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Weems 1Brian WeemsMrs. FrenchEnglish 10218 February 1999 The Survival and Failure of our Rainforests: Rainforests around the globe are faced with the daily struggle for survival. Many are in the process of being destroyed by the poverty- ridden communities whose inhabitant live on the outskirts. Some are destroyed for their lumber and others are clear cut for farming. This destruction has caused a number of very real concerns within the scientific community, and environmental groups have been battling against deforestation for over 20 years. Many are finally realizing that the rainforests are no longer expendable resources, and attempts are being made to recover lost habitats. But some believe that the damage created by deforestation is irreparable. Estimates vary, but some scientists claim that thousands of species may become extinct before man ever discovered them. From South America to Southeast Asia, rainforests represent unique ecosystems. Because of the rich organic debris caused by the plant in the rainforest, diverse species of insects and animals thrive. There may be more than 2 million different species of plants and animals vying for an ever decreasing forest habitat (Raven 1094). The scientific community has just begun this tough task of discovering the impact that these ecosystems may have on species 2classification. These ecological organisms have many cooperative and competitive ways in which they live. For instance, two different grazing animals that live together on the African plain may both eat grass, but if they evolve to eat different kinds of grass they can live peaceably together, because they do not compete (Lampton 19). One reason that rainforests are such affective habitats for so many species is that they are highly productive. Many of these rainforests originated out of mainly infertile soil, but the nutrients present within the plant cover itself is rapidly recycled when the plants die (Raven 1094). This same weak topsoil does not make a solid base for any form of sustainable agriculture. For years, populations surrounding the rainforests have cleared the land in hopes that the same type of rich growth present in the forest will translate into large crop field. But this has never been the case. The delicate balance of the rainforest ecosystem is what created the lush cover of plants. When cleared, the land lacks proper drainage abilities and nutrients to sustain agricultural production. Some have estimated that destruction of the rainforest may cause the extinction of as much as 1/4 of all species in the next century (Raven 1094-1095). This knowledge has called to action a number of scientist in attempts to prevent further destruction. And though the loss of species is undetectable and not so important to humans, the scientific community recognizes that these ecosystems may provide information that could improve the quality of life for most humans. The loss of these habitats has potential of making a great impact on human life (1095). 3 It should be noted, too, that new species are being discovered all the time within these rainforest communities. And though most of these new species are plants and insects, they are not limited to these alone. In a New York Times article dated June 19, 1996, Mark Poffenberger reports that a new species of primate was discovered in the rainforests of the Amazon. Described as a curious, squirrel-sized marmoset, the Satere monkey is the sixth new species of monkey discovered in the area in just six years (7). It is predicted that more exist and that several more will be found before the end of the 20th century. The bio-diversity of these habitats is undeniable, and man has a responsibility to protect the lives of these animals, our closest biological kin. Many governments have begun the process of protecting their endangered rainforest habitats. In Asia, where nearly 60 percent of the world s population lives, rainforest suffer from the ever increasing demands of the population. Most of the region s rural population live within rainforest habitat, constantly struggling to convert rainforest habitat into food (Poffenberger). In an area of the world were more than half of each countries land is basically controlled by governmental agencies, scientist hoped that limitations would allow for protection of these habitats. But to their dismay, many are developing nation struggle with environmental shortsightedness. The revenues available from lumber harvests cause the controlling governmental agencies to allow for the devastation. The price of destroying these rainforests is more than just the toll on the habitat. The negative environmental consequences of deforestation are long lasting and some are irreversible. Global warming caused by the lack of
4carbon-absorbing forests affects climate patterns around the world. The imbalances caused by destruction of the rainforest changes the patterns of the water tables and results in flooding, drought and environmental water pollution (Poffenberger). In the U.S., the Pacific Northwest recently experienced unparalleled amounts of flooding, causing landslides in areas deforested that were once considered rainforest habitat. Environmentalists were led to the conclusion that continued widespread deforestation would take its toll on man. The short sightedness of the logging industry, benefiting wealthy conglomerates, forced the government to pour millions of dollars in relief aid into ravaged communities. It has become clear to scientists and environmentalists alike that the time for change is now. Scientists have predicted that unless efforts are made now to stop the deforestation and revive lost habitats, there will be little undisturbed rainforest left in the world by the end of the 21st century (Raven 1190). Poffenberger, in his New York Times article states it most clearly: Unless the world s tropical forests are husbanded, regenerated and treated with wise sanctity and wise management, they will not survive (3). In Asia, there are hopes that the government will once again relinquish control of forest management to the small communities that live within these ecosystems. Rather than force them out, forest communities must be allowed to participate as part of the ecosystem, without the fear that governmental logging will take away their sustenance. In these small outskirt communities, villagers and forest dwellers are uniting in a common front against the corrupt governmental policies. But rainforest communities in other parts 5of the world still struggle to combine their personal needs with the needs of the rainforest habitat. In finding the solution to deforestation, environmentalist must help communities find a new economic base. It will be impossible to convince poor villagers to give up their practices of deforestation, environmentalist must help communities find a new economic base. It will be impossible to convince poor villagers to give up their practices of deforestation, whether it is the profits from lumber sales or for land to produce food, unless countries can offer them alternatives. One group of entrepreneurs, sparked by the rising interest in nature, proposed a system called ecotourism with the expectation that they could increase revenues in developing nations. The concept was developed from the idea that their were communities that lived on the outskirts of habitats in need of preservation. Many Americans and Europeans sought to visit these habitats, and it was thought that this travel industry could bring money into communities and prevent increased devastation to suffering habitats (Padgett 1). But this plan quickly back fired. In the highlands of Mexico, tourist groups sought to visit millions of monarch butterflies in their natural winter habitats in the rainforests. But the increased popularity of this program promoted deforestation for the creation of facilities for the tourists (2). When environmentalists posed a ban on the sale of mahogany to prevent deforestation, Dr, Nick Brokaw, a topical forest ecologist, reminded environmentalists that there is often more than one side to a story. The boycott, Brokaw pointed out, would reduce the value of mahogany products. If communities could not get the funds they needed from wood sales, rainforests 6would be converted into agricultural land (Line 1). Instead, Brokaw proposed the creation of a tropical-forest industry with an ecological base in Belize. This small Central American county has over 5,000 square miles of tropical rainforest that has not suffered the ravages of deforestation. Brokaw s plan is to reintroduce mahogany to the forests of Belize. Once the predominant species of tree in that rainforest, logging has removed all but a small number of mahogany. Reintroducing the tree, managing harvest on the outskirts of the rainforest, and promoting the sale of trees may be the only solution. But Brokaw is clear to state that ecologist cannot bring about change without an understanding and a commitment from foresters (Line 2) It seems that inherent in any workable plan to prevent the total deforestation of the world s rainforest must be a commitment towards cooperation. Whether it is cooperation between governments and small communities or cooperation between environmentalists, ecologists and foresters, the call is at hand for change.