Large-scale companies and local people both cut down rainforest. How are the practices different and which affects the forest more?



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    The rainforests around the world are being destroyed at alarming rates. Trees are cut for timber or simply to make room for roads, ranching, mining, or housing developments. The rainforest is a unique ecosystem in its amazing complexity (perhaps only rivaled by coral reefs) and the delicate balance that must be maintained. The enclosed forest maintains perfect humidity and temperature for the organisms that live within its boundaries. In fact, some organisms (like certain frogs) are so sensitive to temperature that the raising of such by only a couple of degrees will cause them to overheat and die. The forest prevents huge gusts of winds from blowing through the lower portions, thus further maintaining a higher level of moisture.

    When a forest is cut a lot of problems develop. Equipment, trucks, and the simple removal of the trees that are holding the soil and other plants in place cause erosion. Furthermore, wind now has no barrier and can blow freely through the area, leading to additional erosion of the unstable soil. Wind also causes additional drying. Without vegetation animals cannot no longer survive. They are without food and shelter. Mobile organisms, such as birds, many mammals, and some insects, flee the area in search of a new home. Small and less mobile animals, like frogs and snails, cannot move fast enough or cannot move far enough to survive. Rainforests have high levels of endemism, meaning that many plants and animals are rare and have a limited range within the forest. Entire species may go extinct as a result of the destruction.

    It is true that both large companies and local people are cutting in the forest. In fact, a company may justify its practices by pointing out that the local people have been cutting within the forest for hundreds of years. However, there are differences. First, is the scale of the operation. In general local people are cutting small plots, a few acres in size, to farm a few crops or raise a couple of cows. The soil in rainforests is usually high in iron and shallow, so agriculture is not as productive as in rich, black dirt. After just a couple of years nutrients have been lost and a new plot must be sought. If the original plot is small enough, surrounding plants can drop their seeds throughout and the plot will close back in over time. With large-scale operations there is no seed bank left. Often the cut trees are burned, further damaging the soil so nothing can grow. There is no protection from surrounding forest for the cut plot and the forest is changed forever.

    A second thing to consider is the connection to the land. Many local people remain on the same plot of land that their family has had for many, many years. They depend on the environment for food and supplies and they have a close connection with nature. They know the local names and uses of many plants and animals and they understand relationships within the forest that scientists may not even have studied yet. Large companies, on the other hand, are often foreign and have no connection to the local land or culture. They are there to clear the land, make money, and continue on to the next site. Therefore, there is no care taken to protect the land for long-term use. There is no thought of the local animals or people.

    Trees cut from a tropical rainforest

    Trees cut from a tropical rainforest

    In short, the large companies are much more detrimental to the rainforest when they cut than a local person or even a local community. The companies are cutting a much larger plot and they have no concern for the local environment. Much can learned from the local people in terms of how to have a productive, sustainable agricultural or ranching situation within the tropical forest. However, it is rare that the time is taken to learn from them. In fact, large companies often hire local people, paying very well, if only for a short period, to help with the operation. It has been my experience that the local do not want to participant in such destruction, but they are in need of the funds to feed their families and try to create a better situation for their children.

    The destruction in the rainforest must be stopped immediately if we hope to save any of the remaining tracts, including their rare species. Furthermore, so much of the world is affected by the rainforest, in the oxygen that we breathe, plants we eat, and medicines that we use that we must all make an effort to stop logging and mining. If given the chance, visit a remote area of a rainforest and support the local people by staying with them, hiring them as guides, and visiting their parks, farms, or cultural events. This will further reduce the number of local people who must give up their beliefs and work with the large companies as the companies destroy their native lands.

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