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Essay: Stopping Wildlife Extinction: Taking Action Against Deforestation to Save Wildlife Biodiversity in Tropical Forests

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Deforestation and the Impact on Wildlife Biodiversity

Nearly thirty thousand species go extinct each year (Arrandale).  To put that number in perspective, this means that approximately one hundred fifty to two hundred species goes extinct every single day (Arrandale).  Deforestation, which is referred to as the cutting down of forests and trees for non-forest use, is one of the leading causes of extinction for wildlife, especially in the Amazon (Lindsey).  Many people view the act of deforestation as something that simply yields profit and provides vital natural resources for humans.  While this is true, a vast majority of these individuals do not take in to consideration what deforestation means not only for humans and the environment, but for wildlife biodiversity in tropical regions.  In general, the importance of biodiversity and the extent to which humans depend on it is not typically recognized or even acknowledged.  If society begins taking action now, damages done to wildlife populations can be repaired.  There are a multitude of ways deforestation can be limited, and alternative methods considered, in order to increase productivity of necessary natural resources for society, as well as saving wildlife biodiversity in the process.  The amount of deforestation that occurs should be reduced and alternative methods sought out as it negatively impacts the biodiversity within wildlife in tropical forests by causing thousands of species to go extinct each year, which disrupts the critical balance and productivity of ecological systems.

Deforestation has taken place throughout history; however, this issue became particularly prevalent in the mid-20th century when the demand for agricultural land became increasingly high.  Today, deforestation is widely used for “agricultural expansion, wood extraction (e.g., logging or wood harvest for domestic fuel or charcoal), and infrastructure expansion such as road building and urbanization” (Lindsey).  Take note that all of these reasons are based off human necessity and an increase in population.  The population is growing at such an alarming rate, resulting in the need for more space to farm and create buildings.  Although deforestation provides a wide variety of resources essential to everyday life, the negative impacts of deforestation on wildlife biodiversity are becoming much more prevalent in tropical forests.  The destruction of forests throughout the Amazon poses great risks for wildlife and their survival, by causing unnecessary changes to ecological systems and limiting the amount of roles these species play in maintaining a healthy ecosystem.  Few people realize that a biologically diverse world is required to properly carry out various functions and aspects of life.  Environmentalists are finally becoming aware of the rate to which our forests are being cut down, and how detrimental it may prove to be.  Environmental organizations such as Greenpeace and the World Wildlife Fund have worked very hard at bringing awareness to the monumental decline in biodiversity as a result of deforestation (Karaim).  Additionally, there are a number of laws and regulations in place to help endangered species recover, and to limit the amount of deforestation taking place throughout the world.  The Endangered Species Act of 1973, intended to recover endangered species in the United States, has proved completely unsuccessful in doing this (Cooper).  Although previously being effective in banning deforestation in the Amazon, Brazil’s Forest Code of 1965 has recently been reformed, which provides farmers with more areas to cut down trees, consequently hurting wildlife in the process (“Untangling Brazil’s Controversial New Forest Code”).  If the Amazon is destroyed by deforestation and eventually ceases to exist, the earth will begin to experience significant changes in functionality due to the loss of wildlife biodiversity.  Efforts to fight deforestation have been implemented, but the problem still persists today, and will continue to have a lasting negative effect on wildlife biodiversity.  However, if action is taken soon, biodiversity can be replenished and damages to forests repaired.

Tens of thousands of species go extinct each year, which is proving to be destructive to wildlife biodiversity in tropical forests, as well as negatively affecting the lives of humans (Arrandale).  The rate at which species are going extinct is alarming.  Thomas E. Lovejoy, a scientist who coined the term biological diversity, states, “Each species is a small piece of [the global threat] but it all adds up. . . we’re in the first stages of a mass extinction” (qtd. in Karaim).  The last time Earth experienced a mass extinction was 65 million years ago; therefore, scientists are not aware of how Earth will function without certain species that carry out essential services for our every day lives (Karaim).  The level of biodiversity each year is tracked by the World Wildlife Fund, and their findings in 2012 concluded that “biodiversity has declined globally by around 30 percent between 1970 and 2008.  The loss has been worst in the tropics, the richest storehouse of life on the planet, where it has fallen 60 percent” (Karaim).  This means that well over half of the biodiversity in tropical regions has diminished in 38 years.  At this rate, there is no possibility of recovering unless action is taken right away.  A species that has particularly been affected by habitat loss as a result of deforestation is tigers.  This endangered species “[has] lost 93 percent of their natural range.  Their population has fallen between 3,200 and 3,500 in the wild” (Karaim).  The number of tigers in the wild has reduced significantly as the need for land is at an all time high due to the increase in our world’s population.  Humans are jeopardizing the lives of thousands of species every year simply because the need for the natural resources and land provided by deforestation outweighs the lives of wildlife.  Corporations that rely on deforestation to make revenue turn a blind eye to the problem that is taking place as a result of their carelessness, refusing to take responsibility for the atrocities.  In their eyes, nothing can be done.  This attitude is the reason why extinction rates are increasing at such a substantial rate, and biodiversity is diminishing.  Tropical rain forests are especially important in maintaining wildlife biodiversity as “their terrestrial and aquatic habitats hold more than half of the world’s known species” (Arrandale).  Apes all throughout Africa have found themselves facing the same problems as tigers; a loss in habitat could result in near extinction.  A survey regarding habitats conducted in Africa “found that in the past two decades habitat has shrunk by more than 50 percent for the Cross River and eastern gorillas and 31 percent for western gorillas . . . Deforestation and overhunting threatens the apes” (Karaim).  Deforestation is not worth the loss of countless helpless lives crucial to the efficiency and productivity of ecosystems.  While trees and the land they inhabit provide a plethora of important resources, there is a significant number of ways in which these resources can be accounted for in more efficient, nearly harmless ways, while still maintaining biodiversity.

