According to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), forests cover more than 30% of the Earth’s land surface. These forests provide many benefits that support the Earth’s ecosystems and society by producing oxygen and absorbing carbon dioxide. Forests also provide a natural habitat for about 80% of the Earth’s terrestrial species. They also provide food, medicine, and fuel for more than a billion people on Earth. Globally, forests provide 13.4 million people with jobs in the lumbar industry (cutting down trees) and another 41 million people with jobs related to forests (conservation, logging truck drivers, technicians, etc.). However, society is destroying a significant portion of forest land. In North America, about half of the eastern part of the continent was cut down for timber and farming purposes between the 1600s and late 1800s. Presently, the most significant amount of trees being cut down is happening in tropical rainforests, enhanced by road construction to places that were once inaccessible. Building and upgrading roads has contributed to further clearcutting and deforestation in tropical regions.
The Amazon Rainforest
The Amazon Rainforest is the world’s largest rainforest covering 4% of the earth’s surface and 40% of the South American Continent (Buttler, 2022). The Amazon is home to a vast amount of different species and animals, and more than 30 million species live across the region. It is also known that at least 10% of the world’s known biodiversity is found in the Amazon Rainforest (Buttler, 2022). However, during the last half century this forest has come a lot closer to its “tipping point” and could soon no longer be able to support and provide the ecosystem services that humans and species need to survive (Amazon Conservation Association, n.d.). Around 17% of the forest has been lost due to cattle ranching and clear cutting . Deforestation in this area is increasing rapidly and without proper management practices we will no longer have the rainforest. There are many factors that contribute to the deforestation of the Amazon Rainforest and in this article the primary four that will be focused on are agriculture practices, Illegal logging, climate change, and forest fires.
Agriculture: One of the primary contributors to deforestation in the tropics is a method used in the agricultural industry. It is known as Slash-and-burn. In this method, farmers burn large parts of forests, and as a result, the ash will fertilize the land for crops (Stanley, 2022). However, this is only a temporary solution, and the farmers will have to relocate to another area to repeat the same process to have fertilized land for their crops.
Illegal Logging: According to the WWF “It is a global trade where timber is harvested, transported, processed, sold, and bought in violation of national or subnational laws”. It can also happen when forests are cleared in violation for plantations (oil palm, plantations). Illegal logging exists because of the demand for timber, paper and derivative products including packaging. When sustainable practices are not enforced it can lead to habitat fragmentation and significant financial loss in regards to managing the taxes and duties that occur when illegal logging happens. When logs are sold at a lower price this means that there is less money to invest in regrowing the forest and its natural properties. Illegal logging enables certain people to obtain large profits in a short period of time, however this is very detrimental to the Amazon Rainforest. This kind of deforestation leaves patches of the rainforest clear and sold at a much lower cost as compared to regular market prices when logs are being sold. Which means that the Amazon Rainforest is left with patches of land that are degraded. Although there are laws and regulations that exist within South America that prohibit illegal logging, it still continues to this day.
Climate Change: As climate change continues to persist, global weather patterns are becoming warmer and dryer and bring severe stresses and make yearly fire seasons more persistent. This decreases the resilience of the Amazon Rainforest and its ability to “bounce back” and continue to inhabit species. As the warmer weather patterns become more inconsistent it will affect rainfall patterns, and consequently the ability of the forest and plants to survive (Haywood, 2022).
Forest Fires: “Fires are not a natural part of the Amazon ecosystem” Patrick Roehrdanz, a Conservation International scientist. As previously mentioned with the method of Slash-and-burn, farmers set their land on fire for agricultural purposes. But if enough trees are lost there would be a loss of moisture in the land making it dryer and more likely to catch on fire. With fires not being a natural part of the ecosystem, the biodiversity therefore is unable to deal with fires, and consistent burning causes a massive extinction in species composition leading to a domino effect for the entire ecosystem to go extinct (Stolte, 2021).
