BY TRACY HOUSE
“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.” Dr. Seuss, The Lorax (1971).
The recent release of the movie The Lorax (2012), based on Dr. Seuss’ beloved children’s book, brings the issue of deforestation into the public eye. The movie tells the story of the Once-ler, an ambitious young man who goes from rags to riches making “thneeds” out of truffula trees. Warned by the Lorax (the furry and magical caretaker of the forest) that his actions are detrimental to the Truffula Valley and its inhabitants, the Once-ler realizes too late that his greed and destruction have turned the beautiful forest into a lonely, virtual wasteland. As the last truffula tree falls, the forest creatures must leave the harsh environment in search of a more sustainable land.
The book and now the video serve as a voice against the destruction and loss of one of our precious natural resources – forests.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency defines deforestation as “permanent removal of standing forests.” While worldwide efforts to end deforestation continue, the loss of forests around the globe is still occurring at an alarming rate. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates the net change in forest size each year is 5.2 million hectares – that is an area the size of Costa Rica disappearing annually, mostly in tropical countries where slash-and-burn agriculture forces small farmers to cut forests to use for grazing livestock and planting crops. In developing countries, 80 percent of the people rely on forests for their health and nutritional needs from non-wood forest products. Illegal acts, such as logging companies clear-cutting to build roads in remote areas, add to the devastation of forests and often goes unreported.
Reasons for deforestation vary by region, but the most common include clear-cutting for agriculture and cattle grazing; logging to provide wood and paper products; converting forest land for urban use; energy sources such as wood-based fuels; and forest fires – 90 percent of which are caused by human carelessness.
Effects of deforestation
From loss of habitat to soil erosion, the effects of deforestation are devastating on many levels. According to National Geographic, 70 percent of Earth’s land animals and plants live in forests. The degradation of forest land causes permanent loss of plant and animal species as habitats are destroyed.
Trees provide natural canopy cover which maintains ground soil, lessens the impact of wind and water erosion, and helps perpetuate the water cycle through transpiration. As forests continue to vanish, the loss of these natural systems can have devastating effects on weather and the environment.
Additionally, trees store carbon dioxide, the greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming. When a tree is burned, it not only emits carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, but it also releases methane gas, adding to the greenhouse effect.
Drought, flooding, poor water quality, and reduced food supplies also add to the problems of deforestation.
What we can do
While deforestation continues to be a global concern, only an estimated 13 percent of the world’s forests are legally protected areas – but we need to do more. Consumers can support companies who use post-consumer packaging, engage in zero-deforestation policies and produce products that are Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified.
Consumers can also take action by using recycled paper products, eliminating junk mail, reducing the amount of unnecessary paper packaging, opting for electronic bill paying, and limiting printing – all are effective steps in conservation.
Further efforts like tree planting can make a positive impact that benefits nature, communities, and the environment. Planting indigenous trees can help with energy savings, reduce noise pollution, and provide erosion control. Consider planting a tree as a remembrance of a birthday, wedding, or anniversary or as a memorial for a lost loved one. Check with your local municipality to see if they have a tree planting program or contact the U.S. Forest Service (fs.fed.us) for information about donating money towards planting trees in national forests.
- The United States has less than 5 percent of the world’s population yet consumes more than 30 percent of the world’s paper (Rainforest.org).
- Every hour, at least 4,500 acres of forest fall to chain saws, machetes, flames, or bulldozers (Forestry Department Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations).
- Approximately 14 million people worldwide are formally employed in the forest sector (Forestry Department Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations).
- A typical community forest of 10,000 trees will retain approximately 10 million gallons of rainwater per year (USDA Forest Service).
- More than 5,000 things are made from trees, including houses, furniture, pencils, utensils, fences, books, newspaper, movie tickets even clothing and toothpaste (United Nations Environment Programme).
- The forests of Central America are home to more than 8,000 different species of plants (United Nations Environment Programme).
- Recreational activities on our lands contribute $14.5 billion annually to the U.S. economy (U.S Forest Service).
- Over the course of 50 years, a single tree can generate $31,250 worth of air pollution control, recycle $37,500 worth of water, and control $31,500 worth of soil erosion (Arbor Day Foundation).
- On average, each American uses more than 600 pounds of paper and almost 200 board-feet of timber per year (United Nations Environment Programme).