Definition of Deforestation

What Is Deforestation?


The term deforestation refers to the permanent, long-term conversion of an intact forest into land used for another purpose. Deforestation is threatening the health and quality of our earth, to potentially catastrophic effects, as trees and forest ecosystems are vital for a healthy planet.

Humans depend on forest ecosystems for so many natural services, including:

  • Climate change: Forests diminish the impacts of climate change by absorbing carbon dioxide and sequestering it in the form of bark, branches, and leaves. Deforestation is one of the main ways humans are contributing to global warming.
  • Nutrient and topsoil protection: By preserving important nutrients within a local ecosystem and preventing soil erosion, especially during period of heavy rain, forests play an important role in human health and survival.
  • Protecting biodiversity: Close to 70% of all land-dwelling animals reside in forests. As forests are torn down, the spaces these creatures occupy become smaller, resulting in species endangerment and extinction.
  • Hydrologic cycle protection: By absorbing groundwater, trees release moisture into the atmosphere, helping to fuel global hydrologic cycles that create stable weather patterns and provide moisture for crops. Without forests, our climate will be much drier.

Deforestation is happening for a variety of reasons. Trees are a fuel source, used as a building material, used for making paper products, they are felled and burned to make way for agricultural, residential, and industrial development, etc. Every year, 16 million hectares of forest are removed from the face of the planet.

Clear cutting is the most destructive form of deforestation. By obliterating all levels of a forest ecosystem with the use of heavy machinery that cuts down plants of all sizes and types it essentially kills any chance of the area recovering in the near future.

Organizations like the World Resources Institute estimates that about 22% of the world’s old growth forests – the original forests that have been growing over thousands of years – are still intact today in precious areas like the Canadian, Alaskan, and Russian boreal forest, tropical forests in the Amazon Basin, and the Guyana Shield.

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