and is also one of a kind. The Tahina is a tree that flowers itself to death. The trunk is massive, over 18 feet tall, and sprouts enormous fan leaves that are five inches in diameter. As the tree grows, eventually it sprouts thousands of little flowers that deplete the trees energy resources and the tree dies a macabre death.
Most of the plant and animal life in Madagascar are the world's most endangered species. Slash-and-burn agriculture on poor soil, is the major reason for deforestation, which causes habitat destruction leading to species endangerment. As a result, Madagascar is the world's most eroded country, with large amounts of sediment flowing into the rivers and collecting in coastal areas. The Eastern rainforest of Madagascar is highly biodiverse and extremely valuable to both humans and animals, however this is the case for all rainforests; they all need to be protected.

Agriculture, the logging industry, fuel wood collection and cattle ranching directly consume the largest amounts of rainforest land throughout the world, respectively. Other causes are more indirect such as the debt burden, poverty, and overpopulation, however all are related to the same direct causes.
Logging is one of the major causes of deforestation. Over 80% of the world's forests have been destroyed or degraded by logging. Many of the ancient forests of Southeast Asia have existed since dinosaurs have walked the earth, roughly 70 million years ago. The most commercially valuable trees are normally found in ancient forests, because they have some of the highest biodiverse ecosystems producing larger than average trees. In almost all substantial old-growth (ancient) forests, the primary cause of natural forest loss is certainly the timber industry.
Most tropical rainforests are found in developing countries where money is indisputably needed. Two main reasons for deforestation are poverty and the need for foreign exchange. The average price of a hectare of trees is about $20,000 in foreign exchange; with a large demand for money in developing countries saving the trees comes second to feeding the family. This results in most of the trees cut down to be exported to more economically developed countries, such as America. Ironically, developing nations pay almost half of their total earnings from tropical hardwood exports for paper pulp, as they buy their wood chips back as pulp. Almost two- thirds of paper pulp produced is manufactured into packaging material, tissues, and convenience products such as paper cups and plates.
Developing countries have owed massive debts to the industrialized developed countries since the 1970's and 1980's; this is a major reason for the deforestation of their rainforests. Foreign leaders lent over $27 billion (US) to developing countries, today that equates to roughly $1.3 trillion. In order to reduce their debt, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank are forcing developing countries to destroy their rainforests. Over 50,000 km2or 1.4% of Brazil's rainforest were suggested by the World Bank to be brought under control and management. Due to increasing interest rates, it is relatively impossible for these poorer nations to pay the interest let alone the debt.

Interestingly enough, the amount of foreign aid going to developing countries is shadowed by the debt payments to the industrialized world. Roughly 40% of all the money Brazil makes on exports is spent paying the yearly interest of foreign debt, totaling over $100 developing countries' debt would still not be paid off. Unfortunately, social programs such as birth control are the first to go when there are limited funds to balance to nation's budget.
"Safe" logging practices, such as selective logging and full forest harvesting, are claimed to be used by the timber industry. The industry goes into selected forests and chooses mature trees to harvest. After a tree is removed from the area, a sapling is planted, so growth can occur naturally. However, these practices do not work as planned. Erosion, nutrient loss, and competition with older, larger trees usually prevent the saplings from growing into healthy trees. In 1988, The International Tropical Timber Organization, established to regulate international trade of tropical timber, found that on a world scale, sustainable logging is negligible.
A second kind of logging is selective logging. A major problem with selective logging is that large areas of land and forest are damaged and destroyed. Through selective logging, chopping down one tree can fatally damage up to seventeen other trees. With this practice, up to 70% of the rainforest in a selective logged area is destroyed for small amounts of logs. A combination of removing the trees from the forest and the heavy machinery used in the timber industry accounts for extensive damage on such a fragile environment. However, with selective logging there is a slight chance that the forest can regenerate.

Full forest harvesting, another method used by the timber industry, is when the whole tree is harvested rather than the trunk alone. A chipping machine is used in this method. This machine can chip a whole tree, branches and all, into pieces the size of a silver dollar in a minute's time. Since most of the nutrients stored in the tree are saved in the branches and leaves, rather than in the trunk, almost all of the nutrients in a rainforest are stored in trees. So when a whole tree is removed almost all of the nutrients are taken away. This gives the rainforest an insignificant chance for recovery. By removing a tree from the forest, a large opening is shaped in the canopy. These openings can take hundreds of years to regenerate. During this time, the sun's rays reach and dry the soil. As the soil dries, valuable nitrogen is lost, drier soil also allows for easier erosion. Usually when trees are taken out of the forest, it is done carelessly and damage to other trees is common. In Southeast Asia, between 45-74% of all the trees remaining have been damaged by logging. 

