Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Tropical Forest Preservation

Tropical forests inhabit warm, humid regions of the globe, and so they occur at or near the equator. Tropical growth covers about 6 percent of the world’s land area but contains at least two-thirds of all plant and animal species. Conservation of these forests affects biodiversity perhaps more than any other forest type, but several threats from human activities have made tropical forests very vulnerable to destruction. Primary threats represent the underlying factors that threaten almost all the world’s forests today. Poverty, population growth, climate change, and government policies are primary threats that contribute to the deforestation of tropical areas. Secondary threats, by contrast, exert immediate damage on tropical forests: logging, ranching, crops, and roads, for example.

Tropical forests have been particularly affected by poverty in developing countries for two reasons. First, governments may encourage deforestation in order to export products, and second, subsistence farming in impoverished areas decreases the forest little by little over time. The status of tropical forest loss due to these factors has not yet been determined in full because scientists have a difficult time monitoring forests, especially dense remote tropical forests. Illegal logging and mining, small-scale subsistence farming, and cultivation in remote places can go on for years before they are discovered and stopped.

Tropical forest restoration begins with the planting of native seedlings in degraded areas. Tropical forest soils normally lack sufficient nutrients, and intense cultivation and grazing depletes those few nutrients. For that reason soil rehabilitation accompanies tropical forest restoration. Sustainable harvesting methods can then be used in restored forests or original forests if timber harvesting remains necessary. Restoration remains a challenge because tropical forests are complex and largely unknown ecosystems located in regions where slash-and-burn logging and ranching have been the norm for a long time. These forests will likely never receive full protection without strong government support.

Sustainable harvesting makes use of reduced impact logging techniques to harvest trees at a rate no greater than the rate of tree replenishment. This objective has become very difficult to achieve as population increases and consumerism grows. Many of the resources that come out of tropical forests go to developed countries rather than the local economy. Ecotourism has proved to be another lucrative source of income that preserves these resources.

The fate of tropical forests rests on a combination of actions that originate at the local level and go to international programs. Any or all of these methods should be investigated further to save tropical forests from further destruction: sustainable forestry; new methods in logging and mining; alleviation of poverty to aid subsistence farming; ecotourism as an income source instead of lumber exports; and new methods of forest restoration. Most important, industries and governments must commit themselves to conservation plans. Without government help, tropical forests will likely continue to shrink in size until they become an endangered ecosystem.

Source of Information :  Green Technology Conservation Protecting Our Plant Resources

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Challenges in Restoration

Destruction of tropical forests has been going on for generations, but restoration technology represents a new promise. Restoration planners have a daunting task in changing the way communities, businesses, and governments think about their forests. This change in thinking begins with educating communities, as Chico Mendes did in Brazil, to the harm subsistence farmers potentially do to forest resources and their health when they cut down trees. The idea of restoration must be presented to those at higher levels also, such as local leaders, national government agencies, and international organizations. International pressure on illegal logging and clear-cutting gives restoration projects more time to achieve success.

The process of restoration itself presents several challenges to workers on a restoration project. First, seed dispersal is difficult work in hot, humid tropics. Second, not all seeds grow, and animals also eat about 65 percent of the seeds workers scatter or the seedlings they plant. Third, each section of forest has slightly different environmental conditions that make them unique, so one plan does not always work in all areas. Fourth, logging methods that remove all the native trees from an area also remove their seeds, which would be the best choice for restoring a native forest. Ecologists must therefore raise new seedlings in a nursery.

Fifth, clear-cut logging removes birds as well as trees, and many birds disperse seeds better than volunteers can. Finally, restoration includes extra work such as the planting of shrubs that protect seedlings and provide shade cover. Tropical forest preservation and restoration therefore may be one of the most complex jobs in environmental science. Tropical forests require this help more than any other forest type, and the preservation must go into action quickly to head off a pending disaster in biodiversity.

