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Chlorophyll enriched buds sprouted up from the fallen branches. The massive roots extended great distances from the trunk. The aged monster towered some three hundred feet into sky Many of its kind came before. The first may have originated some 130 million years ago. (7, pg.37) It stood when dinosaurs roamed and reptiles flew. Its vastness was nearly enough to cover the globe. These Species could be found from France and England in Europe. In Japan, America, Canada, and central Asia it thrived. The era of the devastating “Ice Age” brought extinction to many living things. (7, pg.40) But this lofty giant fought back. Although much of its grounds were destroyed, it managed to find refuge in a narrow coast land strip in California. The mighty Sequoia Sempervirens– “the ever living,” overcame with vengeance. (7, pg.43) This species, seemingly, could have tackled any situation of plight and endangerment– it would reign for eternity. It was invincible and……………. or WAS IT???
The Earth was being striped of fifty-one million acres of tropical forest each year. Only forty percent of the original moist forests remain in tropical Africa; thirty-seven left in Asia. The United states has only 737 million acres of forests. Ninety-three percent of Madagascar’s trees have been devastated, while only one percent of Brazil’s Atlantic coast wilderness survives. Over 140,000 acres of tropical forests are lost each day, 5,800 an hour. If current rates persist, all forests will be lost in 177 years. (1, forest facts)
Certainly those statistics are riveting and extremely frightening! There are several questions which must be posed in order to more clearly understand the significance of the numbers. Where are the locations of the most rapid deforestation? Why has the deforestation occurred? What harmful effects have risen from it? When and how did the cutting take place? And what has become of the species in the opening scenario?
The most cataclysmic loss of tropical forests is currently happening in Brazil, Zaire, and Indonesia. (4, pg.2) These three nations, of different continents, account for fifty percent of the World’s tropical deforestation. New Guinea, Western Amazonia, and Guyana have become new hot spots where massively accelerated cutting occurs. The problem is a global issue, not restricted to any particular area. By the end of the century, the forests of many South American, Central African, and southeastern Asian nations will have become history– they face extinction. (6, pg.141)
The forests are being cut down in these regions for several different reasons. Robert Goodland of The World Bank stated the following, ” Settlement along logging roads and peasant agriculture may be the causes of tropical moist deforestation.” (4, pg.8) Overpopulation is a major problem in some of the countries where deforestation is vast. The large urban areas become overcrowded with few opportunities open. The poor seek out opportunities elsewhere. The landless, jobless peasants travel to the nearly unsettled Amazon. Here they clear the forests’ and use the land for agriculture. Some sell the wood from the trees they remove, others simply burn them; their only purpose to stake a claim to land. (5, pg.3)
Deforestation commonly occurs in poorer countries. They remove the forests and raise agriculture for exports. They use the land to produce food, fiber, and other products that they could use to help their foreign debts to other countries. (5, pg.4) By increasing production, they hope to bring down the massive trading deficits they have long incurred. The economy’s of many of the central American nations have relied on this practice. The countries in this part of the world are quite poor and struggle to find ways to earn capital. They are overpopulated, have few resources, and have a highly unskilled work force. Many of the industrialized countries of the world, namely the United States and Europe, condemn the policies these third world countries have taken, but at the same time we are supporting them. We must not forget who consumes many of their products– us. The wealthy countries often are just as harmful to the environment.
The forests are also lost in other ways, but in far fewer numbers. Some countries, in order to defend themselves, remove rain forests near borders. These areas become settled and thus more trees are cut down. (5, pg.3) Some Indians still practice shifting cultivation. With this technique small plots of land are used for growing agriculture, to support their people, and then when the nutrients become scarce they move to a new area. The Plot they abandon is allowed regenerate itself with seeds from near by trees, and thus limited harm is done. The one loss of forests that can not be prevented occurs by way of the environments climate. Storms, winds, floods, and fires are threats to the land, and often strike relentlessly. For example, 400 to 600 square kilometers of forests were lost in a 1990 fire in the coastal Brazilian forests. (5, pg.7)
The removal of all of the forest land affects the environment in extremely adverse ways. The amount of rainfall declines, thus many of the species who are adopted to the climate of the region will not be able to survive. They could become endangered, or even extinct. The soil can erode. This would add to the degradation process and make already poor soil, even less fertile. When the forests are removed and the rainfall begins to decrease, the water supply would suffer. The streams, surrounding lakes and rivers could experience sedimentation. Sedimentation occurs when there is not enough water to maintain current water tables. The water that is used will not be replenished, eventually leading to the evaporation and drying of the water that remains. (5, pg.3) Also, we could find benefits from the rain forests; including new foods or pharmaceaticals. If the plant and animal inhabitants of the forests are lost, this possibility too, is lost.
