What is Deforestation? Causes, Effects, Steps to reduce Deforestation


What is Deforestation? Causes, Effects, Steps to reduce Deforestation

Ecological and Economic Benefits of Forest-

Forest is an area with high density of plant and animal species They are complex ecosystems supporting tremendous biodiversity of flora and fauna. Forests are also critical indicators of other natural resources like water bodies, soil and air quality and have great significance for mankind too. 

Forests have multi-dimensional significance discussed as follows- 

  • Forests play important roles in our biosphere. They act as habitats for different animal species and maintain biodiversity. They produce oxygen by photosynthesis which is needed for life. 
  • Forests are natural water harvesters. They are critical for soil, land and water management. The roots of the trees bind the soil particles together and control soil erosion. 
  • Forest help in climate control and atmospheric purification. They play a critical role in carbon sequestration by absorbing about two billion tonnes of carbon dioxide every year.
  • Forests also regulate climate by maintaining global water vapour flows from land. Thus, they help in climate regulation by maintaining the carbon and hydrological cycle over the planet.
  • As per the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO), forests also support more than three-quarters of the world’s terrestrial biodiversity. 
  • Forests on land help in controlling floods and landslides. Urban forests are an effective way to mitigate air pollution and urban heat island effect. 
  • Forests are a natural buffer against many natural disasters. Coastal forests like mangroves provide protection against natural disasters like Tsunamis, cyclones, and coastal erosion due to sea level rise.
  • Forest provides us with much Industrial wood and fuelwood. Forests also provide economic resources like timber which is used in the furniture, paper and pulp industry.
  • Forest gives us many non-wood forest products (NWEP). In many poorer countries, especially in Asia, non-wood forest products such as food, fibre, honey and medicinal plants form an important source of income and a critical component of food security and well-being. Some forests are also sources of minerals.

As per FAO, about 1.6 billion people globally depend on forests (directly or indirectly) for their livelihood. About 300 million people live in the forests including 60 million indigenous people. 250 million extremely rural poor completely depend on forests for livelihood and nutrition. 

Impact of Human Activities and Natural Forces on the Forests of the World - 

The major effects of human activities on forest ecosystems are the following: 

  • The clearing and burning of the forests for agriculture, cattle rearing, and lumber result in loss of biodiversity, extinction of species, soil erosion resulting in the loss of vital topsoil, and disturbance of the carbon cycle leading to global warming.
  • The clearcutting and conversion of forest land on hilly areas for agriculture, plantations, and housing leads to landslides and floods that affect people in the forests and on the plains. It also increases the siltation of rivers.
  • Many forests have been affected by acid deposition originating from industries.
  • The harvesting of old-growth forests destroys crucial habitats for endangered species.
  • Pesticide spraying to control insects in forest plantations leads to poisoning all the way up the food chain and unintended loss of predatory hawks, owls, and eagles; this could, in turn, lead to an increase in the pest population.
  • Dams built in forest areas for hydropower and water drown huge areas, destroying species and depriving people of their lands; they could also induce earth tremors.
  • In wilderness areas like the Arctic, oil exploration and military activities disrupt the ecosystem, contaminate areas, and lead to the decline of species. 

Deforestation -

It is defined as the long-term reduction of the tree canopy cover for the conversion of forest to another land use.

Human footprint on land increased phenomenally post the Industrial Revolution. The demand for land increased for multiple uses like agriculture, industrialisation, mining, infrastructure expansion and urbanisation. The land was made available for all these purposes at the cost of forests being cut down. Thus, deforestation emerged as a new environmental challenge

The Main Causes of Deforestation - 

Some major causes of deforestation are- 

  1. Climate Change - It poses multiple threats to forests. With climate change, the incidence of forest fires is rising due to prolonged droughts and heat waves in many parts of the world. Coastal forests like mangroves are threatened due to sea-level rise. 
  2. Development Activities - Commercial logging methods, directly and indirectly, lead to deforestation. In many places, for obtaining one cubic metre of logs, two cubic metres of standing trees are destroyed. New extractive technologies can cut trees very quickly. When some species are selected for logging, non-target species are also damaged. Logging companies create infrastructure, especially roads, in forests to make their tasks easier. However, roads provide easier access to interior parts and encourage the entry of invasive species, hunters, poachers, tourists, plant collectors, and people in general. This, in turn, leads to further exploitation of the resources. 
  3. Firewood Harvesting - Firewood is still used as a cooking fuel in many parts of developing countries and LDCs. It is a major cause of deforestation and forest degradation in these countries. 
  4. Commercial Harvesting - Another area of concern is the depletion of forest-based wildlife due to the commercial harvesting and trade of bushmeat. This practice of killing wild animals for meat is prevalent in Africa, where many primates and antelopes are threatened. 
  5. Lapse in Forest Policies - Illegal timber smuggling and forest fires due to deliberate acts of vandalism are also leading causes of deforestation globally.
  6. Construction of Dams - The construction of dams in forests invariably causes enormous damage. Dam reservoirs inundate and destroy forests and their biodiversity. 
  7. Pest and Disease Attack - Pests like shoot borers, sap suckers, gall formers, canker-causing insects etc. are responsible for forest degradation all over the world. 
  8. Forest Fires - Intentional or accidental human-induced fires do cause damage. Such fires have become a major problem in large forests, especially in countries like Canada and the US. In a number of developing countries, fires continue to be used for land clearing with adverse consequences. 

