How Reforestation Helps Animals
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Forests provide many environmental and economic benefits, including mitigating climate change, preventing flooding, filtering water and air, creating jobs, and providing space for recreation. One of the most important jobs of forests is to provide organisms with shelter, food, and water. About 80 percent of the earth’s land-based plants and animals live in forests, making these ecosystems incredibly important for these species’ survival. Unfortunately, forests are under threat from deforestation.
Since the beginning of human civilization, an estimated 46 percent of trees have been cut down, amounting to an average of 15 billion trees per year. In the last 50 years, 17 percent of the Amazon rainforest has been cleared, mostly for cattle ranching. Deforestation occurs when land is converted for farming, livestock grazing, drilling, mining, logging, or urban development. This practice harms the animals that have called these forests home for thousands of years.
Fortunately, reforestation projects can reduce this harm by converting land back to its natural forested habitat. To understand the benefits of reforestation we must first understand the ways deforestation harms animals.
As forests are burned or clear cut to convert land into soybean fields or cattle ranches, native organisms lose their homes or are killed during clearing. Even if patches of forest are left untouched, there can still be negative effects on wildlife from habitat fragmentation. The construction of roads, railways, housing developments, water reservoirs and more can cause habitats to shrink and become disconnected, cutting off natural roaming areas, limiting food sources, and increasing competition for other resources.
Competition for food increases when organisms are forced into areas that are smaller than their natural habitat zone. Predator species quickly hunt their prey, causing the prey’s population to dwindle. As prey become more scarce, many of the predators will die of starvation, causing their population numbers to shrink, too. The remaining prey may be able to bounce back, but this unstable cycle will simply continue, and create a domino effect that negatively affects other animals, plants, and people. The actual trees themselves often provide food in the form of fruit or seeds to omnivores and herbivores, so their removal eliminates a major part of the natural food supply.
Increased Human Interaction
Forest clearing brings humans and animals into closer physical proximity. Animals can be harmed through interactions with loggers and their equipment, attempting to cross roads, and wandering into residential neighborhoods. They can also be more vulnerable to poachers as they have less shelter in which to hide.
Forests are most often considered carbon sinks, meaning they absorb and store more carbon through photosynthesis than they release from decomposition and forest fires. In the United States alone, forests absorb about 14 percent of carbon dioxide emissions from human activity. When we cut down or burn forests, not only are we releasing the stored carbon from those trees into the atmosphere, we are also decreasing the earth’s overall carbon-storing capacity. Deforestation limits our ability to slow climate change, which hurts animals in the long run, even those who do not live in forests, like Polar bears. Stopping deforestation is in everyone’s best interest, even if you live miles away from forests.
How Reforestation Helps
Reforestation can mitigate the problems caused by deforestation. While this problem may seem intimidating, there are many reforestation projects that give us hope. For example, residents of Kokota, Tanzania planted more than two million trees in a decade. Even entire countries’ governments are getting involved in these projects. In 2019, Ethiopia planted more than 350 million trees in one day. Tree-nation is a website that tracks reforestation projects around the world.
These projects recreate the habitats that were lost to land conversion for human activities. They provide food, water, and shelter for animals and can restore predator and prey populations to nature levels.