Imagine for a moment that you’re sound asleep in bed. All is calm and quiet, you’re busy catching zzz’s when all of a sudden, a beastly bulldozer comes charging into your home, destroying everything in its crushing path. If you’re lucky enough to escape in time, this Fern Gully nightmare leaves you without a home or habitat to speak of. Where do you go? What do you do now? This is the sad reality millions of animals that call the Amazon Rainforest home experience every day.
There is a clear link between the health of the Amazon and the health of the planet. The rainforest, which contains 90-140 billion metric tons of carbon, help stabilize local and global climate. Deforestation may release significant amounts of this carbon, which could have catastrophic consequences around the world. Deforestation is also a particular concern in the Amazon because it is home to a huge portion of the world’s biodiversity.
According to the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), around 17% of the forest has been lost in the last 50 years, mostly due to forest conversion for cattle ranching. Deforestation in this region is particularly rampant near more populated areas, roads and rivers, but even remote areas have been encroached upon when valuable mahogany, gold and oil are discovered. About 80% of the world’s documented animal species can be found in tropical rainforests. When species lose their rainforest homes, they are often unable to subsist in the small portions of left-behind forest. This makes them much more vulnerable to hunters and poachers, causing their numbers to dwindle and even eventually potentially cause the species to go extinct. Even localized deforestation can result in extinctions as many unique species live in small isolated geographic locations in the Amazon.
“I’ve actually witnessed it firsthand,” Ryan Drum, Texas State Aquarium Aquarist, said. “A lot of it pertains to clearing for agricultural purposes like cattle ranching, but we need to implore people to do so in a sustainable way.”
Not only has he personally seen the destruction deforestation can cause, Drum also works largely in the Aquarium’s Amazon exhibit and is part of our animal husbandry’s fish and herpetology department. Drum says there are a number of ways that people can learn sustainable forest management, reforestation, and how to maintain the integrity of already protected areas. He advocates the promotion of sustainable bioenergy – using scrap wood, sugar and starch crops, residues and wastes as fuel instead of biomass (wood and charcoal) for cooking purposes.
The WWF has done a ton of work concerning protecting and extending the life of the Amazon. In addition to protecting biodiversity, the Amazon Region Protected Areas program has demonstrated that a system of well-managed and sustainably-financed protected areas contributes to reduced CO2 emissions from deforestation. The WWF also created the Global Forest & Trade Network (GFTN) to combat illegal logging and promote responsible forestry. The network links forest-dependent communities, NGOs, and entrepreneurs around the world with the goal of creating a market for environmentally responsible forest products. Additionally, GFTN works to encourage demand for “good wood,” wood and paper products from those-well managed forests.
“Good wood” is good news for the countless frogs, piranhas, snakes, insects, parrots, and even prehensile-tailed porcupines – animals that reside in our Amazon exhibit – that call the rainforest home.
“There’s such a huge variety of species, and many of them arboreal, that inhabit the Amazon,” Drum said. “The Amazon actually has one in ten known species on Earth. It’s a habitat that we literally can’t afford to lose.”
Ways you can help at a grassroots level:
-Always recycle and used recycled materials as much as possible; when people use recycled products and make a conscious effort not to waste, the demand for new raw material to replace these items can decrease.
-You also want to be responsible about cutting down and planting trees. When cutting, be sure to target older trees and spare the younger varieties, and in the event that you must remove a tree for a legitimate reason (for safety issues or power line interference), make sure that for every tree lost another is planted in its place.
-If you do any kind of farming, rotating crops is a responsible and sustainable way to maintain soil fertility. And right now while we’re experiencing a cold front, turn to coal instead of wood to heat your home (if you have a fireplace).While it only takes a couple of hours to consume a few logs here and there, keep in mind that it takes years for one tree to fully grow.
-Wield your consumer power! Pledge to only purchase from companies that have a commitment to reducing deforestation through an environmentally friendly purchasing policy.
-Reforestation is also a great way to prevent deforestation – plant trees whenever you have the opportunity!