The destruction of trees has not occurred just in the tropical regions. In fact, the first devastating blows to the forest environment took place where today’s industrialized countries stand. Trees were rapidly removed in the past with little hesitation, and almost no concern for preservation and conservation. Society believed the resources were infinite. Emanuel Fritz, a forester, was among the first to recommend raising trees to enable forest preservation. (3, pg.25) He wanted to make sure the logging process could continue. Fritz realized the trees would not last forever, and tried to convince others to study on sustaining forestry. Two centuries later, in 1864, George Perkins Marsh published “Man and Nature.” (3, pg.26) His book warned that by damaging nature, man is damaging himself. “Fast becoming an unfit home for its noblest inhabitant,” Marsh said of the Earth. (3, pg.26)
To perhaps make things sound a little closer to home, I’ll shift to our country’s history of battle with destruction and conservation. 1873: Congress passed the Timber and Culture Act. (3, pg.28) This legislation encouraged settlers to raise or plant trees in the central plains. The reasoning was that the rainfall produced from the new forests’ could be used to irrigate the barren land, and thus allowing it to be used in agriculture. 1878: The Timber and Stone act was established and enacted by congress. This act permitted the sale of public timber for private use. (3, pg.28) The damage this act caused was immense. Boom and Bust Forestry was born. Logging area’s were established and logged to until they had no trees standing. The loggers would then move to a new area, thus the deadly patterns were repeated time and again. A U of M- Dearborn history professor, called this act the most destructive piece of legislation to our environment. 1891: The Forest Reserve Act was put into law. It permitted presidents to create national forests. Benjamin Harrison immediate put this to use with the creation of 15 reserves that covered 13 million acres of land. In 1906 Theodore Roosevelt followed suit, by increasing nation reserves by another 13 million. (3, pg.29-30)
The U.S. Forest Service was established in 1905. This law carried with it a great number of responsibilities for the members of the service. They were supposed: promote community stability, avoid timber deprivations, help lumberjacks, fight big lumber organizations, protect water supply, and create public recreation areas, etc. (3, pg.31) This law attempted to please almost every interest group; it was impossible and made things worse in some cases, rather than better.
Trees were being more rapidly, than ever, torn down. In 1914 the “Bo Deer Donkey system” begin. (7,pg.69) It was a method used by loggers to more quickly remove downed trees. Saw mills boomed from one hundred seventeen in 1945 to three hundred in 1947 to nearly four hundred in 1948. It is clear, the United States once engaged in massive deforestation, just as the central american, Brazilian, African, and tropical Asian country’s presently participate.
We now know where the deforestation has occurred, why it continues, the damage it does, and so forth, but by which processes are forests removed? Regions were removed in several different ways. Each had comparatively different advantages and disadvantages for environmental and economical issues. The two types prominently used and debated are selective cutting and clear cutting. (3, pg.30) Selective cutting involves removing trees in small groups, leaving the majority of trees to survive. With clear cutting, all trees are removed in the particular logging area, sparing none. It is more economical to use the clear cutting method, but more environmentally sound to engage in selective cutting. Selection allows remaining trees to grow more quickly, they can regenerate the lost trees with the seeds that drop and scatter to cut areas. This too, would protect the majority of wildlife and habitat. Clear cutting leaves ugly permanent damage on the earth. The soil erodes, species are lost without the chance of regeneration. (3, pg.30)
………….And what of the “ever living” species? Two million acres once covered california, but today less than a tenth remains. Why? How could this have occurred? A simple answer, Man. It survived many catastrophes; is fire resistant, and immune to diseases. (7, pg.87) Only man, can it not defend itself against. The great Sequoia’s have been a climatic force in themselves… providing rich soil, maintaining healthy water, stabilizing hillsides from erosion, and allowing species to inhabit it. But it is all in danger. The hemlock, douglas firs, tan oak, shrubs, huckleberry, thimbleberry, black bear, beaver, blue heron, deer, raccoon, coyote, bobcat, and others may lose their home, their home. (3, pg. 30) The ever- living sequoia, may soon be no more.
Annotation 1. Kenton Miller and Laura Tangley, Trees of Life: Saving Tropical Forests and their Biological Wealth;Beacon Press, 1991.
Annotation 2. Warren Dean, with Broadax and Firebrand: the Destruction of the Brasilian Atlantic forests; University of California Press, 1995.
Annotation 3. Caldwell, lynton Keith, Between two Worlds: Science, the environmental Movement, and Policy choice, Cambridge University Press, 1990.
Annotation 4. Marcus Colchester and Larry Lohmann, The Struggle for Land and the Fate of the Forest; World rainforest Movement, 1993.
Annotation 5. C.F. Jordan, Amazonian Rain Forests; Springer- Verlag, New York, 1987.
Annotation 6. Muir, John, The Last Redwoods and the Parkland of Redwood Creek; Sierra Club, 1970.
Annotation 7. Alston Chase, In a Dark Wood: The Fight over Forests and the Rising Tyranny of Ecology: Houghton Mifflin company, Boston, 1995.