Forests - Our Lifeline

What is a Forest?

A forest is a vital ecosystem with a significant density of trees growing close to each other. Scientifically, the Food and Agriculture Organisation defines forest as an area where the tree cover is greater than 10% and the area occupied is greater than 0.5 hectares.  Forests are home to a plethora of life forms.  Forests can be of different types, depending on the geographical conditions of the area where they are found. The types of trees growing in a forest further determine the kind of animals that are found there. Humans depend on forests for a variety of reasons. It would not be wrong to say that forests sustain life. A threat to forests is a threat to life. 

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Importance of Forests

Forests are important to us in a lot of ways. Some of them are mentioned below:

  1. Forests are called the lungs of the earth. They are the largest suppliers of oxygen, needed by the entire living world. They also act as one of the largest carbon sinks on land, absorbing massive quantities of carbon dioxide and improving the quality of air. 

  2. Forests are also called pharmacies of the world. Many varieties and species of trees found in forests have significant medicinal properties. Their products are used for extracting and making medicines. 

  3. Forests support biodiversity. They are homes to many species of wildlife, bushes, insects etc. 80% of the biodiversity on land is present in areas demarcated as forests. 

  4. Forests maintain the right temperature on the Earth by absorbing tones of carbon dioxide released by various human activities. This helps in reducing the greenhouse effect. 

  5. Forests play a vital role in regulating the water cycle. They help in causing rainfall and have an impact on regional weather conditions. 

  6. Forests bind the soil and prevent soil erosion. Soil is a resource that takes millions of years for formation. Conserving forests is the only way to combat desertification and deteriorating quality of land. 

  7. Forests help in controlling floods. They act as the buffer zone between the flooding water bodies and the residential areas. As the flooding water passes through a forest, the roots of the trees begin absorbing it. Also, they  reduce the speed of the flowing water so that the damage and havoc caused by it is subdued to a great extent.

  8. Humans get a variety of products such as timber, wood pulp, rubber, medicines, fruits, flowers, nuts, seeds etc. 

  9. Forests help in recreation. A lot of people venture into forests for sightseeing, spotting wild animals, camping etc. The attraction towards forests is called biophilia. They evoke a sense of wonder and closeness to nature. 

What is Deforestation? 

Deforestation refers to the large scale cutting down of trees and forests in order to meet the growing human demands. It is a harmful practice and has a direct impact on the quality of life. Ideally, every country should have 1/3 of land area under forests. But, in India, only 21% of the area is under forest cover. 

Causes of Deforestation 

As human beings have progressed, their needs have also increased. In order to meet the needs of the rising population, more land is needed for agricultural and residential purposes. More tracts of forests are being cleared to create space for factories and buildings.  Agriculture is the reason behind 80% deforestation that takes place in the world. The rising infrastructure is also a major factor, contributing around 15%. The remaining 5% deforestation is a consequence of rapid urbanization.

Among the natural reasons, forest fires and parasitic causes prevail. 

Effects of Deforestation 

Deforestation is bound to have consequences on nature and allied ecosystems. It can pose a serious threat to the sustenance of the planet.  Some of its noticeable effects are described below:

  1. Loss of Biodiversity: Since forests are a natural home to various species of flora and fauna, deforestation is causing a loss of biodiversity. Mammals, insects, shrubs, reptiles, amphibians are all found in forests. Recently, there have been recurring reports of wild animals causing damage to residential areas, after their natural homes are devastated. 

  2. Loss of Livelihood: Forest communities and tribes are majorly dependent on forests and forest produce for their survival. Decreasing forest cover poses a threat to their sources of income. Business tycoons are encroaching upon these lands and causing a disturbance to the lives of local people. 

  3. Global Warming: As forests act as natural carbon sinks, loss of forests will allow accumulation of carbon content in the atmosphere, trapping more solar radiation, thereby heating up the planet, and causing global warming. The rising temperatures can cause melting of glaciers and flooding in low lying areas. 

  4. Soil Erosion: With no forests, there wouldn’t be any trees to bind the soil. This will lead to massive soil erosion. As the top layer of the soil begins to lose its fertility, the land changes to a desert.

  5. Changing climatic patterns: As we know, forests play a vital role in determining the climate of the surrounding areas. Loss of forests can delay rainfall, cause changes in the usual climatic patterns, lead to both droughts and floods.

FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)

Question 1: Explain the structure of a Forest.

Solution: Forests have a layered structure. It is a four-fold structure.

  1. Emergent Layer: This layer has all the tall trees which have straight branches or leaves. Crown is the topmost part of a tree, from where the branches start growing above the stem. This layer is exposed to sunlight. 

  2. The Canopy: It is the layer formed by the uppermost leaves. It prevents sunlight from entering the forest. 

  3. Understorey: This layer includes shrubs and tall grasses. It has very little sunlight exposure. 

  4. Forest Floor: It is mostly composed of decaying organic matter. Snakes, lizards etc. are found here. 

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Question 2: In what ways can Deforestation be prevented?

Solution: Deforestation can be prevented by:

  1. Planting more and more trees. 

  2. Using recycled paper so that lesser trees are cut down. 

  3. Using better agricultural technologies and adopting planned residences so that more people can be sustained by smaller tracts of land.

  4. Raising awareness among people regarding the issue and telling them about  the disastrous impacts of doing so. 

  5. Replacing timber and wood with other substitutes for making furniture.