Selective logging and full forest harvesting are considered to be "safe" logging, but both practice produce unsafe problem to the rainforests. Roads are often built so that large machinery can navigate through the forests. After a tree is cut, it falls to the ground at a rapid speed. The heavy machinery and fallen trees cause the ground to be heavily compacted. By packing the soil tightly together, the forest's chance for regeneration is reduced. Areas that have been cleared of trees and other plant-life leave exposed soil, which erode in heavy rains and cause the build up of silt in the forest's rivers and streams.
Another major cause of deforestation, especially in Central and South America is cattle ranching. Since 1950, two-thirds of Central America's lowland tropical forests have been turned into pastures for raising beef cattle. According to statistics taken in 1989, cattle ranching accounts for 15,000 km2of rainforest lands. There are also 100,000 beef ranchers alone in South America's Amazon region. Fast food chains now are becoming massive international corporations. This results in the demand for beef to grow at dramatic rates. Large pet food corporations are also in demand for cheap beef products. The high demand for cheaper beef is causing large amounts of forests to be destroyed for pastures, especially in developing countries. Overgrazing is another problem linked to the cattle industry because it is a common practice once forests are removed. Because of the large dollars associated with cattle, some governments allow overgrazing to occur as a regular practice.
My fourth example is term-shifted cultivators. The term-shifted cultivator is used for people who have moved into rainforest areas and have established small scale farming operations. Through agricultural processes, shifted cultivators cause about 60% of all tropical forest loss. There are two types; landless peasants leaving urban areas in search of land and indigenous natives who have lived in the area for thousands of years. Between these two groups of people they account for almost 5% of the world's population, but in either case they are causing extensive damage. 

The indigenous tribes of the rainforest follow a fallow system. They use slash-and-burn techniques to clear land they will use for agriculture. This land is farmed until the soil is infertile, then orange or rubber trees are planted to regenerate the land. Eventually the rainforest overruns the planted trees; the land is now ready to be farmed again. However, this process of regeneration can take anywhere from ten to twenty-five years, but it is still a form of sustainable agriculture. Also, the rainforests are being cut down faster than they can regrow, by these same farmers.
The landless people of urban areas are much more destructive than the indigenous rainforest tribes, which at least use some sustainable methods. Although both greatly destroy the rainforests, the urban farmers do not know how to regenerate the soil or use any sustainable methods. This causes more forests to be destroyed in a search for fertile land. The infertile land is left to degrade or is sold to cattle ranchers; the soil is so destroyed that the rainforests will never flourish again. 

 Ownership of land in tropical rainforest areas is uncommon. Anywhere from 50-90% of the people in Brazil do not legally own land. Of Brazil's population, 1% own approximately 42% of all cultivated land. For the most part, people living in urban areas move into the rainforests to own land, which is free. "Land without men for men without land," was a slogan used in Brazil to persuade poor peasants from overcrowded cities to move into the rainforests. Shifted cultivators are a major reason of deforestation but not the direct cause. Virgin areas of undisturbed rainforest are usually not touched by shifted cultivators. Instead, they are often used as scapegoats by the timber industry to take the blame for rainforest destruction. These farmers merely follow logging roads into previously timbered lands to grow and harvest foods, medicines and fuel wood for their survival. Roughly, 90% of the destruction caused by shifted cultivators is a direct result of the roads built by the timber industry.
Fuel collection is yet another problem directly related to deforestation. During 1998, in 63 developing countries, approximately 2.2 billion people could not get enough fuel wood to meet their basic needs or were forced to meet their needs by using wood faster than it was being replenished. Unfortunately, the rainforests pay the price of fuel wood consumption as more and more poor people search for wood.

 In developing countries, almost 40% of a poor family's earnings are used to buy fuel wood. Besides cooking and heating, large amounts of fuel wood are used to boil water, removing bacteria and waterborne disease. Those who cannot afford fuel wood, an estimated 800 million people, burn dried animal feces and crop residues, to meet their basic needs. As the dried animal feces are burned, it no longer has the ability to decompose and fertilize the land, further degrading the soil. Rapid population growth, poverty, and fuel wood shortages all contribute to deforestation.

What Happens When the Rainforest Gets Cut Down?

Erosion is a huge concern in deforestation. Acting like a giant sponge, rainforests absorb rainfall and release it slowly. This process slows water flow into rivers and streams and prevents them from flooding. The tree's roots also help hold the soil and decomposing layer in place. However, when large areas of rainforest are cleared, the trees are no longer present to help absorb the rainfall and protect the soil from erosion. As a result, heavy flooding, soil erosion and the silt buildup of rivers are daily occurrences in heavily deforested areas.
Most of the nutrients found in the rainforests are occupied in the branches and leaves of the trees, not the soil. The forests have evolved to cope with this by rapidly recycling nutrients. Forest litter, the droppings and remains of animals are quickly decomposed, releasing nutrients for uptake. Most nutrients are only available from this decomposing layer. As the trees are cut down and removed, the trees and many valuable nutrients leave the forest. Once the nutrient recycling-system is broken down, the land can't support human activities such as cattle ranching or agriculture for more than a few years.
Another concern particularly at this time in our world is climate change. Full-grown rainforests can be considered carbon reservoirs because they store huge amounts of carbon above and below the ground. Through the process of photosynthesis a growing tree gives off oxygen (O2) and absorbs water, light and carbon dioxide (CO2). However, when a tree dies and starts to decompose, it releases CO2 into the atmosphere; similarly when a tree is burned it also releases CO2. Unfortunately most loggers, shifted cultivators, cattle ranchers, and fuel wood collectors frequently burn trees for clearance purposes, releasing even more CO2 into the atmosphere. The release of large amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere can cause an enhanced greenhouse effect; increasing earth's global average temperature. Fires from the Amazon produced 500 million tons of CO2 in one year, an estimated 10% of the world's total annual atmospheric emissions. Burning and decomposition of pulp and paper made from Amazon trees contributed to the CO2 emissions. 

