Here in Costa Rica, we have denuded the forests to provide pastureland for cattle ranching. Pristine forests fell to make way for a world-wide demand for beef. Since the end of World War II, approximately 80% of the forests of Costa Rica have disappeared. Many people considered bananas or coffee, or even sugar cane, as the prime exports of Costa Rica. Sadly, the fact became apparent that top soil, the very life source to Costa Rica's agriculture, was becoming the prime export. Down from the denuded hills into the streams and out to the oceans, top soil was disappearing from the land mass, year after year.
The deforestation of tropical rain forests is a threat to life worldwide. Deforestation may have profound effects on global climate and cause the extinction of thousands of species annually. Stopping deforestation in the tropics has become an international movement and has promoted the search for ways to reverse its effects.
Efforts supported by the Government
The Costa Rican government, in a typically pragmatic approach to the problem, has offered excellent incentives for those interested parties who wish to assist in the reversal of the denuding of the country. For those individuals and their families who wish to invest in reforestation, the government offers tax free returns of dividends in addition to granting the investor the right to live and work here in Costa Rica. The status offered is called "Resident Investor Status", and the applicant, spouse, and children under the age of 18 receive their "cédulas" which are their personal identification booklets.
Serious implications of continued deforestation
On-going forest loss and degradation has had and will continue to have serious implications at local, regional, and global levels. Exploitation and clearance of natural forests have resulted in incalculable losses in biological diversity and ecological services, including nutrient recycling, watershed management, and climate regulation.
Deforestation alters the atmosphere by increasing the amount of carbon dioxide and other trace gases. The plants and soil of tropical forests hold 460-575 billion metric tons of carbon worldwide with each acre of tropical forest storing about 180 metric tons of carbon. When a forest is cut and burned to establish cropland and pastures, the carbon that was stored in the tree trunks (wood is about 50% carbon) joins with oxygen and is released into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide.
Tropical deforestation also affects the local climate of an area by reducing the evaporative cooling that takes place from both soil and plant life. As trees and plants are cleared away, the moist canopy of the tropical rain forest quickly diminishes. Recent research suggests that about half of the precipitation that falls in a tropical rain forest is a result of its moist, green canopy. Evaporation and the taking in of carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen by the trees and plants returns large quantities of water to the local atmosphere, promoting the formation of clouds and precipitation. Less evaporation means that more of the sun's energy is able to warm the surface and, consequently, the air above, leading to a rise in temperatures.
In a tropical rain forest, nearly all of the life-sustaining nutrients are found in the plants and trees, not in the ground as in a northern or temperate forest. When the plants and trees are cut down to sow the land, farmers usually burn the tree trunks to release the nutrients necessary for a fertile soil. When the rains come, they wash away most of the nutrients, leaving the soil much less fertile. In as little as 3 years, the ground is no longer capable of supporting crops. After the land is abandoned, the forest may take up to 50 years to grow back.
An example of increased demand
Bangsri, Indonesia - The last of central Java's great teakwood forests ends up in places like this, a place filled with the whine of buzz saws and the burr of electric sanders, a place like Abdul Jambari's garden furniture workshop. "This is for export," Jambari says, stroking the finely polished arm of an auburn-grained folding chair. "It's the best teak, what we call class A." And because his order book is full, a month or two from now, for about $100, Jambari's chair will sit on a patio or deck somewhere in the United States or Europe.
But that chair and the 4,000 others that are part of Jambari's latest export shipment, have left behind a swath of utter devastation, one of thousands that afflict this archipelago and spell the end of the majestic forests that once blanketed Indonesia. Their disappearance also means the extinction of innumerable animal and plant species indigenous to this country.
The tropical forests of Indonesia, one-tenth of the world's total, have fallen victim in part to the virtual collapse of political authority in this southeast Asian nation of 1,000 islands and more than 200 million people, the fourth-largest population in the world. The toppling three years ago of the regime of President Subarto, a close U.S. ally, whose three-decade rule often ruthlessly imposed order, has been followed by widespread violent upheaval, including multiple secessionist movements. In this chaotic atmosphere, illegal logging has gone unchecked.
In an unpublished report, the World Bank found that all the lowland forests in one of Indonesia's largest islands, Sumatra, will be extinct before 2005, and in Kalimantan, the island formerly known as Borneo, by 2010. Swamp forests will disappear five years later. In the past decade, the rate of Indonesia's deforestation has accelerated from 2.47 million acres annually to 4.2 million acres.
Based on an analysis of satellite photos of Indonesia's forests, the report contends that unless the government acts immediately to stop rampant illegal logging, "the only extensive forests that will remain in Sumatra, Kalimantan and Selawesi in the second decade of the new millennium will be the low-stature forests of the mountains."
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