Causes and effects of forest degradation

Forest degradation is the long-term reduction in the overall capacity of a forest to produce or provide benefits, such as carbon storage, biodiversity, wood, and other products due to environmental and anthropogenic alterations.  It results to a decrease in the number of species in the forest and in tree cover, or the alteration of the forest structure. Forest degradation is different from deforestation; although the latter is a contributing factor to the loss of biodiversity.

forest degradation 1st

Forest degradation creates great ecological problems in all parts of the earth, the most significant impact of which is the loss of habitat of many species or loss of biodiversity.  It also leads to the disruption of water cycle and river ecosystems, and soil erosion.

Causes and effects of degradation

Forest fires. Every year, fires wipe out millions of hectares of forests worldwide. Although, they are expected to occur in many forest types, particularly in boreal and dry tropical forests, since they are a natural part of ecosystems. But fires can also be due to accidents and human error.

forest fires

Forest fires become a serious issue when:

  • they occur in the wrong places at an unusual frequency, or at a wrong temperature
  • they are directly or indirectly premeditated or influenced by humans
  • fire is used as an option to “manage” forests. Usually, this is employed as the simplest and cheapest means for smallholders.

Fires can tremendously change the composition and structure of forests. They make the burned areas vulnerable to invasion of alien species, and endanger biological diversity. They also leave an impact on varied sectors, particularly:

  • Local communities. Forests are basically an important resource base for the communities around it, such as the soil where they grow their crops, water for drinking and irrigation, and the like.  When fires occur, environmental degradation adversely affects soil fertility, water cycles, and biodiversity.

I remember what Ghanaian President, John Dramani Mahama, once said in a speech.  He lamented at how his country suffers from environmental degradation through forest depletion, agricultural soil degradation, and environmental health damage, which remarkably hamper his country’s prospects of sustainable development.  He said that such degradation has cost 3.7 percent of Ghana’s gross domestic product (GDP) in 2010.

  • Farmers. Forest fires mean loss of their crops, or even livelihood.

Fires can also tremendously damage buildings, plantations, and crops as well as claim human lives.

forest droughtClimate change. Climate change causes transformations on montane forests, rainforests, savannas, boreal forests, and other similar ecosystems. It increases the intensity and frequency of droughts and dry spells, and escalates the mean and peak temperatures. Extreme weather conditions considerably decrease tree cover and dry out bodies of water that run through the forests.

Wildlife are also forced to migrate, decreasing the quality of forest ecosystems in the process.  Actually, forest wildlife severely suffers when they lack water and have to look for a new habitat.  When changes happen too quickly in the ecosystems, species might not be able to cope with it, resulting in its loss or, worse, global extinction.

Diseases and pests.  An outbreak of plague and pest attacks can damage the vegetative cover of forest areas.

Barry Commoner: pillar of the environmental movement

On September 30, 2012, the pillar of the Environmental Movement dies. Barry Commoner, the scientist-activist was the man behind the successful campaign of a nuclear test ban treaty in the early 1960s.  He fought against nuclear power because he rightfully knew the negative impact of radioactive waste. He conducted significant researches on the issue and his findings on the global effects of radioactive fallout, which included documentations of strontium 90 concentration in baby teeth of several children, eventually led to the adoption of the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty of 1963.

Barry Commner 2

Barry Commoner was well known to have the ability to identify and explain complex ecological crises, and for advocating radical solutions; thus, earning for himself the “pillar of the environmental movement” and founder of modern ecology.  His philosophy was boiled down on four simple principles, namely:

  • Everything is connected to everything else
  • Everything must go somewhere
  • Nature knows best
  • There is no such thing as a free lunch

Commoner was among the scientist-activists who pinpointed the toxic aftereffect of technology development in post-World War II, asserting that environmental problems have something to do with technological advances.  He recalled that he discovered one of his most valuable lessons during World War II.  At the time, he was serving in the Navy and was designated to spray a naval facility on the Jersey shore with DDT to kill mosquitoes, only to find out that the more he attempted to exterminate the insects the more that they increased in number.  Unfortunately still, the fish that normally eat those mosquitoes died. Because of this incident, Commoner became even more determined that humans and nature are, indeed, co-related.

The scientist-activist also exposed the threats of dioxins, put forward the idea of solar energy, and suggested that recycling is a viable way to reduce waste.  Commoner also campaigned for an end to pollution even before it is generated, proposing that this can be done by “ending the taboo against social intervention in the production system.”  But because of his radical stance on certain issues, like population control,  Commoner got into conflict with some of his contemporaries and other environmental leaders, particularly with population expert Paul Ehrlich.

Despite being unpopular, Commoner pursued his candidacy for the presidency in the 1980 American elections to expose environmental issues.  He particularly castigated corporate greed as the primary culprit in the declining condition of the environment.

Historians of the environmental movement, however, acknowledged Barry Commoner as one of America’s most influential ecologists.

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