The Environment

Some Topics




Trees make forests, ecosystems that are vitally important to human existence. Forests account for 75% of the productivity of the Earth's biosphere, and contain 80% of the Earth's plant biomass. Forests convert carbon dioxide into oxygen and biomass, acting as a carbon sink, aiding in regulating climate, purifying water, mitigating natural hazards such as floods and serving as a genetic reserve. Healthy forests are biodiversity with a variety of trees, epiphytes and ground cover. Forests are home to a great variety of animals, birds, insects and microorganisms. Diversity and symbiosis are the key features of healthy forests. Land-clearing, logging and fires destroy the marvelously intricate ecosystem of forests. Forests at different latitudes and elevations are different ecosystems: boreal forests grow near the poles, tropical forests near the equator and temperate forests at mid-latitudes. Higher elevation areas tend to support forests similar to those at higher latitudes, and the amount of precipitation also affects forest composition. Tropic forests develop a canopy at the top of trees that supports many creatures, influences the weather and provide the planet’s best carbon capture surfaces.

I live on the edge of the coastal rain forests of British Columbia (BC),Canada. I have spent many years exploring the forests, finding a few stands of first growth giant trees of great age. I am a tree hugger who feels the powerful presence of these old giants. If I were in charge of planet earth I would shrink cities, restore forests and fields with wild flowers and butterflies. In British Columbia, Canada, old growth is defined as 120 to 140 years of age in the interior of the province. In the coastal rainforests, old growth is defined as trees more than 250 years, with some trees reaching more than 1,000 years of age.

Suzanne Simard, a professor of forest ecology at the University of British Columbia, studied inter-tree communication through forest soils. Mother trees support seedlings by infecting them with fungi and supplying them the nutrients they need to grow. The fungi form an intricate mycelial web underground. This network gives trees the ability to transferring carbon, nutrients and water to one another. Simard is opposed to clear-cutting of forests common in BC and advocates the advantage of mixed tree species sharing the forest. (Heather Amos . At the root of the problem. UBC News. July 7, 2011. Accessed Online March 2017. )

B.C.′s forests contain enormous volumes of timber (roughly 11 billion cubic meters). Spruce, lodgepole pine, and hemlock account for 61% of the growing stock. Approximately one-half of this timber is located on land available for harvesting. B.C.′s forests are disturbed and renewed by the actions of humans, fire, insects, and diseases. Lodgepole pine trees throughout the B.C. Interior have been killed by an outbreak of the mountain pine beetle. At the peak of the outbreak in 2007, over 10 million hectares were under attack. The outbreak had spread over 14 million hectares by 2008 and killed roughly one-half of the mature pine in B.C. Climate change and fire suppression may have helped create favorable conditions for this outbreak which is unprecedented in the historical record.

Canada has 4,020,000 square kilometers of forest land. More than 90% of forest land is publicly owned and about 50% of the total forest area is allocated for harvesting. The main method of harvesting is clear cutting an area and replanted with seedlings of a single species. About 8% of Canada’s forest is legally protected from resource development; 40% of the total forest land base is protected through integrated land use planning or defined management areas such as certified forests.

Much attention has been paid to the Amazon rain forests as a planet resource. Fifty years of deforestation have converted around 1 million square km of Amazon tropical forests to agricultural lands, endangering biodiversity and ecosystem functions. Additionally, global warming will likely shift tropical forests toward savanna ecosystems. Students of this forest resource have suggested that Amazonian nations should sustainably develop the Amazon forests as a source of biological assets and biomimicry designs that could lead to high-value products, services, and platforms for current and new markets. [i]

Hike et al wrote: ”We show that the vegetation canopy of the Amazon rainforest is highly sensitive to changes in precipitation patterns and that reduction in rainfall since 2000 has diminished vegetation greenness across large parts of Amazonia. Large-scale directional declines in vegetation greenness may indicate decreases in carbon uptake and substantial changes in the energy balance of the Amazon. Rise in equatorial sea surface temperature has led to concerns that intensified El Niño southern oscillation (ENSO) events and a displacement of the intertropical convergence zone could alter precipitation patterns in Amazonia , resulting in increased length of the dry season and more frequent severe droughts. The feedbacks of such drying on global climate change could be substantial; the Amazon rainforest stores an estimated 120 billion tons of carbon . Loss of forest productivity across Amazonia would clearly increase atmospheric CO2 levels; however, the extent to which drying affects terrestrial vegetation is currently unknown . Satellite remote sensing is the only practical way to observe the potential impacts that these changes may have on vegetation at useful spatial and temporal scales, but in recent years, conflicting results have been reported of whether productivity of tropical forests is limited by sunlight or precipitation. Saleska et al concluded that tropical forests were more drought resistant than previously thought and remained a strong carbon sink even during drought. However, these assertions were subsequently questioned and after a second drought in 2010, Xu et al documented widespread decline in tropical vegetation.” [ii]
[i] Sustainable development in Amazon forests. PNAS September 27, 2016 vol. 113
[ii] Thomas Hilke et al Vegetation dynamics and rainfall sensitivity of the Amazon. PNAS November 11, 2014 vol. 111 no. 45 16041-16046

Forests and Wildlife

Forests vary greatly in different regions of the planet. The universal features of forests involve an ecosystem and its wildlife. Indigenous humans are part of the forest ecology in the tropical rainforests of the Amazon, Indonesia and Africa. These indigenous people may share their habitats with other primates – lemurs, monkeys, chimpanzees, bonobos and gorillas. The survival of these primates depends on preserving their habits and preventing their killing by invading humans. The tropical rain forest of the Congo is increasingly protected by indigenous humans and benevolent outsiders. Trees are marked as individuals and mapped in a computer database. Selective logging can occur with the preservation of a sustainable forest ecology.

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