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Turn Deforestation Into Reforestation

by Deborah Mitchell
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Deforestation— cutting down, burning, and otherwise destroying forests — is occurring at a rapid pace. Only 2.6 million square miles of the original 6 million of tropical rainforest still remain in the world, and at the current rate, we are losing 5 to 10 percent of the species in those miles per decade. During the past few decades, most of the deforestation has occurred in tropical regions, and the pace of tree loss is not slowing. Currently, we are losing our tropical forests in Latin America and in Asia at a rate of about 2% per year, and in Africa, the rate is about 0.8% yearly. By the end of the century, most of the forests in parts of Brazil and in Bangladesh, India, the Philippines, and Sri Lanka could be nothing but a memory.

Deforestation threatens the existence of every living thing on the planet. The world's tropical rainforests as well as the dry forests are extremely valuable ecosystems that contain more than 60 percent of the world’s plant and animal life. On a planetary scale, forests help prevent an increase in global warming by serving as carbon sinks—areas that trap and store carbon dioxide. Trees absorb the gas from the air and then replenish the air with oxygen. The more trees we have, the better the air.

Preventing deforestation is also critical because forests help protect coastal regions, control avalanches and desertification, stabilize sand dunes, and prevent soil erosion and degradation. And for millions of people around the world, deforestation threatens their survival, as forests are their home and their source of food, medicine, and energy, as well as their spiritual and cultural identity.

Deforestation is practiced to make way for cattle raising and agriculture, especially in the tropical rainforests of South America and Southeast Asia, but also in parts of western Europe and North America. Deforested land often falls prey to unsustainable agricultural practices, which then fuels the need to clear even more trees for more land. Costa Rica is an example of such forest destruction. In the Brazilian Amazon, nearly 80 percent of deforestation is the result of cattle ranching. 

Widespread logging is the cause of deforestation in many regions. Global desire for teakwood furniture, for example, is causing the destruction of the last of the teakwood forests, which are in Indonesia, home to one-tenth of the world's tropical forests. Other causes of deforestation include urbanization, mining, shrimp farming, palm oil production, and oil exploration, while acid rain and fire also contribute to forest destruction.

Deforestation has not gone unnoticed, as many governmental and nongovernmental agencies around the world are attempting to reduce and reverse the destruction by engaging in reforestation — the restoration of deforested regions by planting seeds and/or saplings. And they need your help.

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Be prepared to get your hands dirty when you volunteer with any of the life-renewing reforestation projects that are underway around the globe. Some of them are listed below and could use your hands today.

  • Be part of a reforestation project in Costa Rica near San Ramon. Here volunteers are reforesting land that was cleared for cattle grazing. The minimum stay is three weeks, and during that time you can help create new trails, clean the land, work in the butterfly garden and greenhouse, and plant trees four days a week while the other three days are for you. Accomodations are in a dorm home and two meals a day are included. Basic Spanish knowledge is necessary.
  • If you have a basic knowledge of trees, are interested in reforestation, and are fluent in Spanish, you can help protect the rainforest at the Lalo Loor Dry Forest reserve on the Pacific coast of Ecuador. You will stay in the reserve's dormitory and help collect tree seeds, plant and care for seedlings, and assist with the nursery facility. A one week minimum commitment is requested.
  • Help the reforestation project in Costa Rica in a high-elevation forest (forest in the clouds). Cloudbridge Reserve needs volunteers to collect seeds and plant saplings, monitor reforestation progress, maintain saplings, and help with trail-building. You should be a university student or graduate of an environmental or biological studies program to volunteer with this project, but other applicants will be considered as well.
  • Tree planting is just one of the activities you can participate in if you join the Tree Planting and Reforestation Program in Western Cameroon. During your minimum two week stay you will help transplant trees to degraded forest sites, train people in communities about agro-forestry methods, and construct nurseries, among other tasks. Some of the reforestation activities change depending on the time of year you volunteer.
  • In the Cloud Forest Reserve in Ecuador, you can be part of an ongoing effort to preserve this endangered forest. Volunteer activities include tree planting, trail work, research, sustainability projects, and food production. Your stay can run from one to 12 weeks, and during that time three meals a day plus shared lodging in cabins are included. 
  • The Peru Amazon Rainforest Conservation project offers you an opportunity to conduct forest surveys, do conservation research, support to help with the capacity building of the local rainforest community, and help increase environmental awareness. Accommodations in an eco-lodge and meals are included.   

On your next vacation, you could help restore our rapidly disappearing forests and give the planet what it needs — a breath of fresh air and a chance for a future.

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