This week’s blog post is about forests, their critical importance for our planet, threats they’re facing, and actions we can take to protect them.
Forests & Biodiversity: The role of trees
In a recent article about landscape degradation and potential for regeneration, I addressed the importance of trees and the multiple roles they fulfill:
“Trees are an incredibly important part of the ecosystems. In addition to being majestic and beautiful, they perform many functions:
- provide food and habitat for many species of birds, mammals, insects and fungi, therefore supporting biodiversity;
- stabilise the soil with their root system and so prevent erosion and retain nutrients from being washed-away by wind and rain;
- play a crucial role in the water cycle through absorption via their roots and transpiration via their leaves to form clouds and increase precipitation, which is why extended bare areas are subject to droughts and become desertic;
- shed twigs, leaves, seeds and other materials that feed the microbial life and create more soil and biomass;
- interact with the atmosphere, sequestering carbon dioxide (CO2) and releasing oxygen (O2);
- moderate temperatures, providing moisture and cooling the air in hot weather and sheltering from frost and wind in cold weather.”
In addition, the Sydney Morning Herald published an article about the intrinsic and economic value of trees, primarily in an urban setting. It notably describes the many benefits that trees provide to people.
https://www.smh.com.au/environment/conservation/what the economy really needs more of: trees
Many ecological challenges we’re facing today are a result of extensive deforestation and logging.
An area of forest and bush the size of the MCG (Melbourne Cricket Ground) is bulldozed every 2 minutes in Australia alone. https://www.wilderness.org.au/work/deforestation
Here are a few facts listed in an article about deforestation from Life Science in April 2018:
- About half of the world’s tropical forests have been cleared, according to the FAO.
- The Earth loses 18.7 million acres of forests per year, which is equal to 27 soccer fields every minute, according to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).
- It is estimated that 15 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) come from deforestation, according to the WWF.
- In 2016, global tree cover loss reached a record of 73.4 million acres (29.7 million hectares), according to the University of Maryland. That’s about the size of Italy. https://www.livescience.com/27692-deforestation.html
Forests are mostly cut-down for the following industries and usages:
- Biomass Fuel, including the misconceptions and danger around its carbon-neutrality status: https://news.mongabay.com/2018/12/cop24-worlds-nations-complicit-in-ignoring-bioenergy-climate-bomb/
- Create space for palm oil plantations, for cosmetics and processed foods
- But also for corn and soy plantations, to feed cattle for meat and dairy production
- And for urbanisation / real estate, and cattle ranching
Deforestation is the major cause of loss of wildlife habitat & species extinction. And the facts are alarming:
- We have lost an estimated 50% of the biodiversity thus far
- The species extinction rate is 1,000 times higher than pre-industrial levels
- We estimate losing 200 species of plants and animals every day
- Scientists now qualify our time as being the 6th mass extinction of species on Earth.
The Media have published an increasing number of press articles on the topic lately; and popular newspapers such as The Guardian even made it their headlines.
- 30.Nov.2018: “AUS named as one of the world’s worst performers on biodiversity”
- 17.Nov.2018: “Habitat loss threatens all our futures, world leaders warned”
- 3.Nov.2018: “Stop biodiversity loss or we could face our own extinction, UN warns”
Examples of loss of biodiversity:
- Koalas in NSW: The decline of koala populations in key areas of NSW due to loss and fragmentation of habitat has become a concern. Legislative changes made in August 2017 legalised the bulldozing of koala habitat on private land, which are home to an estimated 65% of koalas in NSW. In response to the decline, the NSW government launched a NSW koala strategy to halt the plummeting of koala numbers, however WWF-Australia (World Wildlife Fund) assessed the policy as being inadequate. They state that the strategy prioritises addressing the symptoms, rather than the cause of the problem. 12 new reserve areas are said to be created to protect 20,000 hectares, however 10 of these are already protected from logging and no koalas were observed in recent years in many of these ‘new’ reserves. The budget of the NSW koala strategy is at AUD $44.7 million, which represent a significant investment of taxpayer funds and might fail in reversing the trend.
Reference: NSW Koala Strategy Assessment 2018 on https://www.wwf.org.au/
- List of species that went extinct in 2018: https://mashable.com/article/animals-that-went-extinct-2018/
Other impacts of deforestation:
- Erosion / loss of top soil, threatening our food production systems
- Droughts / desertification, causing economic, social and ecological collapses (lack of drinking water, loss of crops and cattle, virtually dead zones through loss of vegetation, wildlife and soil life)
- CO2 increase, due to releasing the CO2 sequestered in the tree, plus removing the ability to absorb CO2 generated from human activities. This results in changes to climatic conditions and increasing the likelihood of extreme weather events
What You Can Do
It is important to know that the power to change things resides within each and every individual. The choices we make and actions we take every day have an impact on the current system and shape our future
So here is what you can do:
- Vote everyday with your dollars (avoid non-recycled cardboard and paper products, avoid non FSC-certified wood products, favour solar power or purchase carefully if you use logs as your main source of heating, etc.)
- Vote for parties that will protect the environment. The North East Forest Alliance of NSW in Australia (NEFA) recommends: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RnrIJHmvEaQ
- Animal Justice
- Support any of the forests protection campaigns (see next paragraph):
- Volunteer a few hours
- Spread the word
- Donate what you can
Current Australian Forests Protection Campaigns:
- Northern Rivers in NSW Australia
- NSW: “Vote for the Forests” campaign to stop the coalition from logging 100,000 Ha of currently protected forests by remapping them.
- Tarkine in TAS Australia
- Bob Brown’s Foundation Takayna campaign to obtain world heritage protection for the Tarkine and protect it from the logging and mining industries.