Humans have put extreme demands on rainforests the world over. Rainforests have been harvested for wood for fuel and construction. "Slash and burn" methods have cleared vast areas of forest for farming and cattle grazing. Roads put through rainforest habitat not only interfere with wildlife but bring further development with continued clearing. These pressures are understandable, but whenever possible must be slowed or stopped to save these magnificent and essential forests.
In Guatemala the tragic consequences of deforestation are seen everywhere. The indigenous Mayans who live in small villages have cleared the steepest mountainsides to plant their corn and beans, and the only fuel available for cooking is wood. I was shocked when I first went to Guatemala to hear that farmers sometimes are killed when they fall out of their cornfields!
In the photo of the hillside below, you can see that it is now cleared for farming - and at risk for mudslides.
The solutions are complex - projects involving biogas for cooking are helping. Reforestation and managing the forests is extremely important. Family planning to slow population growth is extremely important.
What can you do to protect rainforests?
1. Live in a way that doesn’t hurt the environment – for example, don’t buy tropical woods. These are most often used for flooring or furniture. Mahogany, teak, and others are very common. Instead look for American woods such as oak, cherry, walnut, ash, and beech. Beautiful floors are now available made from bamboo – this is actually a fast-growing grass that is more environmentally friendly than cutting down huge old-growth trees.
2. Eat less meat! So much meat is produced now in large feed lots - “CAFO’s” – Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations – that the requirement for feed around the world has forced large swaths of the Amazon to be turned into fields to grow soybeans for export.
3. Learn about the rainforest – as you are doing – and share your knowledge and concerns with others. Pass along this book!
4. Support companies that are acting in ways to protect the rainforests. Don’t hesitate to ask your local lumberyard where their tropical wood comes from – ask if theirs is certified by the “Forest Stewardship Council”, an organization that certifies that wood is from responsibly managed forests.
5. Use FSC certified paper – see if your school district is using FSC paper. A list of approved paper brands is available online at the FSC website.
6. Support the formation of parks and preserves in forest habitat at home and abroad.
7. Support and donate to organizations that purchase large tracts of rainforest land for preservation – most notable are the World Wildlife Fund and The Nature Conservancy. Have a rainforest fund-raiser!
8. BUY some rainforest land for preservation – you can do this through the World Land Trust.
9. Support the people who live in the rainforests in their efforts to save their environment. This can be done through purchasing crafts from rainforest inhabitants and from visiting rainforests yourself. Ecotourism supports efforts to preserve these wild areas. Countries like Peru and Costa Rica are very aware of the value of their rainforests in sustaining the tourism sector of their economy.
10. Support international programs that provide family planning
assistance to poor rural families.
10. Support international programs that provide family planning assistance to poor rural families.
Did you know that by reducing your consumption of meat you can help save the Amazon? The Amazon Rainforest is being rapidly destroyed to use the land to grow soybeans which are then sold around the world for cattle food. A US Foreign Agriculture Service report says:
...significant additional deforestation will likely occur in the Amazon region, and that substantial agricultural development will follow in the next few decades. As outlined above, large-scale cattle rancher’s and small-scale farmers are currently responsible for the lion’s share of Amazon deforestation, and their access to new land parcels will be accentuated by new road development.
Scene from a hilltop in Mindanao, the Philippines, of what used to be rainforest. This vast island has few areas of rainforest left. A hurricane in December 2011 killed hundreds - not from wind and storm surge, but from mudslides and flash floods that were due to deforestation.
The following other fantastic organizations are working to help save our environment the world over. Check out their websites to learn more and to see what YOU can do! Earthwatch allows YOU to work with scientists who are saving the earth!