Laying my head on a pillow of moss framed by gnarled roots, I gaze upwards at the shifting clouds through a lacy emerald curtain. How could our world be the same, as gorgeous and as peaceful, without its sprawling forests? Nowadays, caught up in the hustle and bustle of city life, we may take the natural splendor of towering trees for granted. But 2011 is a year to change that outlook, and the United Nations General Assembly declared last week that this year will be the International Year of Forests
. The goal is "to raise awareness on sustainable management, conservation and sustainable development of all types of forests."
Forests, whether the exotic tropical rain forests or color-shifting deciduous forests, are key to the well-being of our planet. They are rich in biodiversity and provide countless habitats for animals. Forests cover only about six percent of the planet's surface and yet contain nearly 50 percent of all the world's plant and animal species. Tree roots anchor deep into the earth, preventing soil erosion and serving as an efficient water retaining system. Forests even play a role in countering global warming through carbon sequestration, since trees utilize carbon dioxide in the process of photosynthesis. Humans also rely on forests for both timber as well as non-timber products.
However, due largely to human actions, our forests are disappearing at an alarming rate. Over the past 50 years, more than half of the planet's original forest cover has been lost, largely due to deforestation, logging and accidental fires. The consequences are far-reaching. When the trees are lost, the entire ecosystem falters resulting in great biodiversity losses that upset the delicate equilibrium of life. As the forest begins to shrink in size, animals are forced to forage outside the forest boundaries leading to conflicts with human settlements. Carbon dioxide accumulates in the atmosphere at a faster rate, accelerating the dire effects of climate change. It is undeniable that forests are a source of necessary products for us humans, but we must use these natural resources in a sustainable manner rather than plunder.
That will be a crucial lesson for us to learn during 2011, as the world joins to plan how we can better protect these fascinating ecosystems. Look forward to further posts on the well-being of our forests throughout this year!