Source of Information : Green Technology Conservation Protecting Our Plant Resources

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Ecotourism in Belize’s Rain Forests

The Central American country Belize borders Mexico, Guatemala, and the Caribbean Sea.
Almost 13 percent of Belize contains protected forests, and of this area old-growth forests make up a large portion. Overall, forests and woodlands cover almost 92 percent of Belize. Rather than build an economy based on lumber, Belize’s leaders have developed a system in which the country uses its forests as an ecotourism destination. Belize also provides a rare example of sustainable ecotourism in which local residents act as guides and teach tourists about local history, their culture, and the region’s environment.

Belize houses hundreds of species of mammals, birds, reptiles, and amphibians, but its plant diversity may be most astounding: More than 3,000 species of higher plants live there. For almost 20 years the government has supported eco-business grants, which are funds that help small businesses establish themselves as green businesses, or businesses that emphasize sustainable activities. Meanwhile, local communities form custodial groups that watch for forest fires, illegal harvesting of trees and plants, wildlife poaching, and invasive species.

Traditional tourism can take a toll on land and coasts, and for decades Belize suffered from this type of unrestrained tourism. Habitat began to disappear, residents and animals were displaced, and waste accumulated. Ecotourism, by contrast, focuses on travelers who wish to see plants or animals in their native habitats. In Belize, sustainable ecotourism helps protect the forest habitat while it benefits residents by protecting forest-oriented lifestyles of the native people. Local interests that benefit from today’s sustainable ecotourism include arts, crafts, foods, language, and traditional healing methods.

In 1993 a group of business leaders formed the Belize Ecotourism Association to address ongoing issues on conservation and tourism. Some of the current issues covered by this association are the following: adopt-a-roadway programs; cruise ship traffic; national park management; and studies of proposed dams and other public projects. Through this organization the people of Belize control their destiny without outside influences.

Deforestation remains a serious threat in Belize because of the country’s other industries, which include: marine products, citrus, cane sugar, bananas, and garments. Belizean jungles also contain oil reserves, so the country confronts ongoing problems of encroachment and development. Despite the success the country has had in protecting its forests for ecotourism, Belize has arrived at a decision point in which it will either continue along the sustainable ecotourism path or move toward mass tourism and become a resort destination.

To build a promising future in conservation, Belize must fill the gaps in its education system by expanding programs that teach residents how to care for and protect their forests. The Belizean ecologist Colin Young was interviewed in 2007 by the environmental resource site Mongabay.com. Young explained, “Having strong, creative teacher education programs in the sciences for primary- and secondary-level teachers is a necessary first step to excite students in pursuing careers as scientists. Once the number of scientists increases, younger generations will have role models they can emulate.” Young added, “What is apparent is that forest resources in Belize need to be managed in a more holistic and transparent manner. . . . Empowering local communities and local people, where appropriate, to become stewards and co-managers of forest resources is also paramount.” Belize’s forest conservation will depend on dedication from all facets of its society in order to continue its success.

Source of Information :  Green Technology Conservation Protecting Our Plant Resources

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Restoration and Sustainable Harvesting

Years of burning the Amazon Basin forests have created dry conditions that increase the chance of more fires and makes restoration more difficult. Restoration and sustainable forest management are possible in all of the world’s tropical forests, but time is running out. Success in restoration and sustainable harvesting will come about only if both rural villages and national governments agree to the same plan.

Restoration involves activities that enable a degraded forest to recover its health and return to normal growth. Restoration methods make up a science called restoration ecology, which is the transformation of land back to its original state, or close to its original state, after being damaged by human activities. Restoration of tropical forests consists of three main techniques: reforestation, rehabilitation of degraded forests, and conversion of damaged areas to sustainable forestry.

The United States and many other countries have used reforestation to restore land that had been cleared of its forests. Reforestation involves the planting of hundreds of seedlings containing a mixed population of native trees, followed by the return of forest in the seeded areas to near their original condition within 100 to 500 years, depending on the type of trees.

