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causes of deforestation

 
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I just found this chart:



I think it is important to note the significant extend of the effect of food production. Chalk up another reason why I feel so passionately about growing your own food.

Further, I think that with proper management, forestry would not cause deforestation and we could drastically reduce the wildfires at the same time.
 
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I don't think that in this graph tree cover loss means the same thing as deforestation. I think they're counting all trees removed as loss of tree cover. So even thinning out a bush might be considered in this total.

Deforestation is usually a term reserved for land where the trees are cut and the land is taken out of forestry or tree cover for the foreseeable future. Conversion to agriculture is the biggest cause of that.

I'm sure many would disagree on which cuts should be listed in green and which in red. It probably has to do whether the trees are harvested legally or illegally. Notice that North America has very little in the red area. But I'm not sure what happens if you have a permit and it's all legal for you to chop down those redwoods. Does that mean it was not commodity-driven? If a bunch of yokels in Cambodia strip the hillside of mahogany, most westerners would agree that that's commodity-driven. I don't know who made the graph.
 
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That graph also fails to indicate the density of the cover in the areas discussed. A thousand acres taken out of savannah is far fewer trees than a thousand acres of boreal forest.

One unpopular idea I hold is that forestry, especially for paper pulp, is as destructive as farming in terms of the health of the forest. We've taken actual, no-fooling boreal and mixed temperate hardwood transitional forest, naturally something of a polyculture, and we've monocropped it in a single species. When the industry collapses, and there's no more money for forest management, we have a monocrop desert far worse than the natural state of affairs of a boreal forest, and those are naturally pretty sparsely-populated to begin with.

So if we really wanted to do something about fixing deforestation, we would mandate that for every paper product made, that a large percentage of its biomass, up to 100% where applicable, be derived from a cheap, plentiful, fast-growing field crop that can be pulped and turned into paper, like hemp.

I would like a list of such field crops, especially including any that would produce fibre for paper pulp as a by-product of another harvest, but that's less important than getting our forests out of monocrop and back to the beavers, as it should be.

-CK
 
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For my corner of South America, those numbers look reasonable if perhaps slightly inflated, because nobody is keeping records of the illegal logging and it has to be guesstimates.
Forestry (planted, coppiced, etc) is accounted for. Land clearing is going towards cattle and soy, although generally the deepest reaches of the forest in Brazil are going more towards cattle. I hear that in Paraguay/Bolivia those forest reaches are going toward soy.  
Chris, I hear what you're saying and you make a lot of sense. The problem right now is that in south america at least wood is the one crop guaranteed to make money, and it is the one thing keeping us above water (other commodities are unreliable in comparison due to exchange and weather fluctuations). the big hope is that sustainability certification will guarantee management (FSC, etc) and that government mechanisms for conservation (.6 hectares preserved for every hectare farmed) will help to keep things from sliding off the cliff. But again, the forestry numbers only show the business that is being done according to the law, so it's hard.
I agree with you entirely about requiring parallel development of other fiber crops, we could be doing SO MUCH MORE but it's all about the bottom line. They can make more $$$ producing specific euc clones, so the entire industry is focused on eucalyptus. It's better, in my opinion, than burning out a field to plant soy and then drench it in roundup, but the green covering the earth is more cosmetic than ecologically correct.
(I work in this industry, in research for both pro- and anti-industrial forest lobbies. To me it is not cut and dried and I have mixed feelings about the whole situation. In the 13+ years I've been involved in it I've seen corn go down, soy go down [in my region] and trees come up. It's been a big shift, good for the country but not good for local farmers. Who never had it good, frankly. But it's stopping the country from imploding into revolution. Hard to wrap my head around and probably impossible to correct without a revolution, and considering how the world is going a revolution would probably imply draining every drop out of the environment.)
 
Chris Kott
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We need an environmental revolution. Forest fires, earthquakes, vulcanism... oh, wait. We're there.

Unfortunately, I see only two paths that we can go by to restore our Earthmothership.

