Deforestation and its link with loss of habitat

Posted by By at 10 March, at 18 : 15 PM Print

Deforestation and its link with loss of habitat

The recent human activities mainly spurred by advances in science and technology have brought a sea change on the ecosystems and biological engines of our planet. These have largely been detrimental as they have multiplied our dependence on natural resources in order to cater the ever increasing human consumption. The large scale expansion of cities & industries requires huge amounts of land and energy resources and these in turn rely on the natural resources such as fossil fuels, timbre etc. for their purposes. Extraction of these resources either from the soil or underneath it has its own detrimental effects on the local ecosystems.

A study by Richard B. in the journal Essentials of Conservation Biology asserts, “Habitat destruction is an important cause of known extinctions. As deforestation proceeds in tropical forests, this promises to become THE cause of mass extinctions caused by human activity.”

According to a report by IPCC, 1.6 billion tons of carbon dioxide a year is released to the atmosphere due to deforestation (including cutting and burning of forests).

Also, Forests play a major role in Earth’s carbon cycle. Trees convert atmospheric carbon from CO2into organic woody biomass as part of a respiratory process called photosynthesis. Trees then store the carbon inside them; this carbon storage is called sequestration. Carbon sequestration naturally occurs by absorption of atmospheric carbon dioxide by forests, oceans and grasslands during photosynthesis. Most terrestrial carbon storage is in tree trunks, branches, foliage, and roots which is often called biomass. Carbon is also deposited directly into soils. When forests are cut down, not only does photosynthesis– and thus carbon absorption– cease, but also the carbon stored in the wood of the trees is released into the atmosphere as CO2 if the wood is burned or decays.  Thus forests have a critical role in moderating climate change.

The modern sustainable forestry practices are known to increase properly managed forests’ ability to store or sequester atmospheric carbon while improving soil and water quality and the entire ecosystem. According to the USDA Forest Service, “Planting new trees and improving forest health through thinning and prescribed burning are some of the ways to increase forest carbon in the long run. Harvesting and regenerating forests can also result in net carbon sequestration stored in wood products and new forest growth.”The trees thus act as a carbon sink by soaking up carbon-dioxide that would otherwise actively contribute to the abrupt changes in climate patterns.

Scientists have recently put numbers on how much carbon forests as a whole absorb, with a recent paper suggesting that the world’s forests took up 2.4 quadrillion tons of carbon from 1990 to 2007. But deforestation seriously undermines this important carbon sink function and eliminates the process altogether.

The deforestation also entails, habitat loss; like outright loss of areas which were inhabited by wildlife, degradation from vegetation removal and erosion, which leads to deprivation of native species of food, shelter & breeding areas and finally fragmentation, in which the native species are forced to live on the small undisturbed land patches which are surrounded by areas cleared for agriculture & other human activities. In the latter case, ecosystem functions such as the hydrological cycle might be interrupted, native species may be crowded and the fragment edges may ultimately prove uninhabitable because of exposure to wind, sunlight, new predators, and a variety of other factors. (This is referred by ecologists as edge effect).

Besides this, the incessant urbanization activities also negatively impact the indigenous & tribal people claims Vandana Shiva. She herself has worked in grassroots level from the beginning and also played an integral part in the Chipko Movement, way back in 1974. This was India’s indigenous movement that went on to become a rallying point for many future environmentalists, environmental protests and movements all over the world and created a precedent for non-violent protest. In her interview she states that the inefficiency of the policies in the current system and its checks that has started problems like loss of Biodiversity and poverty in the masses.

In his interview Mr. Jiawei, project manager of the Kangmei Institute says that the main challenge that their Institute faces, is to prevent the increasing conflicts between humans and wild animals that are caused by rapid urbanization.

These thoughts are shared by Maya Moore, a member of Go4BioDev who is from the indigenous Mayan Civilization still present in parts of Mexico. She describes the difficulties her community faces including relocation , loss of flora and fauna required for sustainance, decline in the amount of timbre for usage to name a few. The dire situation that the indigenous Mayan people have to face is essentially the same for trial communities worldwide that rely wholly on natural environment and are disconnected from the modern humans.

The study by Mr. Richard also stresses that “In future, the only species that survive are likely to be those whose habitats are highly protected, or whose habitat corresponds to the degraded state associated with human activity.” An estimated 27,000 species per year will be lost due to human activities in tropical forests alone excluding other natural habitats. These can be highly devastating when the Biodiversity hotspots (areas of high species richness) and regions with many endemics are threatened.

The future similarly, is bleak for the members of indigenous and tribal communities whose way of life ‘fundamentally depends’ on the subsistence activities like agriculture, hunting, fishing, gathering. They also have to bear the brunt of the ever growing population and even relocate in new areas due to loss of forest cover in proximity. We can relate this with the first hand experience of Mrs.Kusum Karnik. She points out the hardships that Indigenous people living in close proximity with the national reserves have to face and says that it again is much more beneficial to let them stay since they live in a symbiotic relation with nature as well as greatly revere it.


World Wide Measures

According to a study by Erin Myers in ”Policies to Reduce Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD) in Tropical Forests”, the estimates for deforestation and forest degradation were shown to account for 20-25% of greenhouse gas emissions, higher than the transportation sector. A study on ‘CO2 emissions from forest loss’ published in the journal Nature Geoscience stated that , the combined contribution of deforestation, forest degradation and peat land emissions accounts for about 15% of greenhouse gas emissions, about the same as the transportation sector. Even with these new numbers it is increasingly accepted that mitigation of global warming will not be achieved without the inclusion of forests in an international regime.  The United Nations with this in mind had launched the UN-REDD Programme, which is a collaborative initiative on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD) in developing countries. The Programme was launched in 2008 and builds on the convening role and technical expertise of the FAO, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). The UN-REDD Programme supports nationally-led REDD+ processes and promotes the informed and meaningful involvement of all stakeholders, including Indigenous Peoples and other forest-dependent communities, in national and international REDD+ implementation.

The Programme supports national REDD+ readiness efforts in 49 partner countries, spanning Africa, Asia-Pacific and Latin America, by providing direct support to the design and implementation of UN-REDD National Programmes and secondly by providing complementary support to national REDD+ action through common approaches, analyses, methodologies, tools, data and best practices developed through the UN-REDD Global Programme. By June 2013, total funding for these two streams of support to countries totaled US$172.4 million. As a result, it is expected to play a crucial role in a future successor agreement to the Kyoto Protocol.

Besides these efforts there are also Non Governmental organizations that actively stand up for the cause of deforestation such as WWF, Greenpeace, Amazonwatch etc.Thus we need to foster a proactive approach in the people-forest relationships to take care of all the aspects of conserving nature while simultaneously our development.



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