During the past six years, I have published 144 articles (blogs) about the environmental issues we are facing, caused primarily by human demands. The number one issue is population expansion, which fortunately has been slowing in the developed countries but worldwide is continuing to expand by 75 million people annually. This expansion, obviously, increases the demand for more resources from our limited land base and increases deforestation of our remaining forest covered lands. Deforestation then, becomes the second major environmental issue.
Controlling population growth is difficult, if even possible, as demonstrated by past attempts that have failed. Although demands for more resources will stress our remaining forested lands, there may be some opportunities to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of our remaining tree covered lands. This will require significant changes in our management policies and life styles which will not happen until we understand the magnitude of the issue of deforestation!
Just what are the facts? Our planet’s land base was once 60 to 70% covered with trees and today is only 30% forested. Over half of our forested lands have been cleared to grow crops, graze livestock, build cities, transportation corridors, golf courses, factories and other facilities requiring cleared land. We have discovered almost 10 million different species of living organisms which science has determined 80% of these species cannot survive without tree covered lands, and that includes humans. Scientific data suggests we have discovered less than 20% of the species that exist on Earth. The necessity of remaining forest cover is essential for the future of humanity and life in general.
Our next concern focuses on what is happening to our remaining forest covered lands. We are told the majority of undiscovered species are to be found within the tropical zone and the vast majority of bio- diversity, which supports our life systems, is also found in this zone. It is not unusual for a forest community in the tropics to have several hundred different trees species, where a frigid zone community would normally have less than eight different species. Science has confirmed that 20% of the required oxygen on Earth comes from the tropical zone and the majority of the undiscovered 40 million plants and animals will be found within this zone. All three zones contribute to the sustenance of life on Earth, and it is obvious the tropical zone is the most important contributor to the elements required for life.
Today, tropical forests are being threatened by deforestation more than any other zone. The World Bank reports, since the beginning of the 20th century, we have deforested 3.9 million square miles of tropical forested lands. In just one year, 2017, the tropics lost 61,000 square miles of forest cover, an area the size of the country of Bangladesh. Current practices involve removing the marketable trees and then burning the debris and remaining vegetation. In 2019, over 80,000 fires burned in the Amazon following timber harvesting activities which was an eighty percent increase over 2018. Once cleared, the land is used to grow crops or to graze livestock. Over the past 25 years, Uganda has lost 63% of their tropical forest cover. These facts are shocking for the valuable tropical zone, but are also occurring at a slower rate in the other two zones, especially the temperate zone. Worldwide, we are deforesting the equivalent of 27 soccer fields every minute.
Deforestation is also the second major causes of climate change. The removal of trees in the three zones results in warming temperatures of the soil and air, reduced rainfall causing drought conditions, increased wind velocity and major reductions in the storage of carbon dioxide resulting in increased greenhouse gases. The first major cause of climate change is the burning of fossil fuels; followed closely by deforestation and massive wildfires that burn the vegetative debris remaining after the timber harvesting activities.
Controlling population expansion offers limited hope, which has been demonstrated by past failed efforts. The expanding population and improved life styles will certainly result in increasing demands for resources and increased damage to our natural world. The management of our remaining forested lands may offer some opportunity for a more desirable future, but will require significant changes in current management principles. There is no way we can stop deforestation, but improved utilization and new product materials can slow and reduce deforestation rates. The continued reduction of forest covered lands will demand increased effectiveness and efficiency from the remaining forested areas to produce the life sustaining elements required by humanity. This requires focusing on the forest communities to maintain their health and bio-diversity, rather than managing for a sustained flow of forest resources.
It is the forest environment that provides the life-sustaining elements required by 80% of the 10 million species known to exist on Earth. Success requires an intensive management strategy for each individual forest community, designed to maintain healthy vibrant trees and maintain or enhance the bio-diversity within naturally established communities. The first principle of this strategy is to never introduce non-indigenous species into a community. This principle must be followed by the use of natural regeneration strategies utilizing the seeds provided by the various tree species which are natural to the site. Plantations of single species and single age class trees, destroys diversity and sets in motion the probability of a continued cycle of catastrophic event like massive wildfires and insect or disease infestations. I have offered a brief description of how to start a new management philosophy which I call “Nature’s Way” but if we truly care about the future we must change. The major goal of Nature’s Way shifts the management focus to the forest itself and makes the forest resources the by-product of good management. The concern for changing climate conditions is a major issue today, but we must also be concerned about the future of life on Earth as both are inter-connected. Diversity is the most important element that allows life systems to function on planet Earth. Scientists suggest the carrying- capacity of Earth may be 10 billion people, and the U.S. Census Bureau projects the world population will reach that number in just 30 years. Has tomorrow already come, or can we still make a difference?