Some feel that we need radical innovations to preserve forests. However, we have little time to implement solutions before irreplaceable tropical forests are gone forever. As they continue to recede, it is apparent that small-scale efforts will not suffice. Forest management has often been unsuccessful and systems of forest use are being threatened by international pressures for commodities and the desire for cash crops for export to urban areas or abroad. In order to prevent greater destruction, forests must be regarded as a global good, and people in the tropics must be compensated for preserving this good. The forest and its inhabitants must be buffered from external influences, as population growth and the desire for cash crops remove control from them. What is necessary are large-scale multinational or global interactions. G.M. Mace (2000) recently recommended that scientists and conservationists join together to propose an agenda. He suggested debates to formulate common goals, to pool data, and to determine priorities – such as biodiversity, endemism, viability, and ecological function. He feels that the people making decisions about ecosystems (politicians and businessmen) would attend more to the analyses, expertise and consensus of such a group than to the individual agendas of a multiplicity of organizations. Redundant efforts of many organizations are costly and less effective than if concerted efforts were made to save ecosystems. In addition, efforts by individual organizations to save forests are often piecemeal, sometimes competing, may not encompass entire ecosystems and may not lead to the implementation of overall conservation goals. A coordinated system, however, could take advantage of new techniques in identifying priorities, and would allow global analyses. Tropical rain forests are not bound by national borders or institutional lines, neither should conservation efforts be. Some cooperative efforts are being made; for example, attempts to set up biodiversity “corridors” to connect fragmented areas of rainforest so that wildlife could pass from one area to another (proposed in Brazil and Mesoamerica). Many more efforts are needed, quickly.

Some hope may be garnered from the amazing resiliency of rainforests. They can often regenerate after severe natural disturbances, clear-cutting, and conversion. For instance, in Borneo eight years after logging, many species were recovering, and individuals of rare species were doing well in the absence of competitors (which had been removed during logging operations). Tree density was lower than in virgin forest, but the tree species composition in logged areas was similar to that in undisturbed forest (Chazdon, 1998b). Similarly, a study of Malaysian forest from which 50% of the trees had been removed indicated that most of the vertebrate species characteristic of virgin forest were still present (Chazdon, 1998b). In areas where there have been large-scale disturbances, soil compacting or removal, severe erosion, or isolation, forests are not able to regenerate so successfully, if at all. And in general species will be lost or endangered after disturbance, particularly rare or endemic species.

Saving the rainforest has been called utopian. The countries where the rainforests lie are relatively undeveloped and/or impoverished, and – according to this view – their social problems relegate global and ecological concerns to a low priority. Why should they worry about deforestation or global warming when their populations are in urgent need of food, shelter, and health care? These, it is suggested, overwhelm the consequences of deforestation. And so governments continue to encourage and support deforestation to mitigate the immediate problems of population pressures, the flight of rural people to urban areas, the formation of large urban slums, and increasing numbers of landless farmers. In these endeavors, governments are basically only buying time. Too soon their most valuable resource will have disappeared, and they will be saddled with soil erosion, changes in rainfall/hydrological cycles, and the loss of soil fertility and rainforest products, with concomitant losses in agricultural capacity. Eventually, the real consequences of deforestation must be so great that any temporary “benefits” of deforestation will be overwhelmed.

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