As more and more rainforest lands are burned, more CO2 is released into the atmosphere, resulting in increased temperatures on earth's surface. Solar radiation passes through the atmosphere; most of the radiation is absorbed into earth's surface, where it is stored as heat energy. Infrared radiation is emitted from earth's surface into the atmosphere, where it can be re-emitted in different directions by greenhouse gases. As a result the lower atmosphere and earth's surface become warmer. CO2, water vapor, methane (CH4), and nitrous oxide (N2O) are all greenhouse gases, but CO2 makes the biggest contribution to the enhanced greenhouse effect, about 70%.

Over 25% of the world's modern drug originally came from rainforests. A third pressing concern is losing medical supplies. Over 2000 tropical plants have been identified as having anti-cancer properties. One of these plants may lead to a breakthrough in the treatment of cancer. Many contraceptives, stimulants, and tranquilizers commonly used today originated in tropical rainforests.
In 1987, a tree compound that was 100% effective against the HIV-1 virus was found in a Malaysian gum tree. When research biologists were sent back to get more samples from the tree, it had already been cut down. Unfortunately, no tree found since has produced the same compound. If deforestation continues at current rate humankind may lose the cure to two of the world's most fatal diseases.

What Can You Do?

As an individual, many people feel that there is little they can do to stop a problem as big as tropical deforestation. This type of pessimist thinking needs to be stopped, replace pessimism with optimism and many solutions will arise!

Recycling paper can slow rates of annual deforestation. The largest component of solid waste by weight in the US is paper and paperboard. Roughly 40% of municipal solid waste is paper; each year about 71.8 million tons are generated. From an environmental or economic standpoint, it makes sense to recycle; not only can money be saved, but also trees. Valuable landfill space is prolonged; for every ton of recycled paper, three cubic yards of landfill are saved.

Purchase items that carry the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). The FSC, founded in 1993, is an international, non-profit association, which issues certificates for well-managed forests; economic, social, indigenous, and environmental interests are all taken into account. To be classified as a well managed forest, the forest's ecosystem can not damaged, only low volumes of trees are expelled, and impacts on plant and animal life are limited.
Products certified by the FSC can be identified by their logo. The logo shows that the wood-containing product came from a responsibly managed forest, following all criteria agreed by the FSC. On the global market, there are more than 20,000 FSC certified forest products. In 33 countries worldwide, more than 17 million hectares (40 million acres) of natural or planted forest operations that have FSC certifications.
Boise Cascade is logging wood from the world's rarest and most endangered forests to produce wood and paper products. In Idaho, the Pacific Northwest, and central Canada, Boise Cascade is actively logging old growth forests; the corporation also sells products that originated from wood logged in the tropical rainforests of the Amazon, Southeast Asia, and British Columbia's Great Bear Rainforest. As one of the nation's largest and wealthiest forest product companies, with annual sales reaching over $7 billion, the corporation has the ability to manage their forests similar to those the FSC certifies. Not only does Boise Cascade have the ability to manage their forests, but rather an obligation of sustainable management, so healthy forests and ecosystems can prosper forever!

Citigroup is the number one financier of large-scale projects in Latin America; here Citigroup arranged twenty-six projects in 1998, with an estimated value of $2 billion. For example, Citigroup in association with Royal Dutch/Shell Group and the Scott Paper Company acquired the Sante Fe pulp mill, in Chile. Sante Fe removes trees from intact temperate rainforests, turning them into wood chips. The temperate trees are replaced by fast growing eucalyptus, which are produced into paper and plywood for the foreign market. While destroying the world's most biologically rich ecosystems, Citigroup is making billions of dollars at the expense of the world. Projects like this need to be stopped, before we know it the rainforests may disappear forever!
Supporting and donating to organizations that save rainforest acreage are other ways to help save the forests. The Tropical Rainforest Coalition is an example of one of these organizations. They have a donation program that uses your money to save acres of rainforest lands, called Save-An-Acre-Program. The Save-An-Acre program is where you give $50 and this company saves one acre of the rainforest in your name. The $50 that you provide fund land acquisition, legal fees, and security costs to ensure that the saved acres will be protected as part of a wildlife preserve.
As this paper has shown, rainforests are an important resource to the world and all it's living organisms, including human beings. Rainforests have only a small chance of recovery after they are deforested; so once the rainforests are gone, more than likely they will be gone forever! As stated above there are many things an individual can do to slow or even stop tropical deforestation, saving the rainforests is up to people who care about earth and her future generations. Please do not let earth down, she's counting on us to save her!

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jobolobo said...
Mar. 16, 2009 at 7:11 pm
this is an extremely insightful and overall beastly article about what is happening in our world today
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