Can Our Forests Be Saved?
By Awake! correspondent in Canada
WHAT a refreshing pleasure it is to walk through a beautiful forest! It is awe inspiring to contemplate how these majestic trees send their spires towering into the blue vault above. Stepping on the springy cushion of moss and needles, you muse on the fact that some trees alive today were mere seedlings when the Son of God walked the earth 19 centuries ago.
Among such natural grandeur, one experiences a peace and serenity not found in the artificiality of our modern world. As one writer put it: “Perhaps the rebuilding of body and spirit is the greatest service derivable from our forests.” What a senseless waste, then, when once-forested hills and valleys are made into a wasteland of shattered trees and stumps! Yet, this is what is happening—worldwide!
Depletion of Forests
How far has the destruction gone? In 1980, Newsweek magazine reported: “In the time it takes to read this sentence, 8 acres of forest will disappear.” It continued: “Up to half the world’s woodlands may have vanished since 1950, and annual losses now are running between 1 and 2 per cent—25 to 50 million acres.” Environmental expert Erik Eckholm declared: “It is safe to say that a country the size of Cuba is being destroyed each year.”
Reports now indicate that two thirds of the original forested areas of Latin America have been devoured. In Africa one half of the woodlands have perished. One quarter of Thailand’s forests have been used up in just the past ten years. In the Philippines one seventh of the tree coverage was squandered during the past five years. The list could go on and on. True, wood products should continue to be used, but it is tragic to see these tremendous resources being exploited so wastefully.
Wood is used in a surprising number of ways today. Consider, for example, just one chain of fast-food restaurants. Merely in order to provide beverage and food containers, napkins and straws, this chain uses up the equivalent of 315 square miles of forest annually!
Seeing the vast potential for profit, giant multinational corporations have seized control of the greater part of the forest lands of the earth and have devastated them indiscriminately. Their policy is to “cut and run,” regardless of the consequences.
Modern power equipment has made this possible as never before. Instead of flashing axes, a modern logging operation is marked by the deafening whine of motor-driven chain saws. Huge diesel-powered machines gather up the logs, crushing underfoot any smaller trees that might be in the way. Another machine, after smashing its way into the woods, fastens massive steel bands onto a tree’s trunk and literally yanks it out by its roots, just as you would pull a beet out of your garden. Such wholesale destruction is called clear-cutting. Can you imagine what is left of a forest afterward?
Especially serious is the ongoing destruction of tropical moist forests, considered to be the most valuable ecological zones on earth. In the Amazon basin, for example, huge bulldozers with a heavy chain stretched between them advance through the lush jungle, sweeping an area clean of all trees and shrubs in a matter of hours. Why? One purpose is to prepare the land for cattle grazing. Another is logging. Loggers cut profitable commercial trees and ruin up to two thirds of what is left behind.
Cause for Alarm
Who is responsible for this destructive exploitation? In the Amazon a large measure of responsibility is borne by international meat-packing corporations that hope to raise large quantities of inexpensive beef for the tables of more developed countries. But whether it be for timber cutting or beef raising, the ravaging continues. Hence, many authoritative scientists believe that by the end of the century much of the biome of tropical moist forests will have been reduced to impoverished remnants—if not destroyed altogether.
Voices are being raised in alarm. Because of the pillaging of the Amazon moist forest, one writer warned: “The destruction of existing ecosystems would upset all manner of delicate ecological balances and would entail the irreversible destruction of an enormous source of oxygen which is crucial for the survival of the biosphere.” The situation there has been called “the century’s greatest natural disaster in the making” and is said to be “posing an incalculable threat to humankind.”
Scientists studying the effects of forest destruction on world weather patterns are concerned. They foresee two possible results: Either an earth-wide warming trend—which will raise average temperatures 2° F. over the next 70 years, possibly “melting the polar icecaps and raising sea levels more than 20 feet”—or a global cooling because the present rate of deforestation could make the earth’s surface “shinier,” causing a greater reflection of sunlight.
A further effect could be a change in rainfall patterns, which might introduce persistent drought to the principal farming areas of Europe and North America. The book The Forest Killers declared: “In sum, we are killing the very thing that sustains us with air and water.”