What is the Relationship between Forests and Climate Change?

Forests play a major role in climate change:

  • Forests hold more than 50% of the carbon that is stored in terrestrial vegetation and soil organic matter. Hence, deforestation contributes significantly to net emissions of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. 
  • Forests react sensitively to a changing climate. If the predicted global warming occurs, the impact on forests is likely to be regionally varied, dramatic, and long-lasting, Even now, we can see how any extreme weather has a great impact on forests. For example, the 1999 storms in Europe caused heavy damage to forests and also to trees outside forest areas.
  • Climate change also causes more forest fires than usual. In many countries, there was an increase in wildfires during the 1990s compared to the previous decades, possibly due to climate change.
  • When managed sustainably, forests produce fuelwood as a benign alternative to fossil fuels. 
  • Forests have the potential to absorb about one-tenth of global carbon emissions projected for the first half of this century into their biomass, soils, and products and store them in principle in perpetuity. 

Impact of Deforestation 

  • Deforestation exposes soils and shade species to wind, sunlight, evaporation, and erosion. Soil fertility goes down due to the rapid leaching of essential mineral nutrients. Topsoil is eroded and this accelerates the situation in dams, rivers, and the coastal zone. The increased sedimentation harms downstream fisheries.
  • When the forest disappears, there is no regulation of the flow into rivers. As a result, floods and droughts alternate in the affected areas.
  • Deforestation, degradation, and fragmentation of forests affect many species and lead to the extinction of some. In particular, migratory birds and butterflies suffer due to the loss of their habitat.
  • Studies have shown that about 97% of the water absorbed from the soil by the roots evaporates and falls back on land as precipitation. When a large forest is cut down, the regional rainfall pattern may be affected.
  • Deforestation also leads to global warming by releasing carbon stored in the trees. If the trees burn, the carbon is released immediately. If the trees are cut and removed, half the carbon remains in the form of branches, twigs, etc. When they decompose, the carbon is slowly released. 
  • Clearing of forests affects the local communities, who lose their sources of food, fuel, construction materials, medicines, and areas for livestock grazing. What is more, they lose their culture and way of living. 

Sustainable Forest Management - 

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (UN FAO) defines sustainable forest management (SFM) as the stewardship and use of forests and forest lands in a way, and at a rate, that maintains their biodiversity, productivity, regeneration capacity, vitality, and potential to fulfil, now and in the future, relevant ecological, economic, and social functions, at local, national, and global levels, and that does not cause damage to other ecosystems. 

In simpler terms, SFM seeks to achieve a balance between society’s increasing demands for forest products and benefits, and the preservation of forest health and diversity. This balance is critical to the survival of forests and to the prosperity of forest-dependent communities.

Sustainable Forest Management is the use of the world’s forests in such a way that they continue to provide resources now without depriving future generations of their needs. One of the principles of SFM is to involve the local communities fully in forest management. Implementing this principle is, however, difficult since forest departments are usually very reluctant to lose their control over forest resources. 

Steps to reduce Deforestation - 

Forests play crucial ecological and economic roles. Therefore, sustainable forest management becomes important for climate regulations, biodiversity conservation and overall human well-being.

Various global efforts for forest conservation and management include - 

  • Stop the destruction of the earth’s forests; their material products and ecological services are severely threatened.
  • Use the world’s rich forest resources to improve life for poor people and benefit forest-dependent communities.
  • Put the public interest first and involve people in decisions about forest use.
  • Apply Sustainable Forest Management approaches so we may use forests without abusing them.
  • Develop new ways of measuring forest capital so that we know whether the situation is improving or worsening.
  • Make better use of knowledge about forests, and greatly expand this information base.
  • Take bold political decisions and develop new civil society institutions to improve governance and accountability regarding forest use. 

 Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) 


Question: What is the definition of Deforestation?

Answer - It is defined as the long-term reduction of the tree canopy cover for the conversion of forest to another land use.

Question: What are the main causes of deforestation?

Answer -  Some major causes of deforestation are- Climate Change, Forest Fires,  Development Activities, Construction of Dams, Overgrazing, Soil erosion, Pest and Disease Attacks etc.

Question: What is Sustainable Forest management?

Answer - Sustainable Forest Management (SFM) is defined as maintaining and enhancing the economic, social and environmental value of all types of forests for the benefit of present and future generations. 

Question:  Write some consequences of deforestation. 

Answer - Major consequences of deforestation are -

  • Biodiversity loss
  • Climate Change
  • Air Pollution
  • Soil erosion and land degradation
  • Agriculture losses and food insecurity 

Question: What is social forestry?

Answer - Social forestry refers to the planting of trees, often with the involvement of local communities, in unused and fallow land, degraded government forest areas, in and around agricultural fields, along railway lines, roadsides, river and canal banks, in village common land, government wasteland, and panchayat land.

The term ‘ social forestry’ was first used in India in 1976 and the idea has been adopted in many Asian countries.  

You may also read - Information about land degradation and desertification

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