It’s time to face reality. Rainforests are dying. We can’t avoid the topic of deforestation. We’ve killed about half of the forests that existed on Earth, and with the way things are going, rainforests may not exist in 100 years. It’s estimated that between 17 and 20.4 million hectares of tropical rainforest are destroyed every year.
It’s not too late though! Like I said, we still have half of our rainforest left, which means there’s still something left to save. And I honestly believe that more action will be taken once things get to be more dire. However, I really hope we don’t let it get too far before we start taking care of our planet.
There are many reasons why rainforests are being destroyed, and some of them I wasn’t aware of before now. Some I had just forgotten since high school. Let’s talk about why they’re being destroyed, so we have a better idea of how we can do our part to save them.
The two biggest concerns are logging and cattle ranching.
Timber companies cut down trees like teak and mahogany and sell the timber to other countries for the building of furniture and homes, and the pulp is used for paper. Smaller trees are used to produce charcoal. Logging also occurs to make room for agricultural purposes, cattle ranching, oil extraction, subsistence-farming, etc. There are two types of logging: selective logging and clear-cutting.
Selective logging chooses the most valuable wood, like mahogany, to cut down, and leaves the remaining trees behind. Logging companies defend this type of logging, saying that it allows the forest to regrow so it is one day ready for their “safe” logging practices again. But this is not true. Large areas of rainforest are destroyed just to remove a few logs and the heavy machinery that is built to enter the rainforest and build roads causes copious amounts of damage. Surrounding trees are felled and the soil is compacted by the machinery, making it less possible for the forest to regrow. Between 45-75% of the trees remaining after logging are damaged or destroyed, and complete rainforest regeneration can take hundreds of years.
Clear-cutting is when the companies are interested in all types of wood, and are therefore not being selective. They cut down all of the trees, which clears the forest, which is why it’s called what it is.
It’s not agreed upon which of these types of logging is more destructive than the other. Just be aware that they are both incredibly damaging to rainforests.
There is a healthier way to log however. It’s called strip logging. It’s a bit too much for me to explain, so if you’re interested in learning more about it (or about anything else that has to do with logging), go here.
Cattle ranching provides cheap beef to North America, China, and Russia. It’s estimated that for every pound of meat produced, about 200 square feet of rainforest is destroyed. Costa Rica has lost the majority of its forests in the last 20 years to cattle ranching. This is known as slash and burn farming and is believed to account for 50% of rainforest destruction.
A big problem is that the farmers can’t stay in one area for more than a few years-the soil is poor quality and without the trees, it dries out quickly. The grass dies and the area becomes a wasteland.
Indigenous people also use slash and burn farming, but on a much smaller scale, so it’s different than how large companies do it. The area they use is small, so the soil doesn’t dry out and the forest is able to regrow once they move on.
There’s a reason that rainforests are being harmed that really surprised me, and it’s tourism.
Apparently, as much as national parks protect rainforests, they still cause problems of their own. National parks are usually advertised to tourists before the proper management plans have been implemented. Governments see tourism as an easy way to make money, so tourism is encouraged while strict management is not given enough support.
Ecotourism, which is supposed to be environmentally friendly tourism, should have low impact to its environment, but many companies and resorts who advertise that they’re eco-tourist establishments are actually just exploiting the environment for profit.
A way you can personally do something about this is just go to genuine ecotourist establishments when you’re planning to visit a rainforest!
In a separate post, I’ll go over the other reasons that rainforests are being destroyed, but I’m sure you need a break from this depressing topic for now. It’s not the end of rainforests! There are still ways you can personally help them, even if just a little. And no, donating is not the only way. It’s the fastest and easiest and probably the most helpful, but if you’re like me and broke but desperate to help, there are other options! I’ll discuss those in a separate post as well.
If you’d like to know why rainforests are so important and need to be protected, go here. Feel free to comment or ask questions!
Photo courtesy of Rainforest Action Network.