Biodiversity is necessary in providing a balance in the ecosystems of wildlife in tropical forests.  Each species has their own unique role in the environment they inhabit.  Many of these roles may go unnoticed by society; however, the role of each species is important in maintaining balance in the ecosystem.  This balance must be preserved in order to have each ecosystem function properly, as “the extinction of any one species can set off a chain reaction that affects many other species, particularly if the loss occurs near the bottom of the food chain” (“Extinction and Endangered Species”).  If a species becomes extinct, this disrupts the balance in nature, and could potentially lead to unfavorable consequences for the species themselves, as well as humans.  Although not in the Amazon, a study done by Oregon State University explains how the restoration of the gray wolf population has resulted in the recovery of trees at Yellowstone National Park: “The ongoing reduction in elk herbivory has thus been helping to recover and sustain these plant communities in northern Yellowstone, thereby improving important food-web and habitat support for numerous terrestrial and aquatic organisms” (Houtman).  In other words, the reintroduction of gray wolves in to this region means there are more wolves, and therefore more elk being preyed on.  This results in a decreased population of elk to graze on trees.  In turn, trees in Yellowstone Nation Park have been recovering.  Many would not think that a recovering wolf population could benefit trees, but this is how the entire ecosystem works.  Ecosystems are carefully woven together, and the extinction of a certain species affects countless other animals immediately, or in some cases, down the road.

There have been a number of attempts to put an end to deforestation in the hopes that wildlife biodiversity can be saved and replenished.  Specifically, the Endangered Species Act of 1973 was a form of legislation passed in order to protect endangered and threatened species in the United States.  After looking in to this law and how it has fared in recovering endangered species, it becomes clear that this act has done virtually nothing to assist in the well-being and safety of species in danger of extinction.  In the span of over 30 years, “less than 1 percent of listed species have recovered under the law” (Cooper).  There has been much controversy over this act, “pitting environmentalists against property-rights advocates in a protracted debate over the ESA’s economic costs and environmental benefits” (Cooper).  Since no significant changes to the law have been made for over 20 years, it appears that property rights for businesses are more important than wildlife’s right to life and the right to live peacefully in the eyes of Congress. Furthermore, Brazil’s Forest Code of 1965, which proved very effective in banning deforestation in certain areas of the Amazon, has recently been reformed.  The reformation of this law “reduces the area to be reforested from 500,000 km² to 210,000 km². . . some worry that the amnesty provided for illegal deforestation may set a dangerous precedent, creating the expectation of impunity for future deforestation” (“Untangling Brazil’s Controversial New Forest Code”).  This means that a greater amount of land is susceptible to deforestation than before with no form of punishment.  The power has been given to landowners who make profit off of the land they gain from deforestation; these corporations have no incentive to halt deforestation.  An incentive is exactly what these landowners who feed off the revenue of deforestation and agricultural land need in order to stop the diminishing of wildlife biodiversity in tropical forests.