One involves our looking carefully at our capacity for innovation and at what we need to accomplish vis a vis environmental replenishment and restoration for overall system stability, and then carrying through with such ideas as biorock-based artificial reefs, islands, and underwater ocean constructs for carbon sequestration, ocean de-acidification, and probably for supporting a sea-floor-based vertical mariculture industry.

The other path is much easier for everyone, until it isn't. It involves our continuing on this path until, hopefully suddenly, something bad happens to our food supply chain, and hundreds of millions starve. Hopefully that's just a secondary effect of some natural or manmade event that instantly kills unthinkable numbers of people. However it would happen, it would be more humane than starvation.

-CK
 
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That chart isn't nearly specific enough and doesn't capture the micro-issues at the root of deforestation.

The #1 reason for deforestation in the world is charcoal production.  It happens one watershed at a time.  People slowly work their way up from the bottom of the watershed to the top, cutting trees and burning them as they go.  One family can chop and burn as many as 10 or 20 trees a day this way.  20 families . . . the watershed is deforested within a year or two and then they move on to the next one.

I recently visited Haiti and even though I know about the massive deforestation that's taken place there, I was stunned to see truck after truck rumbling down from the highlands, filled with massive bags of charcoal.  In the huge market on the south side of Port Au Prince, these bags of charcoal were stacked 10 meters high, and the stacks went on and one --- dozens of charcoal venders.

People making and selling charcoal is the reason that forests are being cut down and "converted" to marginal farmland, only to be abandoned a decade later when they've so denuded the soils and eroded the hillsides.  And off to the next watershed they go.
 
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Chris Kott wrote:That graph also fails to indicate the density of the cover in the areas discussed. A thousand acres taken out of savannah is far fewer trees than a thousand acres of boreal forest.

One unpopular idea I hold is that forestry, especially for paper pulp, is as destructive as farming in terms of the health of the forest. We've taken actual, no-fooling boreal and mixed temperate hardwood transitional forest, naturally something of a polyculture, and we've monocropped it in a single species. When the industry collapses, and there's no more money for forest management, we have a monocrop desert far worse than the natural state of affairs of a boreal forest, and those are naturally pretty sparsely-populated to begin with.

So if we really wanted to do something about fixing deforestation, we would mandate that for every paper product made, that a large percentage of its biomass, up to 100% where applicable, be derived from a cheap, plentiful, fast-growing field crop that can be pulped and turned into paper, like hemp.

I would like a list of such field crops, especially including any that would produce fibre for paper pulp as a by-product of another harvest, but that's less important than getting our forests out of monocrop and back to the beavers, as it should be.

-CK



I do not think this would work very well, stated as such because it did not work in Maine, the most forested state in the nation.

That is because when we lost our paper mills, we lost the value of our woodlots. Because we have to pay property taxes, some of the highest per capita in the nation, we just cannot let land sit. In fact, in the past four years the opposite has occurred from what you propose. Having lost the use of our wood, and our woodlots suddenly dropping to 1/3 of their levels, many people have done what I have...cleared forest land into agricultural fields.

We have too, it is the only way to keep what we have.

Do the math on it if you want; with property taxes around $35 per acre, and the average cord of wood paying $35 to the landowner, and where we can sustainably harvest one cord of wood per acre per year, we are making ZERO dollars by keeping it in woodlot. But upon clearing the land, suddenly I can raise 10 sheep to the acre, and they pay out $100 per lamb per year. Even if you throw in 50% loss for hidden costs, and you still end up with $500 per acre. And at $201 per acre to clear the land, well it is easy to see why an unprecedented amount of forest is being converted to agriculture here.

I have cleared about 120 acres of forest into field, and am holding steady now, but might clear more in the future.

But I am not the only landowner doing this. All around me people are clearing forest in farmland. The reason is simple: high property taxes, and no paper mills left in Maine in which to market our once thriving woodlots.

