Deforestation is the clearing or permanent removal of forest areas so that it is available for other uses. Deforestation is the root cause for land degradation, soil erosion and desertification. According to the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization, the annual rate of deforestation is estimated to be about 1.3 million square km per decade. Extensive deforestation has taken place in tropical regions as compared to the temperate forests. The depletion of forest areas not only results in loss of trees, which act as a major carbon sink (storage reservoir), but it also leads to release of billion tons of carbon from the dead and decomposing trees. Both these factors significantly impact global warming and climate change, two of the major challenges faced by humanity today.
Causes of Deforestation
Forest lands are cleared mainly to provide for human needs. The major causes or reasons for deforestation are:
1. Agriculture and plantations
The most significant threat to forests are their conversion to agricultural and plantation areas, in order to fulfil the needs of the growing human population. Agriculture is the direct cause for 80 percent deforestation in tropical and subtropical regions. Agriculture patterns have changed significantly since 1950’s, as the focus has shifted to more intense agriculture involving new technology, machinery and chemicals in order to meet human requirements. This agricultural intensification, often called as industrial agriculture, has significantly increased the rate of deforestation, impacted terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems, and resulted in large scale biodiversity loss as well.
Urbanization is another major cause of deforestation which is a result of increasing population, capitalism and globalization. Forests are cleared for setting up residential areas, industries, commercial hubs, development projects like roads, railways etc. The clearing of forests for such activities has led to habitat degradation, habitat loss and habitat fragmentation, all of which has significantly impacted the ecosystem and biodiversity.
3. Harvesting Wood
Millions of families still rely on fuelwood as an energy source for various household activities (cooking, heating etc) and forests are still the main source of fuelwood. Expanding urbanization has also increased the demand for wood (for use in furniture, industries, sports goods, equipment etc.) resulting in large scale timber extraction from forests.
4. Illegal logging
Illegal logging is very common across various forest regions of the world. Wood is harvested illegally for various purposes, especially decorative and medicinal, and these illegally harvested wood have huge markets in US and Europe.
5. Forest Fires
Every year, fires destroy millions of hectares of forests across the world. Forests may catch fire naturally or through humans. Natural forest fire includes an unplanned burning of forest due to lightning, long spell of high temperature and drought which can spread quickly in warm and windy conditions. On the other hand human- induced forest fire results from the unauthorized burning practice of forests for attaining farmland. The recent bush fires that occurred in Australia are a prime example of the destruction caused by forest fires, that not only destroyed thousands of hectares of forests, but also released large amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
With increasing demand for metallic resources, mining has become a major economic activity. Large scale mining operations, especially those using open-pit mining techniques, has resulted in significant deforestation. Mining projects also require construction of new roads, settlements and townships for people working in the mines which results in clearing of more forest areas. Industrial mining operations have thus caused large scale deforestation especially in tropical countries