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Why Keeping Forests Intact Is Important

2011/08/28

In many developing countries, there has been a worrying trend to cut down large areas of forests in the search for revenue.  Trees are sold and land is made into agricultural fields.  Sometimes the trees are simply burned and people go straight to agriculture.  Unfortunately, the resulting land is only productive for a few years before massive quantities of fertilizer is required because the soil is relatively poor in nutrients – in a forest, most of the biomass is in the trees.  Take those trees away, and there isn’t much left for your crop to grow on.  The result is a very short term source of revenue for the locals.

However, more and more people are promoting the idea that forests have a much greater value intact since they provide very important services to both the locals and humanity at large.   A recent paper written by the UNEP (United Nations Environmental Program) talks about how to create an economic program where the value of those services (and the worth of the forest) can lead to revenue for locals who actively protect their forest rather than cut it down.

From that paper, here is a brief list of all the good things forests do for us:

Carbon capture: Standing forests have a potential carbon sequestration rate of between 1.1 and 1.6 Gt (billion tonnes) per year.  For free!  (As a reference, China produces just over 7.2 Gt of CO2 per year.)

Medication: Pharmaceutical companies are always looking for new ingredients in forest.  Many of the medicines we have today would not exist without the presence of forests.

Local water regulations: Trees slowly release huge quantities of water into the atmosphere through transpiration (sweating), reducing the effects of droughts.  During times of heavy rain, they help control the flow of water which reduces the risks of flooding, landslides and protects water quality and aquatic health. (Nemo doesn’t like floods!)

Soil quality: Forest reduce soil erosion and add to the quantity of nutrients in the soil.

Products: A properly managed forest is a sustainable (as in: forever) source of wood and other products such as nuts.

Biodiversity and eco-tourism: A healthy forest attracts clients in the growing eco-tourism industry.

To wrap this up, here is a concrete example of the financial value of forests: Starting in 1994, people in Viet Nam began planting mangrove forests in order to create a buffer against storms.  The program cost a total of $1.1 million, however, it saves the $7.4 million dollars per year in dike maintenance.  Plus, 7,750 families have directly benefited from “enhanced food security and earnings from the sale of crabs, shrimp and molluscs.”.

Must be why people like to hug trees!

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