Deforestation is the clearing of a forest or stand of trees where the land is thereafter converted to a non-forest use, often resulting in damage to the quality of the land.
Forests are one of Earth’s most valuable resources. We all benefit from the ecosystem services provided by forests. Trees can be used to create many of the things we use every day, such as paper for books and building materials for homes. Forests also provide benefits that are less visible to us, but equally as important. For instance, forests serve as habitats to the majority of all land animals and plants, playing a key role in maintaining biodiversity.
Forests help to keep soil healthy and streams clean. When trees are cleared, soil is left bare, with no tree roots to help hold it in place when it rains. This is a huge contributing factor to erosion. Eroded soil can end up in streams and rivers, or it can be blown far away by heavy winds. Soil erosion also has a negative impact on agriculture. Without nutrient-rich topsoil, people cannot continue to grow food year after year.
Lastly, deforestation is connected to climate change. As we know, through photosynthesis, trees remove carbon dioxide from the air, which helps keep Earth a little cooler. However, when trees are cut down, all of this carbon dioxide is released. Deforestation accounts for 20% of the carbon dioxide emissions from human activities.
Approximately 13 million hectares are deforested each year. That means that 3% of the world’s forests are lost every ten years. As global population continues to increase, so does the demand for lumber, paper and other forest products. The Pacific Northwest is one of the largest lumber supplying areas in the world. There, as well as in many other locations around the world, huge tracts of land are being stripped of their forests every day in order to meet the ever-increasing demand for wood-derived products.
We all can participate in preserving forests by making simple changes in our day to day lives. As the saying goes—Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. Recycling paper and being more mindful of our use of lumber and paper products is a great place to start. However, the most direct way to reduce our waste is to not create it in the first place. Therefore, reducing and reusing should be our first thought, before recycling. Whenever you have a choice, utilize products made from recycled paper/wood, even if it costs a little more. Learn about trees that are native to your region and plant them, and reuse and recycle paper so trees do not have to be cut down. Every small effort counts!