As important as forests are both environmentally and economically, many of our global forests are suffering from deforestation. Between 2000-2010, an average of 13 million hectares were deforested globally each year¹.
Forests are often cut or burned to make way for farming or cattle grazing. Commercial logging also contributes to deforestation, and forests are cut down for development².
Deforestation in developing nations is primarily due to a competitive global economy, where poorer countries sell their natural resources to pay their debts to wealthy countries. The poor in these countries also utilize the land for farming and sustenance, and these pressures continue to increase as population levels increase².
Clear-cutting can be particularly devastating to forest ecosystems, especially in rainforest ecosystems, where the clearcut land is much more vulnerable to soil erosion when no trees remain to hold the soil in place².
Effects of deforestation on animals
Deforestation can lead to a direct loss of wildlife habitat, as well as a general degradation of their habitat. The removal of trees and other types of vegetation reduces available food, shelter, and breeding habitat. Wildlife habitats can become fragmented, where native species must live on remaining habitat islands that are surrounded by disturbed land that is being used for agriculture and other uses³.
Habitat fragments may be too small to maintain viable populations of animals, and an animal living in one population may no longer be able to freely breed with individuals in other populations. Animals may not be able to find adequate shelter, water, and food to survive within remaining habitat³.
Animals may also encounter dangerous situations when they attempt to migrate between habitat fragments, such as increased human-wildlife conflicts and being hit by vehicles. With increased habitat edge, wildlife may experience an increased vulnerability to predation, poaching, wind, sunlight, invasion of exotic plant and animal species into remaining forest habitat, and other factors such as natural disasters that were not as much of a threat prior to the deforestation event³.
Some animal species are entirely dependent upon old growth forest habitat, such as the Northern Spotted Owl in the Western United States, and cannot survive in secondary forest habitat.
Deforestation may reduce the remaining forest area’s resilience to threats such as wildfires. Local hydrological cycles can be dramatically altered, since trees and other vegetation in forests help to retain atmospheric moisture through evaporation and evapotranspiration processes. With no tree canopy present after deforestation, such changes in the water cycle can lead to much drier and warmer conditions, leading to even further impacts on wildlife habitats².
Because forests store a large amount of the world’s carbon dioxide, deforestation contributes 15% of global greenhouse emissions. When forest trees are burned, the carbon that they were storing gets released into the atmosphere. These climatic changes can have many negative impacts, not only on local wildlife populations, but also on wildlife populations around the world as global climate change alters the habitat they depend on².
Possible solutions for global deforestation
Perhaps one of the most effective solutions to the problems of deforestation around the globe is to change the valuation of products that are obtained through deforestation to the valuation of our global forests for the important ecosystem services and other important resources that they provide, including the storage of carbon in a carbon-constrained future. The use of sustainable forestry certifications schemes, such as the Forest Stewardship Council, is one way to support the sustainable management and preservation of forests around the world.
The maintenance of ample viable forests around the world requires policies and laws and their necessary enforcement to protect the forests that remain and to restore forest habitat globally¹. Smart land management practices should be in place to ensure that viable forest resources will remain in the future, and land management techniques such as the creation of wildlife corridors can help to connect wildlife populations in a fragmented landscape.
Economic opportunities should be developed for those reliant upon forest ecosystems for their livelihood in ways that promote forest conservation instead of exploitation. Sustainably managed ecotourism activities may provide some of these opportunities, as well as fair trade products that support sustainable economic uses of forests.