That might be changing though, Maine just passed a law forbidding Styrofoam and Plastic drinking straws. Just where they plan to get all the low grade paper from, I am not sure. Our paper mills are all closed. But myself, I prefer plastic drinking straws as the paper ones stick to your mouth when drinking from them. Not really my thing...
 
Chris Kott
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Mine might be an old point of view, but straws go on the napkin along with any fruit. Unless I am very young or old, or infirm in a way that makes drinking difficult, straws aren't high on my list of necessities, and certainly not worth the environmental hassle of making them out of plastic.

I see the economic issues you point out. It's at that point, I guess, that things like tax incentive programs to encourage environmentally responsible behaviour kick in. I know a certain subset of political thinkers purely hates that idea, but the current circumstance, where it's less affordable to keep trees than to convert to pasture to run sheep, and where government needs to step in to avert environmental harm caused by free-market activity, is clearly problematic at best.

-CK
 
Dale Hodgins
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I totally agree with whoever mentioned charcoal being a major culprit, at least in the tropics.

Solutions are straightforward and well-known. Fast growing tree species are also excellent at land restoration and you get a lot of firewood or charcoal. Every community that puts in biodigesters, requires less charcoal. Those who use burners design for charcoal, use less than those who use a few rocks to support a pot.

I'm getting into growing those fast growing species. I expect half of the wood to be good for higher purposes and the remainder to be used for charcoal or as firewood. The leaves provide good fodder. 

I think before the world plants one more bit of hemp or other field crop for fiber , we should try to utilize the megatons of banana stems, pineapple leaves and other agricultural residues that are currently not being processed into paper. Vast amounts of wood are also allowed to burn each year. And a huge amount of the world's firewood is burned in efficiently.

Farmers burn massive amounts of useful fiber, because it has no value to them , often because of difficulty in transporting to someone willing to pay for it .
 
Chris Kott
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So what projects or processes could be used to turn banana fibre into something useful, and what would those useful things be?

I am not familiar with it. If it was structurally sound for the purpose, I could see a lot of environmentally-friendly reusable shopping bags being made of it, perhaps seeing a first life as sacking material for the storing and shipping of bulk goods.

If it was structurally inferior, banana fibre might be woven with a compatible, stronger natural fibre. The first ones I would look at would actually be fibre crops already in production in the area, but hemp would do well if there wasn't an alternative already available.

On another note, as charcoal is a driver of deforestation in the tropics, what are our alternatives? Is there a high-biomass crop that could be pyrolised for charcoal instead of trees? Is it possible to take something like banana fibre, feed it through a press, and then pyrolise the pressed blocks? I mean, I would love to see some high-yielding field crop grown out every year just to be baled, pressed, and turned into charcoal. It isn't the cleanest way to go about things, and I am more interested in the possibilities of converting tonnes of organic waste product into tonnes of intensely useful biochar, but if all the charcoal burnt for whatever reason in this world came from compacted and pyrolised biomass field crops, the burning itself would be carbon-neutral. Harvesting, processing, and getting it to market would be carbon costs, unless all power was derived from renewable resources (and even those have an embodied carbon cost), but those would be the same if deriving the charcoal from wood rather than field crop biomass.

This is only laterally related to deforestation, although solutions can come from almost any direction. I think what might work, for some specialised applications, is the following:



If we could take waste fibre streams and weave them, in situ, into biodegradable mats, they could immediately be used as mulch. If a hopper of seed and a mister was included towards the end of the weaving process, we could incorporate forest-oriented green manure and tree crop supportive guilds into these waste fibre runners. Not only would they do an excellent job shading out bare soil to avoid dessication and the need for weeding in dry conditions, in the wet season, the mat would sprout in green manures, anchoring it with thousands of tiny root zones, and choking out competing growth. We could even seed the mats with tree species appropriate to the area of deployment.