The Forest Ecosystem
“A natural forest is an extremely complex environment,” said Jack Shepherd, author of The Forest Killers, “with hundreds of species of plants, each occupying its own niche and each providing niches for many kinds of animals.” Left to itself, a forest can, in nearly flawless cycles, care for its own needs. It has an outstandingly efficient system of recycling dead material into minerals that eventually feed the forest plants. In its natural state very few of the nutritive minerals on which a forest thrives get drained off into the rivers and creeks.
Interestingly, certain species of mosquitoes stay in the tops of the trees. Is that important? Well, it is thought that diseases carried by insects, such as yellow fever and malaria, did not become a scourge until man brought havoc to the world’s forests. How delicate is the balance of a forest’s ecosystem!
Steps are being taken to preserve forest lands. In a few countries licensing and laws are becoming more restrictive. Extensive tree-planting projects and other programs are in progress in Canada, the United States, Japan and the Philippines. Some timber companies are practicing tree farming so that they can have a sustained yield. Vast areas of cutover land are being reseeded.
Of course, trees take time to grow. Hence, rapid-growth “supertrees” are being experimented with, the hope being to help prevent further shrinkage of the world’s woodlands. These can grow as much as 50 feet in a year, can stop forest fires from spreading and can inhibit soil erosion.
In British Columbia, Canada, tree seeds are being stimulated into extremely fast growth. ‘The seed is put into the refrigerator at around freezing level for four months,’ says a Toronto Star report. “Then it is taken out and put into germination trays filled with peat and a thin layer of gravel.” In this condition seeds stay in a greenhouse for six weeks where some seeds germinate. A return to the refrigerator for another period fakes a British Columbia “high-elevation winter.” On being removed from their “cold snap” to a greenhouse, everything flourishes. In 12 months they are ready for planting in an area to be reforested. The survival rate of yellow cedars has been from 95 to 100 percent!
A further conservation measure is the emphasis being put on using what was formerly discarded. Only 43 percent of cut timber is at present being put to good use. Through modern research, mill residue is being turned into particle board. Roofing and insulating materials, filler for linoleum, tannin and medicines are being produced from bark. Short lengths and crooked logs unsuitable for lumber are being milled into squares for use in making furniture legs, as well as handles for tools or toys. As research continues it would seem, as one writer put it, “that wood can be developed to satisfy almost every requirement of human and animal existence, and thus become civilization’s most significant raw material.”
Indeed, the demand for forest products is vast. It is estimated that the annual requirements of the timber industry equal “a mile-wide raft of logs, lashed side-by-side, stretching across the Atlantic from New York City to Lisbon”! Hence, the voices of conservationists are still being drowned out by the whine of power machinery and the crash of falling trees, leaving behind denuded land. Soil is eroded, debris is washed into streams. Because of having no forest cover, streams are becoming too warm for fish to inhabit. Wildlife deserts the land. In tropical moist forest areas the ground becomes hardened by the heat of the tropical sun, unable even to support grass.
A Day of Reckoning?
Undoubtedly there will be one! Jehovah, the Creator, has promised “to bring to ruin those ruining the earth.” (Revelation 11:18) We can be assured that the flagrant plunder of earth’s forests will come to a halt in the near future.
The next time you have opportunity to walk through a beautiful forest, really take time to enjoy the privilege. Breathe deeply of the clean, sweet air and drink in the healing scent of pine and balsam. Stand still and listen to the soft forest sounds. Look and marvel at the exquisite details, the flowers and the fern at your feet, the moss, the lichen, the massive boughs and gaze with awe at the very tops of the stately trees—all the beauteous handiwork of a loving Creator.—Psalm 69:34; Romans 1:19, 20.
And as you enjoy your walk in the woods, of this one thing you may rest assured: Jehovah God will save the forests if man will not.
[Diagram/Map on page 12]
(For fully formatted text, see publication)
Disappearance of Tropical Forests Annually
In Asia and Oceania 4.9 million acres* annually
In the Americas 13.8 million acres annually
In Africa 8.9 million acres annually
An area almost four times the size of the Netherlands is destroyed each year
2.47 acres = 1 hectare.