There are numerous ways in which alternative methods to deforestation can be implemented and wildlife biodiversity replenished.  As the negative influences on wildlife biodiversity due to deforestation worsens, people are attempting to put a stop to it.  Some corporations that rely on deforestation for their ability to function and be successful believe there is simply no other option; however, this is not the case.  A few businesses are coming to this realization: “Many big companies have learned that incorporating conservation into their business plans can reduce costs” (Strom).  There is much more money to be made by investing in environmentally beneficial services than resorting to deforestation.  Also, the amount of species and ecosystems that are being destroyed as a result of deforestation will cost society much more than the money made from resources and land gained from cutting down forests (Wolman).  In 1997, a study was done by a team of scientists led by Robert Costanza which “estimated the value of all the ecosystems and natural capital on the planet. The very rough figure: $33 trillion a year” (Wolman).  This shocking number proves just how important ecosystems are to our economy, and how essential it is that society maintain them to their full extent.  When extinction of a particular species occurs, the only solution is for humans to pay for these very expensive resources on their own.  These costs would eventually add up and could potentially lead to an immense amount of debt.  This debt would be more expensive for corporations than alternative methods to deforestation (Wolman).  There are ways in which corporations can actually make more money by being environmentally conscientious: “Once the spectrum of nature’s needs and human activities are analyzed together, planners can make development decisions that minimize environmental costs while maximizing investment” (Wolman).  Governments worldwide have begun offering incentives to farmers and land-owners for implementing ecosystem conservation efforts (Strom).  A few of these conservation efforts include recycling paper, wood, and plastics, as well as participating in eco-forestry, which is the act of cutting down trees without affecting the surrounding ecosystems and environment (Wolman).  If this trend continues, wildlife biodiversity will be able to bounce back considerably, and the idea of a mass extinction will forever be a reality of the past.

On the other hand, many do not view the extinction of animals as a concern for humans, as it is thought that there is no direct consequence to humanity if wildlife biodiversity diminishes.  Patrick Moore, Chairman and Chief Scientist of Greenspirit Enterprises, asserts, “Humans have caused species extinction ever since they migrated from Africa to new environments where indigenous species could not cope with human predation” (qtd. in Karaim).  Moore, among other scientists, believe that the extinction of species has been going on for centuries, and there is nothing uncommon about this phenomenon.  They claim that it is simply the circle of life, and cannot be altered.  While extinction has occurred throughout history, and the circle of life will always be a reality, Mikael Fortelius, professor of evolutionary paleontology at University of Helsinki, Finland, explains, “If species were going extinct at the rate they’ve always done, we wouldn’t have to worry, but they’re going extinct at a thousand times that, so, yeah, we should be worried.  It’s not a huge difference in kind, but it’s a huge difference in degree” (qtd. in Karaim).  Conservation biologist Stuart Pimm of Duke University adds, “one third to one-half of all species on Earth are predicted to be extinguished in the next century” (qtd. in Arrandale).  The rate at which species are going extinct is completely unsustainable.  Also, these aforementioned mass extinctions were all a result of natural occurrences unrelated to humans: “Unlike previous mass extinctions. . .the current extinction does not appear to be associated with a cataclysmic physical event.  Rather, the heightened extinction rate has coincided with the success and spread of human beings” (“Extinction and Endangered Species”).  The circle of life that biologists who see no threat to wildlife are referring to is extinction by certain physical events, such as a meteor strike which is thought to have caused extinction of dinosaurs, and does not account for human beings causing the extinctions by deforestation, which is what is happening in the Amazon and forests throughout the world (“Extinction and Endangered Species”).  There is no denying that the amount of wildlife biodiversity being lost each and every day is unlike any other period in history, and it simply cannot be ignored.  The only option to save wildlife biodiversity and the tropical forests throughout the world before it is too late is to speak out.

Deforestation is an issue caused mainly due to the rapid increase in population of the world.  This drastic increase in population calls for more space for land use, as well as a growing demand for natural resources and raw materials.  Many view deforestation as a necessity, by clearing land for farming, buildings, and infrastructures.  However, the impacts of deforestation on wildlife is concerning.  The only way to ensure wildlife biodiversity is maintained in tropical forests is to limit the amount of deforestation occurring in these regions.  Also, the government should seek out alternate ways of gaining land and resources, and put an end to deforestation by offering incentives to large corporations, resulting in a replenishing of wildlife populations in danger of extinction.  Oscar Venter of University of Northern British Colombia explains, “What can happen in the near-term is to encourage major policy mechanisms to actually speak to wilderness values and wilderness protection . . . Speak to your local officials, make sure you can set values on wilderness preservation that can occur through actual policy, where we set targets for wilderness protection areas” (qtd. in Kauffman).  Society as a whole must voice their opinions on this issue and participate in environmentally friendly acts in order to make a real change.  By recycling and purchasing recycled products, buying meat that has not been produced on deforested land, supporting environmentalist groups who speak out against deforestation, and simply spreading awareness, real changes can be made, and wildlife can bounce back.  It is important that each person who feels strongly about the negative impacts of deforestation should speak out, specifically to local government officials.  If action is not taken soon, humanity will begin to feel the effects of an immense loss of biodiversity, and this loss in biodiversity cannot be reversed.  On the other hand, there is a bright future ahead for wildlife biodiversity in the tropical forests, and the environment as a whole, if deforestation is limited and damages are repaired.

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