Deforestation : Positive and Negative Consequences (Technorati / Nandu Green)

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The Positive and Negative Consequences of Deforestation

Earth and the lives of everything that depends on it – from the smallest bacteria to the largest sea creatures – rest on a delicate matter and that is balance. A single, seemingly harmless disturbance in this balance has consequences that are both beneficial and disadvantageous. One of these is deforestation.

Deforestation has always been a practice of many developing communities and has contributed greatly to civilization as we know it today. Unfortunately, much of the ill effects of deforestation is caused by greed, bad agricultural practices and government neglect.

Why forests are important

Other than for their beauty, forests are highly responsible in keeping and sustaining global ecosystems. In fact, much of the quality of life we enjoy, we owe to the forests. It is also the home of more than half of all creatures and organisms in this planet. From food to life-saving medicines, forests give mankind a variety of gifts that contribute much to our quality of life.

The positive consequences of deforestation

Depending on the needs of the social group concerned, deforestation has made it possible for communities to be built. Forests make way for residential houses, office buildings and factories. Governments are able to build roads to make trade and transport easier and therefore more convenient to residents.

Deforestation can also mean the conversion of forest land to productive land for agricultural uses. This results in better and more abundant production of food and materials, virtually eradicating periods of want and lack. Economically, deforestation has contributed much in giving many communities the opportunity to make positive changes in their lives.

The negative consequences of deforestation

Unfortunately, the negative consequences of deforestation far outweigh its positive effects. Here are a few of them:

1. Exposing soil to heat and rain. When forests are cleared, soil cover, which consists mainly of vegetation, is removed as well. This exposes the bare soil to extreme conditions produced by the sun’s heat and rainwater.

With these activities alternating, the soil quickly compacts. As rainwater flows, it will wash out the nutrients and other organic materials that make the soil rich and fertile. Add to that the frequent activities of tilling, cropping and grazing which gradually results to the degradation of the soil’s quality.

These practices are specially a concern in areas where forest zones are drier. Agriculture practice on top of deforestation can result to the desertification of many areas. Desertification is also a direct result of the demand for the soil to produce more (as a consequence of the increase in human population), thereby decreasing to a significant degree the land’s carrying capacity.

2. Flooding. Deforestation can result to watersheds that are no longer able to sustain and regulate water flows from rivers and streams. Trees are highly effective in absorbing water quantities, keeping the amount of water in watersheds to a manageable level. The forest also serves as a cover against erosion. Once they are gone, too much water can result to downstream flooding, many of which have caused disasters in many parts of the world.

As fertile topsoil is eroded and flooded into the lower regions, many coastal fisheries and coral reefs suffer from the sedimentation brought by the flooding. This results to negative effects in the economic viability of many businesses and fatalities in wildlife population.

3. Non-suitability of deforested areas for conversion. Most of the areas that have undergone deforestation are actually unsuitable for long-term agricultural use such as ranching and farming. Once deprived of their forest cover, the lands rapidly degrade in quality, losing their fertility and arability.

The soil in many deforested areas is also unsuitable for supporting annual crops. Much of the grassy areas are also not as productive compared to more arable soils and are therefore not fit for long-term cattle grazing.

4. The displacement of indigenous communities and their traditional way of life. When governments decide to offer forests for deforestation mainly to open up areas for ‘civilized’ communities, access to forest resources by indigenous peoples are ignored. In fact, indigenous peoples are hardly included in economic and political decisions that directly affect their lives. This encroachment ignores their rights as much as it takes away the resources that their ancestors have bestowed upon them.

5. The loss in the number of biodiversity. This is probably the most serious consequence of deforestation. Put simply, it means the destruction and extinction of many plant and animal species, many of whom remain unknown and whose benefits will be left undiscovered.

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About Willem Van Cotthem

Honorary Professor of Botany, University of Ghent (Belgium). Scientific Consultant for Desertification and Sustainable Development.
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