Impacts of Deforestation
Deforestation enhances climate change. When trees are burned, they cease to absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, and even release previously absorbed carbon dioxide, this further accelerates global warming (Stanley, 2022).
Deforestation also affects the Earth’s biodiversity. Tropical rainforests inhabit a significant number of animal and plant species, so when forests are logged and burned down, it leads to those species having to relocate and adapt to conditions that are unsuitable and may lead to their extinction (Stanley, 2022).
The United Nations’ 2020 State of the World’s Forests Report reported three- quarters of Earth’s freshwater comes from forested watersheds (Climate Change Response Framework, n.d.). These forests contribute towards improving water quality and enhancing water storage (Climate Change Response Framework, n.d.). Consequently, clearcutting worsens water quality, and society will have a limited amount of water stored for drinking, agriculture, and industry uses. This will affect how people living within those tropical areas and beyond access clean and fresh drinking water (Derouin, 2022).
Finally, deforestation enhances erosion, makes plants more susceptible to forest fires, and causes a shift in a once moist environment to a dry one where it is more difficult to obtain the resources once needed. Such resources include healthy soil, water, and the conditions to be humid.
How can you support the Amazon Rainforest? Rainforest Action Network
The Rainforest Action Network is an organization that works to support rainforests through three main campaigns which you can support:
- Stop Deforestation: They want to have a global presence and pressure companies to work together to end deforestation within communities and their company practices
- Defund Climate Change: The organization is working to highlight companies that are responsible for accelerating deforestation within global South Countries to ensure that they break away from fossil fuels and take the initiative to make the effort to use clean energy resources.
- Support Communities: The organization helps to support marginalized communities that have been directly affected by deforestation efforts through petitions, and donations. You can support communities that are directly affected by deforestation.
Buttler, R. A. (2022, February 25). Facts about the Amazon Rainforest. https://rainforests.mongabay.com/amazon/amazon-rainforest-facts.html
Deforestation | National Geographic Society. (n.d.). Retrieved August 4, 2022, from https://education.nationalgeographic.org/resource/deforestation
Deforestation and Forest Degradation | Threats | WWF. (n.d.). Retrieved August 4, 2022, from https://www.worldwildlife.org/threats/deforestation-and-forest-degradation#causes
Deforestation in the Amazon | Amazon Conservation Association. (n.d.). Retrieved August 1, 2022, from https://www.amazonconservation.org/the-challenge/threats/
Derouin, S. (2022, January 6). Deforestation: Facts, causes & effects | Live Science. https://www.livescience.com/27692-deforestation.html
Forested Watersheds | Climate Change Response Framework. (n.d.). Retrieved August 1, 2022, from https://forestadaptation.org/focus/forested-watersheds
Haywood, A. (2022, May 20). Amazon Deforestation and Climate Change | National Geographic Society. https://education.nationalgeographic.org/resource/amazon-deforestation-and-climate-change
Illegal logging | WWF. (n.d.). Retrieved August 4, 2022, from https://wwf.panda.org/discover/our_focus/forests_practice/deforestation_causes2/illegal_logging/
Stanley, M. (2022, July 15). Deforestation | National Geographic Society. https://education.nationalgeographic.org/resource/deforestation
Stolte, D. (2021, September 1). Study Shows Impacts of Deforestation and Forest Burning on Amazon Biodiversity | University of Arizona News. https://news.arizona.edu/story/study-shows-impacts-deforestation-and-forest-burning-amazon-biodiversity
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One thought on “An Introduction to Deforestation and the Impacts of Deforestation on the Amazon Rainforest”
Thanks Angelica for this article. It has introduced me to the agricultural method slash-and-burn. A key tool to address unsustainable practices like this is education. The majority of the farmers practicing this agricultural method certainly do not realise how detrimental it will be to them in the long run, not to talk of the impacts to the environmental at large, hence the need for educating them.