In 1977 environmentalist Wangari Muta Maathai began the women’s Green Belt Movement in her native Kenya for the purpose of restoring the country’s tropical forests. Maathai inspired the group to build nurseries, raise seedlings, and plant new trees. Maathai described her country in her 2006 book, Unbowed: “At the time of my birth [1940], the land around Ihithe was still lush, green, and fertile . . . We lived in a land abundant with shrubs, creepers, ferns, and trees, like the mitundu, mukeu, and migumo, some of which produced berries and nuts. Because rain fell regularly and reliably, clean drinking water was everywhere. There were large, wellwatered fields of maize, beans, wheat, and vegetables. Hunger was virtually unknown. The soil was rich, dark red-brown, and moist.” By the time Maathai finished Unbowed, the situation in Kenya had undergone a drastic change. “The [European] missionaries were followed [in the 1800s] by traders and administrators who introduced new methods of exploiting our rich natural resources: logging, clear-cutting native forests, establishing plantations of imported trees, hunting wildlife, and undertaking expansive commercial agriculture. Hallowed landscapes lost their sacredness; local people became insensitive to the destruction, accepting it as a sign of progress.” Maathai’s Green Belt Movement had by 2004 planted a seedling for each citizen of Kenya—more than 30 million trees—that received legal protections from the government. Wangari Maathai was awarded the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize for her restoration program, which became a model for other countries in tropical Africa.

Rehabilitation consists of a variety of techniques like those used by the Green Belt Movement to restore partially degraded forests. Depending on the tropical forest’s condition, rehabilitation may include restoration of soil nutrients, selection of new plantings for fire or disease resistance, or selection of species for erosion control. Small clearings of tropical forest recover faster than large swaths of cut areas, especially when healthy forest surrounds them. Rehabilitated areas produce secondary forest, which contains less plant diversity than old-growth or primary forests, but over the long term these forests build good plant and animal diversity.

In addition to restoration of damaged land and rehabilitation of damaged forest, a third option involves sustainable harvesting, also called sustainable forestry. Sustainable harvesting relies on the concept that forests must be managed as a nonrenewable resource. Though tropical forests renew themselves over a span of years, the current rate of destruction—0.2 percent per year—will eliminate them faster than they can rebound.

Sustainable harvesting methods allow loggers to remove the timber they need while reducing damage to untouched trees. Sustainable harvesting rejects the use of clear-cutting or slash-and-burn methods. Instead, timber companies use techniques that are gentler on the forest ecosystem, called reduced impact logging techniques. The following list provides the main reduced impact techniques that could help conserve tropical forests:

» preharvest mapping and selecting trees of commercial value

» cutting canopy vines before felling trees to prevent damage to the surrounding canopy

» building narrow roads or trails through the forest to reach cuttings, rather than clear-cutting for major roads

» employing directional tree felling to reduce damage to standing trees

» reduction of wood waste by cutting stumps low to the ground

» protecting watersheds with stream buffer zones

» use of low-impact yarding systems—methods for hauling timber from forests to trucks

» incorporating restoration and rehabilitation methods in logging areas

» preventing illegal logging

» developing tree plantations on severely degraded land to prevent erosion and desertification

» performing post-harvest assessments to develop constant improvements

In countries where the government owns and controls most of the tropical forest, economics determine the decisions on traditional versus sustainable forestry. In good economic times, developing countries have a greater willingness to follow environmentally sound forestry. In depressed economic times, however, the government may begin selling timber at below-market value, and subsistence farmers may cut down more trees for cultivation or fuel. This means that big business must also accept a philosophy of conservation in order to save the forests. In 2008 Brazil’s Blairo Maggi, governor of a state with high soybean production, declared to Folha de São Paulo newspaper, “With the worsening of the global food crisis, the time is coming when it will be inevitable to discuss whether we preserve the environment or produce more food. There is no way to produce more food without occupying more land and taking down more trees.” The forest biome therefore remains very vulnerable to human needs.

Source of Information :  Green Technology Conservation Protecting Our Plant Resources