Biodegradable mulch mats would easily overtake plastic mulches, if the price point wasn't prohibitive. I don't think that agricultural plastics for the purpose of keeping the soil covered are included under the banner of single-use plastics, but they really should be, considering the degradation that happens during their deployment, and the bits lost when it starts falling apart.

These mats could easily be used to decrease solar and wind dessication in problem areas, keeping the soil underneath more conducive to harbouring soil life, and to nurturing seedlings.

I know, it's a crazy idea, right? Use waste stream biomass to weave together long runner carpets to cover bare soil, to shelter it as mulch, or the shade of trees, might. The trees that grow from that mat could easily cast their shadows to the area immediately adjacent, and absent human interference, would drop seed downhill and downwind.

Now what would happen if we took a piece of a continent with a disproportionate quantity of desert, and then carpet-bombed the windward coast of that continent with biomass mats?

The leading cause of deforestation is (wait for it) cutting down trees. So let's do the opposite, and figure out ways to avoid the prime cause of deforestation (cutting down trees).

-CK
 
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Tangential point, but curious what the potential is for reforestation of arid areas (mainly with swales and pumping groundwater) to establish trees.  My sister is doing similar on a smaller scale in Colorado.  People seem not to understand how much tree shade cover is necessary in arid (or even temperate) areas to allow grasses and other productive plants to get established.  Bumping up evaporation rates from trees restores rainwater, etc.... interested in larger-scale operations to improve projects such as China's green wall.  Could we completely reverse and push back the creeping deserts?  Or are there more limitations to ecosystem modification than we might realize?
 
Travis Johnson
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Josh Garbo wrote:Tangential point, but curious what the potential is for reforestation of arid areas (mainly with swales and pumping groundwater) to establish trees.  My sister is doing similar on a smaller scale in Colorado.  People seem not to understand how much tree shade cover is necessary in arid (or even temperate) areas to allow grasses and other productive plants to get established.  Bumping up evaporation rates from trees restores rainwater, etc.... interested in larger-scale operations to improve projects such as China's green wall.  Could we completely reverse and push back the creeping deserts?  Or are there more limitations to ecosystem modification than we might realize?




I have cleared, and clear for others, a lot of land from forest into field, and I once had a wetland expert from the USDA say that by clearing forest I am decreasing the depth to groundwater. I do not believe it though. While I can see his point that 60 feet of trees, laden with moisture would "suck up" a lot of water from the ground, I do not see it happening in real life. In fact after having cleared hundreds and hundreds of acres of forest into field in my lifetime, I have yet to see a noticeable change in ground water conditions in a given area I have worked.

A lot of it may be because we live in Maine where bedrock is from 0-10 feet deep on average, and as everyone knows, water always sits on top of ledge rock. With water trapped within root depth, the trees are tapping into a natural emergency reservoir of water.

Another aspect is, a forest is a series of millions of swales and ponds. That is because it is littered with stumps, logs, cradle knolls, depressions and hummocks. As rain comes down, it is trapped by all those varying terrains, and so the trees are fed water by absorption and not so much "sucking up water from the water table." When I clear land, and make a field, the ground is thus graded so as rain and snow melt happens, that water flows across the land. In this way there is no net change in ground water because I am shedding more of it from the onset. In short, as a forest the trees collect it, yet as a field the water sheds it, so there is no change to the ground water.

And then there is the soil itself. I have stated a lot that my town has the best soil fertility in the state, and it does because it is gravelly loam. That means water moves through this soil well. It is why it is good for growing potatoes, and why after a heavy rain we can still get on our fields the next day. So here, we have a lot of water moving THROUGH our soil. I know this because my septic system has the smallest size allowed for a leaching field. It just percolates well.

All this forest clearing would seem detrimental, but this is Maine where we get too much water instead of arid lands that do not get enough. In fact, over the last 20 years we have got an increase of 5 inches of precipitation. I use a lot of swales, but they are not on contour because I am trying to move water, and not trap it. Goodness gracious my organic matter is already at 6%, I need to move water off the land and not get more absorbed!
 
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